Let’s start with a definition:

Semi-private personal training is a model that employs individualized fitness programming in a multi-client training environment. 


Each client has their own program, but up to eight clients train in our semi-private program during one hour while we maintain a coach to client ratio of 1:4. Our semi-private environment is seriously autonomous—each client moves freely on their own, it’s not like a group session during which folks have individual programs. Outside of coaching and the program, it’s nearly 100% self-directed.

This is the definition of semi-private we are working with for this lesson because, well, that’s the one we know and run best! If yours is different, think in your context and apply these lessons to your situation.


The Main Job of a Semi-private Coach


There’s a mountain worth of tasks to perform while coaching in a semi-private model, and atop that mountain sits one, the king, and it is called ‘managing the environment.’ As a semi-private coach, that’s your number one job—to manage the training environment.


Semi-private relies on client self-direction; that means there are people moving around and essentially doing their own thing—with guidance from their programs and from their coaches. It’s productive, the clients learn how to better manage themselves in a gym, and fun, everyone gets to know each other and community is formed. But that also means that there are a lot of moving parts and personalities.


Our job as coach is to be this weird kind of loose glue that gives people the freedom of movement they need while also binding the whole operation together. Throughout the rest of the lesson, we’ll lay out all of the things that will keep your semi-private environment productively rad.


Build Context and Competency on the Front End 


People need to feel competent in order to be self-directed. So, even if you run a predominately semi-private gym, we recommend doing some kind of orientation session, that’s mostly one-on-one, on the front end before someone jumps into their semi-private sessions. During this orientation, folks learn how to generally perform the big movements and are introduced to ideas that help them connect with what they are doing. Building context and competency on the front end with an orientation session gives people more freedom to navigate the environment effectively—helping them move more quickly toward success and making your job as a coach easier.


For example, during our orientation, new clients learn the warm-up and they also are introduced to the basics of the hinge, squat, upper-push, and upper-pull. One coach will teach them the warm-up in a one-on-one setting, and another coach will walk them through the movement orientation. They learn all of the keys to our coaching so that they can connect it with their actions when they come in for their semi-private sessions.


Warm-up Engagement


The warm-up is the best place to build the barrier between what’s going a person’s life outside the gym and the work that they’re about to do in the gym. While warm-up coaching may not be the most technical—and that’s also not always true—it’s the keystone that locks the entire session together.


As people start their warm-ups at BSP NOVA, this is when we G.A.B with them (refer to the G.A.B. lesson). Right away we’re cutting ties from the outside world and helping them form their intent for the next hour of their lives. It’s also when we get people engaging with each other so that everyone can interact and enjoy their workout.


Maybe most importantly, this is our opportunity to chat with each client individually and get a read on where they are for the day—figure out their training readiness and just see how in the hell they’re doing. It’s just a great time for people to feel seen and acknowledged. No one should ever sneak into the first exercise of their warm-up without being chatted up by a coach.


Let’s talk about how the warm-up integrates with the rest of the environment and the other skills we need to tie it all together.


Build a Flow


May your gym flow be as rad as his mullet flow


Movement through your space needs to make sense—there need to be defined areas for different activities. This does a few things for us as managers of the environment. (That sounds important doesn’t it?)


First—it helps clients sort out what they’re supposed to do, when, and where. They have a path to follow, which keeps them from straying too far in any unnecessary direction. And it also keeps psychological strife at bay for them. The environment is ordered and they know how to navigate it…and people are less likely to be tripping all over each other.


Second—for us as coaches, it keeps movement somewhat contained throughout the space. Having designated areas for warming up, strength training, and conditioning creates zones (more on these in a hot second) that are easier to manage and limits the need to corral people moving all willy-nilly. We want self-direction, but self-direction needs to be formed by an environment that is understandable and navigable.


At BSP NOVA, we have areas designated for warm-up and medicine ball throws, strength training, and conditioning. People move seamlessly through each area as they follow their program and eventually head out the door for the day.


Zone Coaching




Ok, so we have these great zones set up to make the environment navigable and a bit contained, now we can use those to order our coaching.


If you’re a solo coach in a semi-private environment, this section might not be as important to you, but if you’re part of, or running, a system that uses more than one coach at a time in a semi-private environment, perk up!


At BSP NOVA, our coaches cover zones. If one coach is in the strength zone, the other will be in another zone—unless the situation dictates that two coaches should be in the strength zone. This allows us to spread attention throughout the gym and make sure that nothing important gets missed.


