Are you autistic and considering a personal training career? Here’s answers to all your questions and complete guidelines.

If you’re autistic and very enthusiastic about physical fitness, you might’ve thought about sharing this passion with people who have various fitness and health goals.

But then you begin wondering if your autism spectrum disorder could be a hindrance.

I’m autistic and was an ACE-certified personal trainer for five years at a large, crowded, brightly lit and noisy health club (I wore earplugs) where I convinced many neurotypicals to purchase training packages. 

• Your autistic brain can be a big advantage in this line of work—in multiple ways.

• You don’t have to reveal your autistry if you don’t wish to. When I was hired many years ago, I had no idea I was on the Spectrum anyways.

• Though your neurodivergent wiring can be an asset in the fitness profession, there’s also drawbacks—but you can cleverly work around these!

The Interview

I was hired on the spot. This club—like many health clubs—was desperate for trainers. I sold the director with my eager facial expression and firm handshake.

I didn’t even call the club for the interview. I simply walked in and asked the front desk if I could see the fitness director.

I skipped making small-talk when he came out to see me, and instead, told him with confidence, “Hi, I’m Lorra Garrick, and I want to be a personal trainer for your gym.”

I think right then and there the deal was sealed, and the ensuing interview was just a formality.

The Social Aspect of Personal Training

The more people in the gym, the higher the chance you’ll get clients. More people = greater variety of people. 

Though you may think that personal training is a “social job,” it’s actually not as social as you might think. 

Many people want a no-nonsense, straightforward trainer who’s not loud.

And while you might believe that gym members won’t be drawn to a trainer who doesn’t seem blessed with social skills, you just might get some unexpected clients who just love your matter-of-fact, reserved or even “Vulcan-like” nature.

I had several NT clients who loved to talk. Somehow, someway, my neurodivergent mind appealed to them.

One of these clients was so outgoing that 30 people attended her 29th birthday party.

Yet she loved being trained by me so much that she wanted back-to-back sessions.

I made her laugh without even trying (many autists report that NTs suddenly laugh while the autist is talking seriously or matter-of-factly), and she even once commented she thought I was “hilarious.”

I didn’t mask by pretending I understood why she thought I was funny. I maintained my matter-of-fact nature and acknowledged to myself that it’s a good thing if someone thinks I have a good sense of humor without me trying to.

My advice is to let the leaves fall where they may — that is, let things unfold naturally — and don’t over-analyze why one of the most extroverted persons you’ve ever met loves being your client, and why the three serious-looking, monotone-speaking members chose a more gregarious, louder trainer.

Getting Clients 101

This particular club was getting new members all the time. Some memberships came with three or six free personal training sessions.

Every Monday the fitness director handed out cards filled out by new members. I’d call them to schedule their first free training session.

After the complimentary sessions were completed, some of those clients wanted to continue working with me and bought a training package. Others didn’t. But this was true for the NT trainers too.

Most of my clients came from recruiting them off the gym floor. This can sound intimidating to the autistic trainer.

But attaining clients is a numbers game. If I approached enough people, I’d get a client.

Yes, I’d get many rejections, but the trainer who gets the most rejections gets the most clients!

There’s a linear, directly proportional relationship between number of rejections and number of successes.

Autistic Creativity to Recruit Potential Clients

One day I made a big sign and attached a wooden stick to it so I could hold it up. It said, “What’s Your Metabolism? Get Your Free Metabolic Test!” I then walked around the crowded gym floor holding this sign above my head.

Many neurotypical trainers would’ve felt awkward at this idea, because the NT mind would’ve worried about coming across as too strong, too flamboyant or too “out there.”

But as an autist, I didn’t care. I simply recognized the concept of “numbers game.”

I also set out a signup sheet on a table that everyone passed on the way to the locker rooms for a free complimentary session. This attracted many signatures and phone numbers.

I also set out a fish bowl on the front counter with a sign saying to drop in your business card for a drawing for a free personal training session. It quickly filled up.

What the members didn’t know was that there was no drawing. Every person who dropped in their card got a call.

Another tactic was to stand at the front desk, holding a skin-fold caliper tool in plain sight of incoming members, near a sign saying “Free Body Fat Analysis.”

The sign belonged to the gym; many clubs have signs and other tools to help trainers recruit potential clients. There’s always a percentage of people who will stop and show interest.

Small-Talk ? ?

I never small-talked. I dove right in by asking what their fitness goals were. After introducing yourself and asking their name, simply ask, regardless of the member’s physical appearance, “What are your fitness goals and have you been achieving them?” 

