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Cueing: Just One Piece of Semi-Private Personal Training Success – Part 1


A Guest Post on Semi-Private Personal Training By Eric Cressey


With the boom of semi-private personal training in recent years, there has also been a boom of questions from fitness professionals on how on Earth it is logistically possible to train several people when they may all come from different backgrounds and have different needs.  Back in 2006, I was one of those people – so I can certainly speak from perspective.

I did almost all one-on-one personal training for about a year from the summer of ’05 to the summer of ’06, when I moved to Boston and went out on my own as an independent contractor.  When I arrived in Boston, all these questions on how to make it work with the semi-private personal training model were rattling around my head.  Admittedly, I entered this model cautiously, doing 50/50 private and semi-private personal training as I got my feet wet with it.

By July of 2007, when I opened my own facility, every client was involved in the semi-private personal training model and loving it for the affordability, camaraderie, and increased training frequency it afforded.  It took time, but I’d learned the ropes.  Now, three years in, I’ve taught it to an entire staff, plus the 22 interns we’ve had since we opened our doors.

Looking back, I had been an idiot.  I’d spent the overwhelming majority of 2003-2005 in college strength and conditioning settings – watching 18-22 year-old athletes thrive in a semi-private model (in the weight rooms, on the field/court, in the athletic training room, and in their courses and study halls).  During my undergraduate years, I’d done an internship in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, where I watched people rehabilitate from near-death experiences – in a semi-private model.  Physical therapy?  Semi-private model.  And, as Alwyn Cosgrove reminded me, his cancer treatments were done in a semi-private format – and he’d beaten Stage 4 cancer twice.  There must be something to that.

What was I missing, then?

Very simply, I thought that “cueing” and “coaching” were synonymous in a successful semi-private personal training arena.

Basically, “cueing” amounts to knowing what to say, when to say it, and to whom to say it in order to elicit a desired change from a client.  Ask anyone who has been successful in this industry, and they’ll tell you that your cues get better as you become more experienced as a coach.  It’s why my staff and I can teach a new exercise to a client much faster than an intern can; we’ve built our “cueing thesaurus” to know what to say – and what to say as a modification if the first cue doesn’t get the job done.

No doubt, having a good “cue” arsenal is huge.  It’s essential for us in the first 8-12 weeks when we’re intensively teaching new clients technique and getting them ingrained in our system.  If done correctly from the get-go, good cueing sets a client up for tremendous future success.  If they know what “chest up” means on a deadlift, they’ll get it on a lunge, split-stance cable lift, or medicine ball drill.

And, for me, this speaks volumes for why client retention of those who have been with us for 2-3 months or more is so imperative; they become “students of the game” and are actually easier to coach because they have more experience and a bigger exercise pool from which to draw because a) they’ve learned compound exercises (or derivatives of those exercises) and b) we’ve ironed out a lot of their imbalances.  As a cool little story, since the summer of 2007, I’ve been training a kid who is has just finished his freshman year on a scholarship to pitch for a PAC-10 powerhouse.  I know his college strength coach now – and he told me that this pitcher is like having an additional strength coach in the weight room.  You want clients like that – because it means that you just have to write good programs, crank up the music, and continue to develop the friendships you’ve built with them.

In reality, though, it isn’t always that easy.  Cueing is just one piece of the coaching puzzle – and those other factors will be my focus in Part 2.

Eric Cressey, MA, CSCS is the President of Cressey Performance, just west of Boston, MA.  He publishes a free daily blog and weekly newsletter at

Facebook comments:

  • Tim

    Great article Eric, I look forward to the follow on.
    How true that you become more effective from learned experiences.I have to have a ‘learner’ attitude though.
    I love Magnificent mobility as a product. It is fantastic for ‘cueing’ warmups.

  • Hobart Personal Trainer

    Thanks Eric,

    Simple yet true, all of it.

  • Peter Fonzanoon

    It would be interesting to see how Eric deals with one group where each athlete has an individualized program. While I am guessing there are many common threads, it would seem that whether it be the loads being used, exercise selection, the day on which an athlete is able to get in a certain type of training, or dealing with groups where the training age and current needs span the entire training spectrum that getting overlap and seamless flow can be a challenge in the small group setting.

