Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Trainers on the Outside Looking In

Throughout the last 10 years, I have met many and taught many incoming trainers. At least 3 times a year, I teach personal training concepts to students enrolled at one of the communituty colleges here in Connecticut. I have been employed by one of the certifying organizations in the personal training field since 2002, and I find this opportunity to "mold" new trainers rewarding. I mean, what can newbies really learn from me? Being in the field since 1999 starting as a fitness floor supervisor and moving up to fitness director, management, and private business owner in every type of facility: commercial, non-profit, corporate, recreation, and private?

Okay...that was me tooting my own horn. 

Every opportunity I get to stand in front of a dozen or so students is important. It is my responsibility that new trainers understand the role they are embarking in this industry. I have to admit I see alot of "deer in the headlights" looks during some class lectures. 

Albeit,  that is normal for anyone embarking on a new career path. The amount of information disseminated during many of these courses can be overwhelming to some; but embraced by others. What I am discovering over the last few years is many people choosing the personal training career path are choosing so to "try something different". The fitness industry has always been a strong industry in terms of participation. Although, not enough people participate, those that do exercise regularly realize the benefits and become "turned on" to it. Some of those people leave corporate jobs or comfortable careers to embark on helping others transform their bodies. The need for a rewarding experience that pays seems to be the new passion in today's economic/job market. 

However, I am finding a "stand-still" with many new incoming trainers. I am stumbling into many old students around town, Facebook, and other outlets that have not yet capitalized on their education. I am finding many to be reluctant in taking the next step into the industry. This plunge into the industry involves kick-starting their career with a job working face-to-face with clients. I would guess that I have seen approximately 30% of past students take the next step and find a job as a personal trainer. That means roughly 70% of the people that have enrolled, graduated, and "talk" about being trainers are sitting at home scouring the Internet for fitness information, networking, and "planning their next big move". Again, these figures are conclusive. These are my personal estimations.

Here are the formal steps one takes when choosing the personal training profession once a person has been enlightened

1.) Education process
2.) Practical education
3.) Testing
5.) Internship/externship
6.) Job placement

This hesitation to begin a career puts a huge halt on the momentum going in after education. Let's face it...you begin the education process with a hunger to learn as much information as possible. This hunger begins with a passion to help others. Students enter the education process to "arm" themselves with the tools needed to carry out this passion. Most students come into the education process as "sponges"--soaking up as much information in classes, courses, books, or online websites as possible. The classroom discussions are fascinating and eye-opening. We are talking about individuals that had no idea of the physiology of the body and suddenly they are learning how simple actions like eye blinking affect metabolism! However, this reluctance is caused by an underlying fear. When the "safety" of the course is complete and all the tests have been submitted and passed, the next step is getting in front of gym-goers and coaching. This is the point when rubber hits the road.

Here are some suspected barriers:

1.) Lack of confidence. Most new trainers seem to lack the confidence going into a fitness facility (gym or studio) and applying for a job. The lack of confidence can stem from numerous sources such as: self-body image; lack of applying learned concepts during internship or coursework; fear of conversing with strangers; fear of not having the correct answer; gym intimidation; or lack of resume strengths. This is a case where the internship should help. If a course does not require an internship (learning from a working professional); then you should seek out an opputunity. Personally, I seldom hear of a fitness facility turning down "free work"--unless for insurance reasons, under-staffed, or simply their staff is not the mentoring type. Another idea I always throw out is having newly certified trainers work with friends and relatives. This is a double-edged sword. Some find this convenient, but it can damper your professional development. Most trainers working with people that already know tend to lack rapport building skills or professional distance. They mesh friendly conversations with exercise programming, and in the end simply become a "clipboard buddy".

Confidence is gained through repetition. Taking the plunge and getting in front of your first few clients. I have stated many times (and also in my book),  that I had used alot of trial and error my first few times on the gym floor with a client. I had a genuine caring attitude and the right information; but I wasn't sure how to piece it together for a real client. Truth be told, I made it look like I knew what I was talking about, but those experiences helped me in developing my skills. The more I was placed in front of a prospective client, the more I was 'forced' to converse and build a rapport. The more I did that,  the more I was able to map out a way to help them to the goal.

2.) Disconcerting personal training. Many people entering the personal training field are so overwhelmed by the amount of information that is learned in courses, that they negatively self-talk themselves out of the profession. I remember many times when students would ask me, "why are we learning about the heart valves and diseases?" He followed up with, "I am not trying to be a doctor".
Many tend to believe that personal training is simply "showing people how to exercise". Or how to use the big fancy equipment inside a gym. This is a misconception and the furthest thing from the truth. Personal trainers are coaches. We are interventionists. We are the cleansing agent in peoples' lives. When a client makes a decision to change,  we are the ones that intervene and enforce that change. We simply use exercise as the main tool. 

Showing people how to use a lat pull-down is too easy. Anyone can do that. You don't need  a college education or a course to know how to do that. However, you do have to learn how to help someone change a behavior, develop better habits, and learn how to make better choices. Those that enter personal training fail  to understand that it is more than exercise. And then there are some that are overwhelmed by this duty and choose not to pursue. They want it to be easy. They want to make $49/hour simply showing Mrs. Johnson how to perform a plank. Not in my gym and not in my budget.

Seriously....how technical is this?

How can you prepare on what you are embarking on? Read and research the profession before dumping the money into the education. Seek out professionals in the industry and learn what it takes to be successful. Those that simply catch the "fitness bug" and want to suddenly become a trainer will always be overwhelmed and taken back at the amount of coursework.

3.) Lack of motivation. Okay...so you've gotten the certification in the mail. You've purchased all the cool fitness apparel from the sporting goods store, and you've already had the muscles. Now,  its time to find a job. Why wait? This is the big plunge. After accomplishing the coursework and passing requirements, don't let there be a lax in your pursuit. But many let the momentum diminish and then the negative self talk begins. After being in the 'safety house' of the classroom, the motivation is no longer created by others pursuing the same goal of becoming a trainer. When we are within the confines of others pursuing the same goal, we tend to motivate eachother. Just like high school though, everything comes to an end. And when it ends, you are left with just you. So, how serious are you about becoming a personal trainer? Because in the end, you have to make a choice and pursue the goal. DOn't let barriers #1 and #2 stop you.


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