Emotional Intelligence as a Success Marker for Fitness Training

Training people for fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness requires emotional intelligence. Successful personal trainers have EI in abundance.

The pandemic taught us one important lesson: everyone has an opinion and people in the fitness industry seem to have a lot more than most business-minded people. And it wasn’t really much fun to watch because, well, I don’t really need a personality dump from a trainer or coach, just training and coaching.

The pandemic taught us one important lesson: everyone has an opinion and people in the fitness industry seem to have a lot more than most business-minded people. And it wasn’t really much fun to watch because, well, I don’t really need a personality dump from a trainer or coach, just training and coaching.

Maybe some people may want more and some trainers and coaches may give more so, it got me thinking about the infusion of personality into what are essentially business relationships between those being trained and those being paid to train them. I found a nice piece of research, Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Success in Personal Training1, which I think bears some further examination.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been a term that has been in use since the middle of the twentieth century with scientific references dating back to the 1960s. However, it took on a life of its own after the publication of the book Emotional Intelligence by D. Goleman back in 1995.

Let’s start by thinking of intelligence as coming in different shapes and forms with EI being just one type. For example, you can have verbal-comprehension intelligence, an ability to take in verbal information with a deeper understanding of its meaning and reasoning.

There’s an interesting book called Physical Intelligence: The Science of How the Body and the Mind Guide Each Other Through Life by Scott Grafton, a neuroscientist, which talks about how our bodies acquire knowledge through movement and the notion of nonverbal intelligence as a result. So, EI is a definition of a form of intelligence.


Source: Emotional Intelligence: Key Readings on the Mayer and Salovey Model

Emotions impact our physical reactions, behaviors, and cognitive abilities. EI is a measure of someone’s competency to manage the impact of emotional stimuli and process responses and adaptations.

EI requires self-awareness, empathy, social awareness and social management. Someone with a high EI quotient has the ability to take emotional input from different aspects of their personality and being and distill it into a successful plan of action, or in reaction to external requirements.

If you want to think of it in a different way, EI is the ability to distill the context of actions and reactions based on the emotions they engender in yourself and those impacted around you.

In the research paper, Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence3, the authors do a pretty good job of providing a scope and measure of EI.

Although the paper is from 2008, it still stands the test of time and can be a good primer. Mercifully, for an academic paper, it is an easy read and well-written.

There’s also an older article dating back to 2004 on the IDEA Health and Fitness Association website, Emotional Intelligence Makes a Difference2, that treads on the subject of developing emotional competencies for fitness professionals.

EI as a Predictor of Success in Personal Training

However, Abbott and O’Connell’s study, which instigated the writing of this article, is very interesting because of its narrower focus on personal trainers, defined as those fitness professionals who are helping individuals or groups with no collective focus or goals, usually members of the general public.

Personal trainers have to cover everything from fitness to wellness to instruction, follow-alongs, and workout programming. They have to deal with the EI of clients and manage their own. All the aspects of EI influence how personal trainers achieve success in motivating their clients, keeping them engaged, and getting referrals and future business from them.

Abbott and O’Connell found that more than years in business, education, and experience, EI was a big factor in determining success for a personal trainer.

What about the coaches, some of whom double up as personal trainers as well? Coaches have long wanted to have a very specific distinction about what they do compared to the typical trainer in a typical private gym and this study clearly demarcates the two.

Coaches are, as defined by Abbott and O’Connell, invested in the success of athletes and teams in sports outcomes. Additionally, particularly when working with groups, the interests and goals of the group aligned because they are usually on the same sports team.

The value of EI probably applies equally to success in coaching as in personal training, but there is an obvious situational difference because the dynamics of the business and the goals of the trainees are different.

You can also argue that personal trainers are providing a very broad range of solutions with general ambitions whereas coaches are highly focused with specific, measurable outcomes that are predetermined for the team or athlete’s management.

Success in the Fitness Industry and a New Personal Development Paradigm

Abbott and O’Connell’s study is limited by its scope and scale of the testing. However, it is a refreshing approach to addressing success for personal trainers and putting some things in context.

Instead of coming up with newer and more esoteric exercise routines, personal trainers should probably invest in EI skill-based training.

People who get into personal training because they like to work out or because they have a grounding in physical fitness from competitive sports, or some other job, should consider the many factors that drive client success, including the client’s own EI.

Beyond one-on-one engagement is the sense of community created in successful box gyms. That may be because of the EI of the head trainer, usually the owner, who can manage to give everyone a sense of belonging, at every level.

One characteristic of EI is the ability to successfully manage relationships and that is essential to success in any business. Train your EI, your IQ, and your physical intelligence if you want to be well-rounded and ready for anything.

You might also like A Successful Coach Or Trainer Needs Emotional Intelligence.


1. Academy, U. S. S. (2021, April 2). Emotional Intelligence as a predictor of success in personal training. The Sport Journal.

2. Emotional Intelligence Makes A Difference. (2004, June 30). IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

3. Mayer, J. D., Roberts, R. D., & Barsade, S. G. (2008). Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology, 59(1), 507–536.