Think Trainers always follow a “Next Level” Workout Program? Here’s how Most of us REALLY Train.

Your coach leads by example, but don’t confuse a high standard with an unrealistic one.

As a writer, I can’t help but notice something that pops up in the industry a lot, so as something of a public service announcement, I’ll address it here.

I have written countless articles detailing awesome training methods, programs, advanced lifting techniques and more. But let me let you in on something. In most cases, a majority of this stuff applies to the smallest percentage of people who are actually reading it.

That’s not to say it’s invalid. It’s to say that half of the lifters are beginners who just need the grass roots. And another quarter are people who think they’re at the ‘serious lifter’ level, but really aren’t.

This is a reason plenty of my training articles’ tones have made a bit of a shift towards sustainability and the real-world application of what’s being programmed.  I think I can speak for many coaches in my circle of colleagues when I say that we might indeed be good lifters since we have a longer background in training and have educated ourselves more than the average gymgoer – but when it comes to our own training, the public can often get some misconceptions.

The Struggle is Real

For many trainers, we really have to make the time to get into the gym. That sounds like it shouldn’t make sense, but it does. Even though most of our time is spent working in the playground, it doesn’t always mean that we have the desire, energy, or schedule availability to make it happen – at least not as much as we may want, especially if we hold ourselves to a higher standard than average.  

Guess what? This is the industry that I signed up for. And I believe that we as coaches, if we can help it, have a professional responsibility to get in the gym and lead by example – even if that may mean sacrificing other small areas of our lives to ensure that we hold true to the responsibility of being an expert in fitness.

We find a way to get it to happen. Even when our outside responsibilities are at an all time high, we make sure our own health and wellness doesn’t take a backseat – at least not for a noticeably lengthy stretch.

So where’s the misconception I mentioned above?

Often, the layperson believes that getting in shape for a trainer should come by default, and not from hard work and an equal amount of effort compared to someone who chose a different secular career. Just because we’re in the gym, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re always able and available to train. Ask any truly busy trainer at a commercial gym whether they’ve got the ability to workout after a day of 10 clients that started at 6AM, and many will admit the struggle.  “Being in the gym already” is an n/a. That holds as much realistic validity as the countless articles that explain that you can get a great workout in regardless of your surroundings or available equipment. What’s the real likelihood that a person has 4 sets of 10 bedside split squats in first mind when travelling for business after a layover and a 6 hour time zone change?

My point is this: Trainers have to work just as hard as anyone else to make the time to train themselves. Just like a banker, just like a lawyer, just like a real estate agent, or a nurse. It can be tough to find the time to serve yourself, especially if long hours are spent serving others to boot.  With that said, the true focal point shouldn’t be on convenience – it should be about commitment.

Our Articles are a Half-Truth

Don’t get your bloomers in a knot. I don’t mean the content itself is misleading (at least not from me). I’m more referring to another massive misconception existing in the industry. Because of many of the factors in the above subheading, it’s worth noting that a whole lot of the top tier programming and meticulously planned workout structures that come recommended for optimal results are often better served for a certain crowd.

Many excellent training articles, books, and programs leave out a few very important details that can definitely narrow the list of eligible qualifiers:

  • The lifter has the true amount of time to finish each prescribed workout
  • The lifter has a schedule reliable enough to make each prescribed workout
  • The lifter has the work capacity to be able to handle each prescribed workout
  • The lifter is in or just exiting a novice phase to his training journey, requiring linear structure and foundation.
  • The lifter’s outside life harmonizes with the program, to ensure proper recovery and elicit gains without risking injury

The reality of the situation is this: If you’re a bit older, have other priorities and stressors in life, and train a lot of clients, you’re likely incapable of ticking all 4 of those boxes, when being honest with yourself.  Often times during the year, it may mean getting one in where you fit one in, and there’s not much more one can do about that.

Following an unstructured or very loose program design may be the answer to reinforce any kind of consistency – the very opposite of what most articles and directives from those very same trainers may instruct. Times are hard and the struggle might be real. Getting a quick 40 minute workout in, 3 to 4 days per week may be the reality of what a busy coach can scrape together for more than just a few weeks.  During an experiment I ran ending in 2018 where I made the time to train every single day for a year, a significant number of my workouts (due to my erratic schedule) ended up being exactly that.  When there’s less structure, it can convert the idea of training into the idea of exercise.  The former directly works toward a certain specific goal – be it get stronger, more muscular, leaner, more mobile, or something in between. The latter, in simplest terms, is a damage control tactic that keeps you “afloat”, so to speak, with your health.  When you have a decent foundation with working out, the latter isn’t as unthinkable as you can get, especially if that’s all you can scrounge.

As a disclaimer, that’s not everyone. There are a number of examples of trainers out there who are probably bursting at the seams to leave comments on this balderdash, as they may indeed have set their schedules or lives to revolve around their training, so that the appropriate amount of time can be carved out for their workout session, recovery, and anything else pertinent – thus allowing them to follow or create some seriously elite programming for seriously elite goals in the gym.  Respect where it’s due, but  the unfortunate truth is, talk to most coaches and you’ll learn that this isn’t all of our norm, for a variety of reasons.

We’re no Different, You and I

The entire purpose of me writing this article was to bring things back to reality to humanize personal trainers in the public eye. We like pizza, wings and cake, our jobs can be demanding, and we certainly don’t always have the luxury of being able to follow world class programming year round. If we’ve been in the game for a while, chances are, we’re not necessarily beginners in the weight room, in dire need of a foundation-building program structure. This isn’t to say that a program won’t help such ones; it absolutely, positively can. However, in my books, training for more strength or more muscle may be a notch or two lower on the immediate priority list for a veteran lifter with appreciable skills in the weight room, if you get my drift.

It’s more important to emphasize that we’re all living the same struggle, and in order to last the long haul in the gym, the real key at the end of the day is finding consistency. If you’ve been beating yourself up in the gym on low sleep or poor recovery in order to make your workouts so you can check the boxes in your top tier program, you’re probably not doing yourself any real favors – even if your lifting numbers may temporarily say otherwise.  Your environment and lifestyle has to harmonize with the training you choose to do – and if your current lifestyle is better suited to a more simplistic and flexible 3 to 4 day structure, for now, it might be a smarter option to pursue, compared to the 6 day per week strength and power program that’s been made famous by a world class coach.

If that coach has a full plate, I can guarantee he’s taking that advice himself.  

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