Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Your Trainer Just a Fitness Model?

I remember the first trainer I ever came across. His name was Mickey and he was a co-owner of a gym I belonged to in the early 1990s. He had a mullet, mustache, and muscles. He wore a cut-off shirt with a tank top underneath and huge, colorful baggy pants.He reminded me alot of the old 1980's wrestler, Dusty Rhodes.

Although, by today's standards he would probably be laughed at for his attire, demeanor, and overall appearance...there was something about him that I think would still hold strong. Mickey had experience. Before it was cliché to say "in the trenches"; Mickey exemplified to me what it meant to to have "under the bar" experience. Mickey may have looked and acted funny, but when he turned his palms over, he revealed crusty callouses that thickened his skin against cold iron bars. When he wore his tank tops, he revealed his bright red, galvanized stretch marks, and battered muscles.

His body resembled all the time and effort he dedicated in the gym to perfecting his physique. He looked and talked like he "lived" in the gym and slept in the leg press machine or on a bench somewhere. Everyday, he was seen reading an issue of Muscle & Fitness or watching some early morning fitness workout shows with Kiana Tom.  

Most of you reading this, if you grew up in the early-mid 1990s, you may remember Kiana Tom as a smoking hot babe who worked out in the paradise known as a Hawaii.


He wasn't the biggest guy in the gym, or the strongest. But he had dedication and was willing to share whatever he knew to anyone. Back then,  most of his training sessions were merely freebies that he conducted simply to pass the time, get out on the gym floor, or meet women. Whatever the case, when Mickey was on the floor, we always lent an ear and listened in on his instruction. Looking back, I understand that he was simply a guy that knew alot because he had been through alot. And he was willing to invest in a place so that everyone else can experience what he experienced "under the bar". That to me was a 'guru'.

But times have changed, haven't they? Today's personal trainers don't have callouses. Today's personal trainers don't even bench press enough weight  enough to rip the skin. Today's personal trainers showcase their abs more than their strength. Somewhere along the way, today's trainer "skipped" a few steps to become a trust-worthy resource. Commercial big-box fitness centers simply began hiring on the merits of "looks", rather than experience and smarts. They set the bar low for people skills and set the bar high for 6-packs. Trainers possessing their "first muscles" from their first year of strength training finally were crowding the staff rooms. 

Most of these young eager trainers did have passion--but it wasn't bred from developing a relationship with the iron. It wasn't bred from failing, missing lifts, over-training, missing a PR, or being so sore that you couldn't squat on the toilet. Many of these young, eager trainers simply decided to be personal trainers a whim--simply after getting 'hooked' onto fitness. Then they got their ticket to enter the fitness industry through some bogus online certification and soon enough they walked among us on the gym floors with collars popped, hair spiked and gelled, and with a cell phone in hand.

So if you are in the market of hiring a personal trainer and he possesses all the prerequisites and qualifications you think are necessary like a hard-body, rolled up sleeves, and a clipboard with a calculator; here are some things to consider:

1.) What is your trainer's mission statement? You see them hanging up on corporate walls and companies, but what is your trainer's mission statement? Every career-minded person should have a set of values that he/she is able to articulate to you without being interrupted by their cell phone vibrating. HINT:Somewhere in the statement should be about YOUR goals.

2.) It's not how long he has been training, but how many clients he has trained. We can have a trainer who has been training for 20 years, but has only averaged 5 clients each year. That means he has only trained 100 clients in 20 years! Or we can have career-minded trainer or better phrased:  "I Must Pay the Mortgage with My Training" trainer who averages 50 clients a year and has worked for 5 years. That is 250 clients in a shorter span of time. The trainer who has  stood in front of more faces and worked with a more diverse clientèle is the one that remains "fresher" in the business.

3.) Does your trainer know about struggle? I don't care how much trainers are "taught" about empathy,  they will never relate, nor understand the different dynamics involved with the psyche when one has struggle. Its much harder than simply telling people to "not give up" or "you can do it". For example: I cannot relate to someone who has to sleep on a quarter-inch cardboard flat in the street. I physically and mentally cannot relate to it. I understand that it is not good. I understand that it must be uncomfortable and cold, but I cannot (for the life of me) relate any emotions to it because I don't need to do that. Same thing with training the general population with weight issues. Empathy is so much more than simply memorizing the bullet points in textbooks regarding which characteristics you must possess in order to be empathetic---but it is a crucial trait that really "pins you down" in this profession. Those young fitness model-looking trainers don't last long because they think its as easy as simply designing an exercise program and have turned a toad into a prince! Not so simple. You have to have walked a mile in people's shoes or you have to understand what it's like to struggle.

I talk about many of these things in my book Secret Skills of Personal Training. There is nothing wrong with trainers that look like fitness models. But there is something wrong when fitness models look like trainers.

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  1. John that was a great article! I have been personal training training for sixteen years and have seen a lot of fitness models come and go. I have had several fitness models wanting to train at my studio, and they are totally void of the concept of training the individual as an individual. A lot of people need to read this. I am posting it at my studio!

    Scott Hubbard
    Training Edge Fitness

  2. Good article John, especially since I was there with you and Mickey (and Gus). This article is so true.

    Brian Cruess

  3. Actually I haven't met any fitness model trainers in my gyms. Which isn't to say that I haven't met any clueless trainers :)


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