Why Anecdote Trumps All In The Fitness World

Where fitness training is concerned, you just can't top experience. Period.

1380226364_7332In class, I learned the anatomy of the body.

Muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments – it’s something you just can’t learn thoroughly enough in a weekend crash course. Getting down to the fine details of justhow the body works is something I’m glad I attended full term courses to discover.

But the longer I spend doing this for a living, the more I have to admit that when it comes to fitness training…


I’ve had too many occurrences in the past little while, that really made me reflect on my old self when I was in my first year of training. Aside from the fact that I was married to what’s “trending” in the industry, with the BOSU ball being ring leader, I was not only a university student, but also a certified Personal Trainer, on paper.  I really had no idea what was going on simply due to the fact that I hadn’t seen enough cases of varying scenarios with the human body. I knew, on paper, that someone should be feeling their glutes “work” when doing a proper squat, but didn’t know the first thing to do when the squat appeared perfect and the client complained of aching knees.

It’s the same reason why a trainer who has his PhD will still have a terrible first session with his or her first client. The trainer simply hasn’t been exposed to real live clients with a variety of body types, needs and demands particular to them specifically. As I always like to relate, exercises aren’t contraindicated – but the people who do them are.


 8 years into the game, I'm a firm believer that a trainer can learn alot from making THIS his classroom.

8 years into the game, I’m a firm believer that a trainer can learn alot from making THIS his classroom.

What if the person in the example above had really long femurs? What if it was a girl with a really severe Q-angle? What if she had super narrow hips instead? What if the knee stuff went away midway through the squat workout, and it was just a warm-up issue? What if a hip-belt squat didn’t affect the knees, but back squats did? Would the situation change if she was bow legged? Duck footed? Pigeon Toed? 15 years old? 35 years old? 65 years old? The sad thing is, all of the above scenarios are possibilities, and aren’t covered through anything but waiting to meet cases just like this.

If you really think about the social aspect of this, it’s a true fact that the textbook, lectures, seminars, or cert courses just can’t provide the same “education” that years spent dedicated to the ‘biz can, when it comes to dealing with clients. I think in the time I’ve spent doing this, I’ve come to realize that NOT having it “all figured out” makes me more prepared than I’ve ever been in terms of dealing with new clients.  At my first ever workplace (an old commercial gym chain), we were expected to have a program design ready for a client based on a bio section about their lives, goals, and workout history that they filled out with a consultant separately. Nowadays, not only would I not have a program design prepared for them at session 1, but I’d definitely still be investigating well into sessions 2 and 3. Sometimes my entire workout for a given client strays from the intended programming based on how that client said he or she feels on that particular day. Experience with that client, knowing their body and how it responds to certain stimuli, knowing back stories, and more will all influence the decisions regarding exercise choice, corrective tools, workout intensity, and systems used.

Taking this all literally, I ask myself if I would hire a business agent with the most minimal school instruction necessary, quickest license, but 15 or 20 years of success and experience in his field, with a few accolades to go along with it, or hire an agent with 1 or 2 years of experience with several letters following his name. Nothing is wrong with either decision, and there’s nothing to say that the new guy won’t have equal success in his industry, but there’s nothing to say that he will, either.  My personal choice would go towards the guy who’s got the experience, because in this industry, anecdote creates the true skills necessary for succeeding in this line of work.

Oh, and did I mention it also creates an opportunity to use many, many more training methods on yourself over the course of time, to see your personal response to certain approaches, techniques, and systems? So yeah, there’s that…

At the end of the day, it really comes down to just how much effort and value you put into your actual experience as a professional, once you get the chance to become one in the fitness industry. It will be obvious to a trained eye as to who uses their experiences to become a better professional, and who uses books to become a better professional.  Just remember that someone had to write the books based on their experiences too, so anecdote is still the name of the training game, where I’m concerned.

Nothing beats years of experience, as long as you’re willing to put in the time to earn them. I’m not a 15 year vet, but I sure know a lot more about training clients than I did in year 1, and most of it comes from stuff books couldn’t teach me.  There’s just some stuff out there that have noexplanation, and unfortunately, since we’re dealing with an industry centred around research, theory, and inference, I’m a firm believer the unexplainable needs to be fairly accounted for when an issue comes to the fore.

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