DPT-409- Exercise Prescription: Training outside of the gym

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Training in Different Environments.

The personal trainers (PT’s) foremost concern when training a client in any situation is the safety of the session.  Training a client away from a gym requires PT’s to plan for any eventuality.  It is important that they consider having the following available:

  • emergency procedure
  • First Aid kit
  • mobile phone
  • emergency contacts list
  • environment check list
  • incident book

If an incident was to take place, the PT would have to prove that they took reasonable steps to prevent the incident and deal with it once it occurred.  Having all of the above will show that appropriate levels of care and consideration have been taken. The incident book will also show that the trainer is monitoring the safety of different venues and environments and taking proactive steps to avoid dangers.

A personal training session can take place in many environments; each one poses a number of potential dangers/risks.  The environments where personal training is successfully performed include:

  • home
  • park
  • street
  • studio
  • work place


Create a table like the one below and populate it with 5 potential hazards when it comes to training in a different environment than a gym.

VenuePotential Dangers
Work place1

When selecting equipment to purchase for an outside of the gym-based training situation the PT needs to be able to evaluate how much value they will get from each piece of equipment.  The following is a list of questions that should be asked about equipment before purchase:

  • size
  • ease of carriage
  • price
  • versatility

Size and ease of carriage will be an issue to a trainer who travels between client homes, as they will have to consider how much equipment they can take with them.  Also, the time considerations that are associated with setting up and packing away may affect the income potential of the trainer.  For PTs who are intending to work in the city, transporting equipment may be an issue, especially if they have to travel by foot or public transport.

Many pieces of equipment on the market are sold at a high price but have a limited use and versatility.  This can increase the amount of equipment that the trainer has to carry with them and directly affect the session quality. A trainer, for example, needs to ensure that each session is dynamic and slick so it is important to keep equipment changes to a minimum. 


Designing testing for the client in an out-of-gym environment will require the PT to be creative with the equipment available.  Testing is a good way of recording a starting point for the client as well as working as a goal setting and tracking system.  When designing tests it is important to follow certain rules:

  • specificity
    • specific to the environment
    • specific to the equipment available
    • specific to the client’s ability
    • specific to the client’s goals
  • measurable
    • timed
    • counted
    • distance measured
  • repeatable
    • strict rules
    • re-creatable environment
    • re-useable equipment
    • client preparation
    • time of the day and month
  • enjoyable
    • challenging
    • achievable
    • relevant
    • motivating
  • accurate
    • precise equipment
    • precise procedures 
    • systems to cancel the test
  • frequency
    • possible to achieve an improvement 4 to 6 weekly
    • possible to conduct throughout the year


Planning a session for an outdoor activity requires the PT to go through the same procedure as they would in a gym-based programme:

  • programme designed to achieve the client’s goal
  • effective warm-up to get the client prepared for the upcoming activity
  • a main session that is goal related, has the correct exercise order and is designed for a great client experience
  • effective cool-down that takes the environment into consideration

After the session has been delivered the PT would be required to go through the post-session paperwork, recording issues such as changes in the programme, booking the next session and in between session contacts.

Early PT’s usually came from a sporting or bodybuilding background and had no formal qualifications. However, as it becomes increasingly established and recognised as a credible profession, the personal training industry is changing. This is reflected in the fact that the industry now requires a PT to have attained a Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) Level 3 (on the National Qualifications Framework) qualification and to be a registered member of REPs.  In order to register, they also require an insurance certificate and proof of an emergency first aid qualification.

A PT must have a different set of skills to a fitness instructor.  The PTs skills will allow them to work with a more varied range of clients who will have wholly different expectations of the levels of service they will receive.  A PT will also be required to work from different venues and with variable amounts of available equipment.

The personal training client will be paying per session and probably making a five or ten-session commitment.  This will influence their expectations of the service and the likelihood of the results.  Consequently, the standard of service and client care demanded of a PT is very high.

The amount of time a PT spends with their client will dictate that the relationship built between customer and service provider will again be entirely different to the fitness instructor/client relationship.  The PT is more likely to build a closer bond with their client which, in itself places additional responsibilities on the PT. They may for example, be privy to more client confidences and must therefore, be the ultimate professional in preserving client privacy and confidentiality.

