An Open Letter To Personal Trainers Personal trainers, before someone jumps down my throat regarding my commentary, please be advised that it is not my intention to insult, provoke or bash you in any way shape or form. I am not here to paint with a broad brush and group all personal trainers into one category. I firmly believe personal training provides multiple benefits to a large fraction of the population and I myself have benefited greatly from using a personal trainer over the years. It is my greatest hope that after reading my article, you will be able to use and implement my suggestions and make yourself more marketable as a result. For those who are not personal trainers, I hope my article is able to provide you with some beneficial criteria to keep in mind when looking to hire a qualified trainer.
The Phone A client pays good money to you as a trainer to teach, educate, motivate and direct them on a path to getting in better shape and improving their overall quality of life. They are not paying you to stand there and constantly check your phone for new messages or respond to emails. It is extremely rude, disrespectful, unprofessional and even dangerous, to be glued to your phone while you are working with a client. Now if you have a potential family emergency or have a loved one who is ill or about to go into labor, I completely understand the necessity for a routine phone check. If you do in fact deem it necessary to check your phone during your client’s session, at-least make them aware of this and the reasoning behind it prior to the beginning of their session.
Different People, Same Program I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed a trainer go through the same workout with multiple clients, not bothering to alter the exercises, sets or reps. I believe this to be a form of laziness, ineffective coaching and extremely dangerous. We are humans, not machines. Each and every one of us function differently, move differently, recover differently and possess a different genetic foundation. We must move away from the prototypical spreadsheet approach to training and individualize as much as we can. One of the biggest fallacies is “it worked for me, therefore it must work for him or her.” Some might argue for instance “Well, every client needs to chest press,” Ok fine, but what type of chest press? How is their shoulder mobility and how much anterior capsule impingement do they have? Are we doing neutral dumbbell press? Barbell board press? Wide grip? Closed grip? Floor presses? How someone’s body functions, how their body reacts, how it recovers and their medical history, are all questions that must be addressed and answered before we thoughtlessly prescribe an exercise or create a program. Even if you are training two athletes at the same time who play the same position, they must each have their own individualized program that incorporates exercises to maximize their own potential and minimize their own weaknesses. For example, Joe and Johnnie are both high school pitchers who want to improve their overall strength. We must now ask ourselves, do Joe and Johnnie have the same medical history? Do they have the same range of motion in their shoulders and hips? How much sleep does their schedule permit them each to have? How well do they recovery after a workout? Are they both eating the same amount of meals every day? I can’t stress it enough; we are humans, not machines. Take an interest in your client, find out their goals (don’t just accept “fat loss” as an answer), find out their medical history, find out their eating habits, drinking habits and sleep patterns. Only by doing this will you be able to program a formula to allow your client to maximize their potential and achieve their goals.
Machines A common argument is that when dealing with an elderly individual or an inexperienced client, the machine is a good tool to teach proper movement and ensure safety. I find this notion to be counterproductive and misleading. As someone ages, they begin to loose their stabilizers, balance becomes more difficult and falling down becomes more of a reality. When using a machine, what does the machine eliminate from the movement? Yes, the stabilizers. So if our biggest concern with the elderly population and inexperienced lifters is their lack of stability, why would we be performing exercises in a manner which eliminates stability training?
Use Film Technology can be extremely beneficial when used properly as a teaching tool (yes I am allowing you to use your phone this one time). Many of us are visual learners who are able to make corrections at a much quicker rate after visually seeing what we specifically did wrong. As a trainer, you can teach and try to cue until your blue in the face, but sometimes film and instant visual feedback is the most effective and beneficial training tool we have at our disposal. Video analysis has always been a tremendous learning tool in athletics, as many coaches understand “the video doesn’t lie.” Therefore, there is no reason we can’t implement this into personal training. Not too mention, I truly believe this is a way to demonstrate to your clients that you really care about their progress and success.
Language In addition to not being able to train every client the same way, you can not talk to every client the same way either. You have to be aware of what type of language your client responds best to when they train. Now when I say “language” I don’t necessarily mean word choice (although that is a big part of it) I more specifically referring to HOW you choose to speak to your client. For instance, if I am getting ready to lift a 1RM, I personally prefer complete silence and I rely solely on internal motivation, nothing else. Others require the need to be “pumped up,” screamed at and encouraged by others before they perform the lift. You have to determine, through trial and error and by observing your client carefully, which form of motivation your client responds to best. Also, when it comes to teaching, how do you “cue” your client? Is your client someone who over analyzes technique? If so, try to present them with 1 or 2 cues at the most, to solely focus on during the lift. At the end of the day, it is up to you as the trainer to do the necessary homework on your client and alter your training approach and verbal presentation to best suit them.
Continuing Education The biggest mistake you can make as a personal trainer is being complacent with the knowledge you have attained. Learning is a never-ending process that should humble each and every one of us. Knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have at your disposal and the more tools you will have in the toolbox, the better trainer you will become. You have to continue to broaden your base, get out of your comfort zone and explore areas of fitness you may not be comfortable with. As a trainer you should always be reading, listening to lectures, attending seminars and gathering as much information as possible. One of the biggest benefits of the Internet is having immediate access and an open invitation to so many experts within the fitness industry and the knowledge they possess. Use that to your advantage and do not take that granted! The best people in their respective industries are never satisfied with the progress they have made and are always working on their craft trying to better themselves. Once you become satisfied with what you have accomplished and what you have learned, that is when people begin to pass you and you will become yesterday’s news.
Instruct Proper Technique If you ask 10 personal trainers if they think technique (form) is important when it comes to lifting weights, I guarantee you would receive the answer “yes” 10 times. However, if you witness those ten personal trainers working with their clients, perhaps only half of them are instructing, cueing and reinforcing proper technique. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a bicep curl become a front deltoid exercise or a bench press become everything but a chest exercise. We live in a society where the emphasis has become strictly on weight and not technique. Unless proper technique has been addressed, muscle activation has occurred and a mind-muscle connection has been established, the amount of weight being lifted should be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Be A Role Model Regardless of how much weight you helped your client loose or how much strength you helped them gain, they will remember you based on how you conducted yourself as an individual and how you treated them, as well as others around you. When someone is willing to pay you their hard earned money, they are making an investment in you and that is something you should be humbled and honored by and never take for granted. With that being said, act as a role model when you are around your client or any other time that you are in the gym. The power of “word of mouth” should not be underestimated and trust me when I tell you, someone is always watching and observing how you act and behave, particularly around clients. You are there as a trainer, not too talk about yourself or your accomplishments, you are there to set an example for everyone else in the gym and to ensure your clients success and personal growth. When you are training your client, be in the moment with your client. Be where you need to be, at all times.