Zone coaching also maintains training as the priority over socializing. There’s no doubt that you want a healthy social aspect in the semi-private setting, but it can’t be the highest priority—and it can quickly elevate to the number one spot if some structure isn’t in place. Coaches tend to congregate and then clients follow suit, creating a herd of people having a great conversation but not getting a damn thing done—or taking way too fucking long to get done what they need to get done. Spreading things out a bit combats this.


The zones expand and contract based on the time of day and the number of clients. For example, if it’s the first time slot of the morning or afternoon, the coaches will both be in the warm-up zone and expand out as clients begin to move into different parts of their workouts. As more clients shuffle in, the zones stay expanded.


Coaches can alternate between zones, they aren’t stationed in a zone for an entire shift, but we need the floor covered, so we have to be aware of where the other coach is at all times so that potential issues, and potential celebrations, don’t get missed.


This probably sounds super stiff and sterile—it’s not. You can manage zone coaching without having a stick in your ass. Our coaches move around, have fun with clients, and talk to each other, but they understand that the floor needs covered so they don’t congregate in the same zone for too long.


We do, however, mandate that coaches check in with each other every thirty minutes. That could be a quick convo, or it could be simply crossing each other’s face and slapping hands.


No Backs to Clients/Always be Yellow


In his book Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine uses the phrase “always be yellow” to describe how it’s useful to always have your attention on and not get lulled to sleep. We adopted that term for our coaching. Always be yellow, for us, means no backs to clients. As we expand out in our zones we do our best to make sure the only thing to our backs are the walls—unless we are moving in to closely coach someone.


Understand Space vs. Attention (Watch from a distance, close the gap to coach)

Managing environment means seeing as much of it as you can at one time—a consistent vigil of scanning. That is until you see something that needs addressed and you need to move in for coaching.


We stand back, taking scope of the entire zone we are coaching until we see a coaching point, then we move in to help the person. Being able to take in an entire zone, and scan it, helps us set appropriate priorities about where our attention is most needed at the time. For example, if there’s a new client we’ll likely need to hang with them more—or if someone is performing a heavy, technical lift we can decide to move in closer to coach.


Seeing the big picture also helps to identify potential problems before they arise and intervene before, well, those problems become problems. Closing the gap to coach allows us to make the instructional environment more intimate and we can personalize the coaching approach to the person. Rarely, if ever, do we coach from farther away than a few feet. There are extenuating circumstances that sometimes require a long distance cue from across the gym, but we avoid it as much as possible.


 The Paradigm Applies


Once you close the gap, apply the four-part coaching paradigm as it fits with the person you are coaching. (See A New Coaching Paradigm lesson.)


Defining Success


It’s important to define what success is with any job, but since the semi-private setting is so open and freely moving, it’s even more important to have a clear definition of success. If not, there’s a good chance coaches won’t have a solid grasp on what the hell just happened during their shift. They also won’t have the best idea of how to manage themselves as they coach, manage the environment, and keep it all loosely glued. That’s why we have our coaching checklist. It gives a guide for directing our actions and a way to evaluate ourselves each day to know whether or not we were successful—as well as what we have to do to improve.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.strengthfaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/BSP-Coaches-Session-Planning-Checklist.pdf” title=”BSP Coaches Session Planning Checklist”]

 What’s My Purpose?


We’ll leave you with one last semi-private tool.


In the midst of the moving parts of the semi-private environment—the conversations, the coaching, the freedom to sit back and watch—it’s easy to lose focus and drift off. It’s just as easy to get locked in on one person and forget about the rest of the environment. The space and freedom coaches enjoy also cracks the window of the brain so that shit from outside the gym and creep in and take over our thoughts. We need a tool to combat that.


Anytime we feel ourselves drifting off, hyper-focusing on one person, or generally feeling amiss, we ask ourselves what’s my purpose right now? 


The purpose is to coach, create an incredible training environment, and help people progress.

When you feel yourself drifting, snap yourself back in with that question.


What’s my purpose right now?


P.S. It works for pretty much every situation in work and in life, not just semi-private training.


Kick Some Ass


Ok, that’s the general outline for kicking ass as a semi-private coach. Remember, consider all of this within the context of your environment and apply with your situation in mind. Go forth, manage a great training environment, give yourself a definition of success, keep your purpose in mind, and kick some ass.




In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

Follow Us

Member Login

©2020 | Strength Faction