The PT, in their teaching and application of exercise also tends to be more hands on than a fitness instructor, again leading to a much more personal interaction between client and trainer. This level of personal interaction will again demand a higher level of professional and interpersonal skills than might normally be expected of a fitness instructor. 

As the PT develops their relationship with their client, it is inevitable that they will encounter social situations with some clients.  In these situations, it is vital that the personal trainer stays professional, staying away from excess alcohol and avoiding any intimate situations.

Pre-session Information

Prior to the session taking place the PT needs to make sure that they have collected all of the relevant information in order to deliver the program safely and effectively.  The following is a list of pre-session information that must be collected:

  • personal training contract
  • disclaimer
  • PAR-Q
  • lifestyle analysis
  • test results
  • goal setting records
  • periodised programme agreement

Fitness Testing

When a PT takes a client on, they initially need to ascertain what the client wants to achieve and then choose relevant assessments to gauge the clients start point.  These tests can then be used to monitor the client’s progression.

Exercise testing has another dimension to it when there is a limited amount of equipment available and a restrictive environment.  It is important for the PT to have the level of knowledge and skill to be able to take conventional tests and adapt them for the environment.  For example, in an outdoor environment a timed, set distance run would provide a useful benchmark from which to develop a client’s aerobic capacity. Similarly, a test for muscular endurance without equipment may involve a circuit of bodyweight exercises under timed conditions, or having the number of circuits completed before fatigue as the main goal.

Goal Setting

Personal training clients are going to have a number of different goals, with a number of different conditions set around achieving these goals. The goals may include the following:

  • weight loss
  • weight gain
  • sports performance
  • wellness
  • stress reduction 
  • specific health issues

The PT will need to have the ability to achieve these goals in different environments and with varied amounts of equipment available. The following is a list of potential training environments with health and safety issues and possible equipment limitations:

It is important for the personal trainer to apply their knowledge of exercise selection, reps, sets, loads, tempo’s and exercise order to match goals and in whatever environment they find themselves.  If, for example, a client wants to improve their strength and the training is taking place in a park, then the PT needs to find ways of challenging the client within the specific strength repetition range using bodyweight or manual resistance.

Using bodyweight or manual resistance in an exercise instead of free weights or bands will not change the principles of the exercise or its technique.  For example, an alternative to a standing cable pull using manual resistance may mean the PT using their own strength and a towel to work with the client to perform the exercise, however, the technique does not change.

Designing ‘Solo’ Routines for Clients

The PT may also have instructed the client to perform certain tasks on their own in order to help them achieve their goals.  They will, therefore, need to design programmes that the client can perform independently.  In this case, the PT should be aware of the following:

  • the health and safety risks of exercises performed without a PT
  • availability of equipment
  • appropriate exercise selection and alternatives
  • clients who adapt their own programs

In designing such a solo program for a client, it is advisable to err on the side of safety and choose stable and low risk activities.

Programme Variety

Many clients demand a program that changes constantly, in order to keep them motivated.  In order to do this, the PT can use a number of training variables and options:

  • repetitions
  • sets
  • rest time
  • exercise load
    • dumbbells
    • barbells
    • medicine balls
    • bands
    • cables
    • bodyweight
    • manual resistance
  • lower body stability
    • 2 legs stable
    • 1 leg
    • 2 legs unstable
    • 1 leg unstable
  • upper body stability
    • 2 arms together
    • 2 arms alternate
    • 1 arm
    • 1 arm with rotation
  • repetition speed – slow to fast
    • concentric
    • eccentric
    • isometric
  • proprioceptive devices
    • body blade
    • running ladder
    • BOSU
    • core board
    • rocker board
    • fix it disc
    • stability ball
  • exercise combinations
    • circuit training
    • pre-exhaust
    • hybrid training
    • 2,3,4 exercise combination supersets
    • 2,3,4 same muscle group exercise combination supersets
    • agonist/antagonist supersets

With so many different ways of changing an exercise and a programme, the client should feel as if they are performing a brand new workout every time they train with a PT.

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