    As someone who hasn’t done any group training before, I have always wondered if the small group aspect usually has people doing very similar programs in the same group or if the groups are mostly connected only by their training time slot and the actual programs may be fairly divergent.

  • zach even – esh

    EC is PURE genius, turning your athletes into “coaches” of sorts reflects BIG time on how awesome of a Coach you are!

    Kick Ass and let’s see some more from EC!!


  • Chi

    Great article Eric, I make a distinction between training and coaching. The first has to with transfering knowledge and the latter with utilising the knowledge already in the client. A typical program will have a focus on training (and cueing) first and will move on to coaching as the knowledge level of the client increases. My experience is that most coaches and personal trainer, will default back in training mode, while they should be in coaching mode. It’s their comfort zone.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    ~ Chi

  • Tyler English

    Awesome post Eric.

    You said it perfectly when you said that we want to turn our athletes/clients into another coach on the floor, it makes your life so much easier.

    I can tell you from experience my newest trainer was taught right out of my semi private and boot camp settings. It’s cool to know that you taught them from the ground up and can still implement your style of coaching without having to do it all yourself. Not too mention the amount of stand out clients who also become little assistant coaches during sessions.

    To think I too trained in a 1 on 1 format for 3 years before moving to semi private and now with my own facility being able to run numerous boot camp sessions.

    Hey, if elite level athletes have been doing it for years, then it must have always worked!

    Pat, I think I speak for everyone when I say we would love to see more posts by Eric!

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Nikki Layton

    Great post Eric. Sometimes I think that doing straight 1:1 leads us to believe that the clients NEED that level of attention to detail, and while some do, a majority would do equally well in semiprivate and may train longer for all the reasons that you listed above.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Eric Cressey

    Hi Gang,

    Thanks very much for the kind words. It means a lot to have positive feedback from industry peers who are walking the walk!

    I am all for contributing more often! If you have any topics you’d like covered, by all means, shout ’em out.

    Thanks again,


  • Jeff Hazzard

    Man this is some good stuff here. I am in pursuit of my c.s.c.s. cert right now and although i have tons of learning to do ahead of me.

    But i also know that with guys like you and the others who have commented above and all your dedication that i along with this industry will continue to move in the right direction on many different levels.

    Thanks for the help,


  • Dave Peterson

    Good stuff Eric, semi-private is great on both ends of the relationship which means its really win/win!

    As far as coaching proper form, I think it was Dave Tate who said you can tell a lot about a trainer / coach by taking any one of his athletes and having them do a back squat.
    “tight shoulders, chest out”
    “pull the bar into your back”
    “hips back (insert more backs here)”
    “spread the floor with your feet”
    “head up and drive the hips!”

  • Anna

    Great article, Eric. Cueing is everything. The less experienced clients can see what the more experienced people are doing in the group session, and with good cueing they will get everything right very quickly.

  • James Kitasi

    hey this is like the workshops inormally attend cos this always refreshes me all the time

  • Sham

    Hi Eric, great observation & thanks for being so open minded to share. BTW, could you spare your thoughts on program design for just about everyone who comes to your facility? thanks again in advance.

  • Rahz Slaughter

    Eric, Great Post. I too have been training one-one-one and Now it’s time to make the shift. I’ve been on the fence for Months now, and I’ve even spoken with AC. I guess I’m just pigheaded old-school. Anyway I’m making the shift day one of opening my doors to my New Studio…


  • Coach Blaschke

    Great stuff as usual, Eric. You are always on target!

  • Daniel Iversen

    Hey, Eric,

    Daniel Iversen out here in Portland. So spot on.

    Thanks for the reminder. Cueing is like a verbal shorthand which allows greater clarity and speed of implementation. It makes all the difference in larger groups when we get into more complex movements as the class progresses.

  • Daniel Iversen


    Hit submit before I added: “because the newer members of class can catch on to what the veterans are doing visually and verbally… much faster”

    Anyway, thanks for a great article. It reminded me I can always work at better cueing.

  • Dale Buchanan

    I did the same thing when I ran the small group personal training program at Results Gym in DC for 5 years.

    Nice post

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  • Dale

    Great post Eric

  • bill moore

    No way YOU can deliver the level of training expertise in group training, 3-4 people with different goals and problems? we occasionally train 2 people at once for double the rate, double the work.

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