So you’re a personal trainer huh?

I’m going to start this post with a very important caveat….

This post is not about you.

Probably.

I hope it’s not about you anyway.

What this post is about is the reality of personal training and personal trainers and the thing that spurred me to write this was something my wife told me about that I will get to later.

I want to be very clear on one point. I don’t have an issue with personal trainers or personal training on a general level. In fact I’m all for it. I think it’s a great idea to take advice and guidance from someone who knows what they are doing. I’ve coached people myself and know that it helped them. If I could afford a personal trainer, I’d probably work with one.

If you are considering working with a personal trainer, there are a few things you should bear in mind before you meet with one. Firstly, be clear on what your goals are. Now I’m going to make up a random number here so if you’re a PT then feel free to contact me and tell me I’m full of shit and I will happily update this.

I would guess that 70-80% of people who go to a personal trainer want to lose some weight and get in better shape. I’d say a decent chunk of the rest of the people who see one are already fairly fit but have specific goals for strength or conditioning. Then there are probably a minority of people, maybe 1-5%, who have underlying medical issues for whom exercise has been recommended as a part of their therapy or treatment.

If you’re in this last group, you need to be really careful about who you see as a personal trainer. If you’re a personal trainer, you need to be very aware that this last group exists and that when they come to you, take a second to figure out if you’re the right person to work with them.

If your aim is to lose weight, you also need to be careful about who you see as a personal trainer. If you’re a personal trainer, take a second to figure out if you’re the right person to work with this person.

You seeing a trend here?

Not everyone is created equal.

The cause of this post was something Steph said to me the other day. She had been a member of a local gym and was going to Pilates classes. As I’ve mentioned before, Steph has fibromyalgia and one of the therapeutic approaches is gentle graded exercise. Steph would also have a tendency to push herself too hard. This isn’t unusual. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before, but I’ve coached people with whom I spent the majority of the time I worked with them yelling at them to do less. It’s not always about pushing yourself to the limit; it’s about grading your exercise appropriately to your end goal.

So Steph was going to the Pilates classes once or twice a week and it was helping her. One of the occasions, as she was going in, one of the amazing personal trainers in the gym made a comment to her…

“Oh, are you heading in to do a bit of stretching?”

Obviously said in a diminutive manner… A polite way of saying, “Ah, you’re back and not going to do a proper workout again.”

Now I don’t know who this guy was and he was clearly a dick. As my coach aptly summed up this kind of PT he is what can be termed: An idiot with a 12 week training course and a tub of protein from Holland and Barrett.

Look out for these guys.

When Steph first went to the gym, she told them about the fibromyalgia and they pretty much ignored it and on her first day the trainer had her doing squats with a bar and low weights for high reps. This wouldn’t fit into the concept of gentle graded exercise. I also saw the recommended plan he gave her and it’s ridiculous. It couldn’t be less appropriate.

I was in contact in the last few days with a local lecturer, researcher and physiotherapist. Now this guy has a PhD in physical therapy and years of experience. I was asking a bit of advice and guidance and he told me that for anyone with fibromyalgia he actually recommends that they spend a month doing what he calls a “prehabilitation” phase to get them ready to even start training. This is a very slow and easy start that leads to the beginning of the gentle graded approach.

Let me reiterate, this guy has a degree, PhD and years of experience teaching and researching in this area.

Does your PT with a 12 week course and a tub of protein know this?

Nope.

The thing is, take it beyond dealing with medical conditions… Let’s just look at weight loss. You go to a PT with this as your main aim and their initial interview with you should establish your current activity levels and diet and in reality in many cases they should probably be recommending something similar. Tell you to go for a walk for 30 minutes three times a week for the next month and then come back to them for an actual training plan and scheduled sessions.

Learning to be a good personal trainer takes a lot. You need to understand the basics of anatomy and physiology. You need to understand diet, and what makes a balanced diet. It helps if you understand the biochemistry of metabolism and nutrition. You also need to learn about running a business, marketing yourself, client interaction and customer care.

I haven’t even got to the concepts of actual training yet.

I know people with degrees in anatomy and physiology. I know people who have PhDs in nutrition (nearly did one myself actually, Kellogg’s offered me a scholarship). I work with people with degrees and masters degrees in business management and marketing.

12 weeks is not a lot of time to learn this stuff.

And as I said, I haven’t got onto training yet.

I’m not knocking personal trainers. I know plenty of people who are doing personal training with trainers who don’t have a qualification and are brilliant at it. There are several I would happily recommend if you’re interested and live in Northern Ireland! There are also plenty of people who have years of experience in training and who will do these 12 week courses to pick up the bits on marketing and running a business. They already know the training side of things and I know someone who fits into this box too and I reckon he will also make a great trainer.

But there are also dickheads who work in gyms, don’t know what the hell they are talking about and give people training plans that will harm them then make snide comments to them when they turn up to do the exercise that they should be doing.

If you’re going to go to a PT, think it through and make sure they have the right experience working with people like you. Be realistic and honest with yourself. If you need to lose 40kg and haven’t exercise in 10 years, make sure your PT has worked with people like you. Ask to see evidence. They may need to be the one to give you a reality check. You may think that you can lose this 40kg in 6 weeks and they need to be confident in their knowledge and experience and to tell you it will take six months to a year and they need to tell you this knowing they may lose your business.

If you’re a PT, and you’re a good one, when a person who hasn’t exercised in 10 years and is 40kg overweight come to see you, you will know how to work with them. Recognise your limitations in experience and realise that the same things don’t work for everyone. If someone mentions a medical condition to you and you don’t know what it is… either look into it and do some research to see how it impacts your training plan, or tell the person you don’t know how to handle it and send them to someone else. Don’t ignore it and assume it doesn’t matter.

To conclude, Steph is no longer a member of that gym. She has looked at a few others and yesterday she met with a PT who has actually got family members with fibromyalgia and fully understood the condition. Based on the advice of the expert though, she will start off with the month of “prehabilitation” and a few other things I’ve picked up from reading research papers about the condition. If she does go to see a PT, it will be the one she met who has real and relevant experience.

As always, thanks for reading and I fully expect a bunch of hate mail from inexperienced personal trainers.

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