As a personal trainer, do you fail to update your knowledge and skills, being content to train the same way year-in and year-out (1 year, 10 times)? Or do you constantly strive to improve your knowledge and skills to be sure you are doing what works best for your clients (training for 10 years)? The key difference is your commitment to increasing your knowledge of training principles and methodologies and honing your skills in coaching movements for motivation and understanding. There are several theories for mastering the learning process. It is believed that there are four phases of learning (mastery), which are most often represented in a hierarchy.1,2

The Four Phases of Learning

In the first phase, unconscious incompetence, you are not yet aware there is a skill to be learned and no realization of the mastery of it. For example, there is a new technique that would work well for your client, but you do not know it exists. This happens often for the trainer who trains the same way year-in, year-out. They are always at the unconscious incompetence phase as they remain in their silo and do not seek out learning opportunities. It usually takes an external event to trigger the realization that change is needed. Perhaps the trainer sees another trainer using an exercise with which s/he is unfamiliar, or a client asks him/her about a certain type of training.

In the second phase, conscious incompetence, you become aware that you need to learn the skill or program, yet do not have mastery of it. You begin looking for solutions to learn the skill, such as workshops, online learning and mentoring. In continuing education, the learner needs to be engaged in the learning. This is very much like when you are working with a client – unless the client is an active participant in learning and doing the exercise program, benefits are unlikely. Find the method that works best for you.

As your awareness leads you into action, you enter the third phase, conscious competence. In this phase you practice what you have learned so that you become competent, but you still need to think about it consciously to make it happen. After learning and practicing, doing and coaching an exercise as part of your professional development, you share your knowledge of a program with a trusted client and build your confidence to share it with another.

The final phase in unconscious competence, where you have practiced it so much that your competence has become automatic – you no longer need to think about it. The exercise you learned is now second nature to you and you share the exercise with clients with whom you know will benefit from performing the exercise. You may even consider sharing it with other professionals at clinics and workshops.

To be the best trainer you can be, continued learning to transition from incompetence to competence are necessary. There are many learning formats from which to choose. Select the format that best matches the way you learn. Once you have reached unconscious competence, share with your clients with whom there is a benefit and consider sharing your mastery with other trainers who could improve their consciousness from the information.


1. Camm, Barbara. The four phases of training. Retrieved from January 17, 2018.

2. Richens, Melanie. The conscious competence ladder. Retrieved from January 16, 2018.