As trainers, we belong to a very…. Unique… industry.
It’s not too many jobs that have vritually no in-stone regulation, dozens of avenues available to be authorized as a “professional” in the field, uncanny work hours, and the ability to wear a track suit to work every day, and, above all, a job that actually can make you healthier (all things considered) as a result of doing it.
Yep. Personal training is one of those jobs that people make their career for the same reasons that others get out of as soon as they get into it. Now, though I can barely call myself a “seasoned veteran”, I’ve managed to scrounge some decent experience under my belt.
Now going into my 8th year as a fitness professional, I’ve realized there are some “phases” that we as trainers tend to go through. I was one of the biggest culprits of basically all of what you’re about to read – so the opinions are anecdotal. Luckily (and more luckily than many unfortunate others), I’ve been able to identify and work on these things in hopes of having them disappear for good. These are definitely telltale signs that can identify trainers as “inexperienced” – and should definitely be watched out for, whether you’re a client looking for a trainer, or a trainer trying to better himself.
SIGN #1: THEY ACTUALLY BELIEVE THEIR EXCREMENT IS MADE OF SOLID GOLD
Arrogance. Aside from UFC and Boxing, I truly believe it’s the biggest enemy to anyone at any time. A lack of humility does nothing but sour the tone in conversations, strain relationships between trainers and clients (not to mention trainers and other trainers), and diminish the amount of respect someone can develop for a trainer. It’s bad enough when the trainer doesn’t know what he’s talking about in the first place, but it’s made even worse when he actually knows a thing or two. It takes more nuts to be able to stay humble, keep a closed mouth, and politely respect another professional’s opinion or approach to a certain topic or method. There are too many 19 or 20 year old trainers (and yes, all of this FULLY described me) who have their noses buried in strength training journals, ready to nitpick at anyone who doesn’t do something in line with what they’ve just read. They implement good training methods with training clients and look down upon those trainers who don’t do the same with theirs.
One more thing that makes this industry unique is the ability and potential there is to share tools. Everywhere you turn in this industry; there are conferences, seminars, workshops, and group training classes being held for professionals to master new skills. The facilitators of such events have obviously been able to get past any arrogance and attempt to help others become as good as they are in their craft. The best part about it all is, as a bonus, they usually get paid! I’ve noticed on some of my articles or videos that are posted online, there are people who literally find something to hate on – like the fact that I joke and dance around at the end of a heavy set. I can guarantee that these trolls aren’t accomplished lifters or trainers in their late 30’s or early 40’s who have a dozen accolades and accreditations. I can also guarantee they’re not pro bodybuilders with a Mr. Olympia berth. The people who have time to hate on others aren’t productive in anything but…hating on others.
Lastly, still on the arrogance topic, you can definitely raise a red flag if they “spit a hot game”. I find it funny when I log onto facebook and see useless posts from fitness professionals basically super-inflating how amazing they are – publicizing every little accomplishment to garner as many facebook “likes” as possible. Strength coach (and my buddy) Mark Young said it best: “If what you are doing is ‘epic’, should it not be self-evident? Successful people are too busy being successful to post about being epic.”
It comes down to a maturity thing – many times, part of it is a physical maturation (of calendar age) that needs to happen, just to get out of that mindset. We get it, being in the workforce and out of school is a new phenomenon, so small things can turn into big things in the mind of a very young adult. The other part of it is an increase in “training maturity”, as I like to call it. I was a pretty mature guy on my own, but only after a good 4 or so solid years in the industry did I find that I didn’t need to be passing judgement on others, or pumping my own tires the way I had been. It’s humbling to realize.
SIGN #2: THEY CAN WIN AN EMMY FOR BEST LEAD ACTOR IN C.S.I.
When you learn good stuff from the books, it’s a great thing to put what you learn to practice on clients. A recent blog article I wrote on this website talks about the warning signs of contracting “analysis paralysis”, however. That’s what happens when the details of your textbook extend far beyond their intended reach. All of a sudden trainers find themselves playing “doctor” to their clients, and chasing minute performance issues all session long and forgetting to give the client a workout in the process.
As I mentioned before, it’s a fine line, but a good trainer, in my opinion, will be able to address weak links while addressing the goals the client’s paying you to address. Usually they involve burning fat, or building muscle. From my experience, I felt smart when I was the only one on the floor of the box gym I worked at who was able to notice dysfunctions in posterior chain firing sequence, or tell a client we need to work on his subscapularis and serratus to get rid of scapular winging, or realize that there was a lowered electrical signal from the nerve roots of L2. I felt smart. But the truth was, none of that was going to help them see the results they were looking for – in the short term. All of what I was learning was important, but it’s even more important to know when to employ them. In ways, I agree with Mark Rippetoe when he mentioned in an article for TNATION that 9 times out of 10, the client is just plain weak, and needs to get stronger – overall. There’s no way a tiny “sleeping” muscle will not recruit if its job is to stabilize a joint. His point is that people still need to spend their proper amounts of time actually training. Again, a good trainer will be able to integrate both hard, physically extolling work and preventative maintenance, all while keeping a client safe. There are ways to do it!