Find your mojo, what works most comfortable for you. Don’t try to imitate other trainers. Be yourself. BE YOU. There’s a client for every type of trainer. One of my most enduring clients was the aforementioned very extroverted woman who freely talked about her bisexuality, marital problems and past work as a stripper.

I also approached people cold-turkey while they were working out to initiate chat about their fitness goals—again, no small-talk. 

Nevertheless, expect some negative responses. This is par for the course for any person in such a position—even the most NT person.

You’ll get crabapples. But you’ll also get grateful members who thank you for giving them some advice. A small percentage of these will become clients.

As an autistic, I didn’t worry about trying to be a popular, charismatic trainer. To worry like this would’ve dampened my ability to go up to lots of strangers and start talking to them.

I focused on my strength: a detail-oriented, very knowledgeable, analytical style. And this style DOES have appeal to some neurotypicals!

Use your gift of bluntness. One day I overheard a nearby woman telling two others that when she brought down the lat-pull-down bar, it hurt her elbow.

Without even introducing myself, I promptly stepped up to her and said to hold the bar so that her palms were facing each other. “A neutral grip takes strain off the elbow tendon. Now try it.”

She complied and said it no longer hurt. Did she become my client? No. But she thanked me, and this gave me good practice at “cold selling.”

There was another woman whom I noticed would always hold onto the treadmill when using an incline. She had a masculine build, hard facial features and looked like she could win a fight.

As an autist, all I could think about was my special interest in correct treadmill use and how much I loved explaining to anyone why holding onto a treadmill is a sabateur.

I approached while she was on the machine and wasted no time matter-of-factly pointing out the error.

She listened intently, following my instructions to slow the speed, lower the incline and walk with an arm swing.

And guess what: She expressed sincere flattery that I had actually cared enough to talk to her, while none of the other trainers had ever shown interest.

She didn’t become my client, but she proved that you can’t always accurately pre-judge people, and that once again, autism’s straightforward approach gets a member’s attention in a positive way.

The vast majority of people you approach will not become clients simply because there’s no such thing as a really cheap training package. Second to that, it requires a commitment to a schedule that many people don’t feel comfortable doing. But I can’t say this enough: NUMBERS GAME.

Autism comes with a tactical and persistent approach to doing things. Tactics and persistence are crucial for succeeding as a personal trainer.

My no-nonsense, no thrills-and-frills, frank and forthright style ultimately won me many clients.

Why an NT Client Might Like an Autistic Personal Trainer

I was never effective at passing for an NT. My clients could certainly tell that I was wired differently and enjoyed giving detailed answers to any question they had.

• Cutting to the chase with information; no beating around the bush—just a straightforward delivery of facts and answers. Many NT clients don’t want sarcasm or joking around while they’re seriously training.

• My to-the-point nature (though also the sometimes at-length explanations) had appeal to individuals who were analytical and wanted a better understanding of exercise and the human body.

One client requested that whenever I had her do a new exercise, to explain all about it to her—while she was doing it. Needless to say, I really liked this request.

• Clients felt they got their money’s worth because I didn’t waste time yakking. Sure, there was socializing during breaks for chattier clients, but when it was time to do another set, they knew I meant business!

Eye Contact

I’ve always been able to prolong eye contact as the listener.

However, whenever I launched into lengthy explanations, I had to break eye contact, gazing to the side while continuing to explain how, for instance, high intensity interval training changes the body’s hormonal environment. (I never tired of explaining this fascinating phenomenon.)

I had to remind myself to return my gaze to their eyes (which were always on mine).

Then after several seconds my eyes would drift off again; back and forth, concluding with eye contact when I was done.

Thus, while you’re explaining, you don’t need to sustain eye contact nonstop.

But you should strive to greet their eyes at least 30 percent of the time when you’re explaining. This way they’ll trust your information and have confidence in your knowledge.

If you’re the listener, however, eye contact is even more important. A person who’s frustrated over their inability to lose weight or achieve other fitness goals needs your eye contact while they’re talking to you. But it’s okay to periodically break it. Some options:

• Situate yourself at an angle to avoid frontal face-to-face positioning.

• Have handy some illustrations of exercises or other documents to create an excuse for breaking eye contact.

• Look between the client’s eyes; toss in some nose gazes.

• Practice eye contact with trusted people in your life; you might find that this desensitizes your eyes to the discomfort.

• Inform the client you’re autistic and eye contact doesn’t come naturally to you, or that you can concentrate better on the conversation by avoiding eye contact.

Autistic People Can Make GREAT Personal Trainers

To get the ball rolling, you can check out the certification programs by the following, highly reputable trainer certification organizations.

American Council on Exercise

American College of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

International Sports Sciences Association

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.