SIGN #3: ALL CLIENTS ARE TRAINING TO BE NFL-READY
Because of how passionate I was about all the deep stuff I was learning for the first time, I somehow thought this would transfer itself, maybe by osmosis, to the clients I was training. Facets of their training like lateral mobility, aerobic power, dynamic stability, optimal recruitment of their fast twitch muscle fibers, at ALL times, specific movements to train their type IIB muscle fibers, and all the rest became stuff I obsessed over. I’d avoid exercises that didn’t have an ultra-scientific explanation behind them to validate their import. Plus I’d be able to give my clients a sweet, exhaustively long-winded explanation of just why I was making them do their anti-rotational side plank with a slow eccentric in an offset position.
At the end of the day, most clients just plan don’t care. They just want to know that what we’re making them do, will get them closer to the results they’re looking for, in some way, shape or form. It’s true.
We can choose the funky movements that the most athletic or advanced trainees have in their programs, but most guys who come to us as professionals will get the same, if not better results from the damn basics. Get the clients to move better, stronger, and pain free. That is all.
Another point on that topic is the fact that as trainers, we have to recognize that 90% of the people we meet won’t need anything outside of smart training and a focus on the foundation mentioned above to meet their goals. Chipping away at the gemellus and pectineus muscles will likely just get negated when you factor in the 45 hours they spend sitting in one place for FIVE days straight. Sorry, Skippy, your 55 minutes of activation and foam rolling isn’t gonna do the job, especially not with clients who see you 2 times per week, which largely tends to be the norm here in Toronto. Neither will them doing it again as “homework” for 6 minutes in the morning before another day of..you guessed it… sitting and promoting bad posture. Remember that the people we’re working with are just that – people. Meaning, for many of them, fitness isn’t gonna be on their mind 24 hours a day like it is in that of a chipper young gunner who’s fresh to the industry. It’s not up to us to change that, either.
SIGN #4: THEY CULT-IFY THEMSELVES INTO THE METHODS OF THAT DUDE
I’ll be honest.
I get mad when I see people who decidedly only believe in the methods and teachings of ONE coach. It doesn’t matter how accomplished that coach might be. In my opinion, it’s a real sign of industry-specific immaturity to immerse yourself into the teachings of one instructor in a field where the closest thing you can get to “conclusive” are a bunch of peer-reviewed, research based studies that can do nothing more than support an idea.
Do I believe certain coaches are more knowledgeable than others? Absolutely. Do I think none of them can benefit from learning from other coaches? No.
This can be taken to the finest detail, but I’ll keep it as simple as it gets. The age old debate on what kind of squatting is the “best”. Do you do the powerlifter-style hip hinge squat? Or the Olympic weightlifter-style knee-break squat? Powerlifting coaches will swear by the one method, while weightlifting coaches will swear by another. They should do this! Why? Because they’re there to coach athletes who want to get better at powerlifting or weightlifting respectively – nothing else.There are specific reasons why each style can facilitate faster results and personal records in each respective field. The problem rises when personal trainers who deal with general population clients take this one-track-mindedness and apply it to their sessions, where they have no business doing so. You can’t tell me as a guy on the weightlifting bandwagon that a client who has NO strength in their glutes and hamstrings wouldn’t benefit from breaking from the hips to a good box squat, powerlifter style. Likewise, you can’t tell me as a powerlifting stickler that a client who’s immobile as hell wouldn’t benefit from full range, knee break, ATG squats with a narrowed stance, Olympic lifter style. I can go on and on….
When I started reading credible training material, I definitely picked my favourites early on – and I started taking in more and more of those coaches’ methods and applying them. The longer I spent doing this for a living, the more I realized that there are plenty of ways to skin a cat. I try to take pride in the fact that I haven’t developed a “style” or “template” as a trainer in the industry, especially the more recognition or publicity I get. That’s because I try to take in knowledge from as many great minds as I can, and use logic to apply the suitable principles at the right time with the right clients.
I kind of feel like Kendrick Lamar in that crazy verse he dropped in the song “Control”. My intention isn’t to call trainers out – and I’ve done my best to try to make that clear by using myself as the parallel. It’s interesting how exclusively people can see the world from their own perspectives without taking a step back to have an objective view of what’s going on. In the case of training, fitness, and the like, it’s something that should be a part of life. A regular part, mind you, but a part of life that keeps life balanced. Arrogance, outsmarting, seeking the finest details, “beefing” with others in the industry and things like that have no place in promoting a healthy environment and giving this industry a chance to make leaps and bounds. We can spend our time complaining about how many bad trainers there are in the industry, but that won’t do anything to make the industry have mostly “good” trainers, either. It’s time to reset the bar and eliminate the spirit of competition. If you’re a trainer reading this, remember that we’re all in this together, and that we’ll likely only get better at what we do, the more we spend time doing it.