Wednesday, February 22, 2012

4 Things We Are Doing Wrong in Personal Training

People ask me what gives me the "right" to write such posts? The only explanation I can provide is that after being in the field for 12+ years, I have committed every mistake I cite, and I have grown because of it. The latter doesn't always happen in our growing population of personal trainers and this is where my purpose begins. To enlighten young trainers (and I don't mean young as in age, I mean "green" in the field. My definition of "green" being less than 2 years in the field). From my mistakes, I have been able to see where and at what point I went wrong. From there, I take a few steps back and research how others approach the same situation and compare my perspective with others and hypothesize the outcome. There is always room for improvement in any profession or person. Character building is a life-long journey in my opinion and the events that help shape our perspective are key to our personal and professional growth. 

Here are some things that we are doing wrong as personal trainers:

1.) We are making it about "us". 
I have said this countless times--including here and here--that personal training is a service that we provide. We have the ability to coach others through a  life-transforming journey. But the only way to make it an effective process is to remember that the effort and initiative you put in is FOR the client. In an age where more and more of society is displaying an "entitlement" behavior, we are forgetting that the profession is nothing without the client. Every client is an opportunity to help them become a better version of themselves. Their achievement will lead to your accolades and professional empowerment.

2.) We are listening to strength coaches too much. 
I admire strength coaches. I look up to guys like Eric Cressey and Mike Boyle; as I am sure many of you do. But I got to let you in on a secret. I can probably only apply about 30% of what these guys talk about when it comes to personal training. Strength coaches work with an entirely different monster than what personal trainers work with. In my opinion, personal trainers have a tougher job working with the general population. I talked about this in a post here. We, as personal trainers, have to deal with clients that don't show any signs of body awareness; little movement skills; low performance and functional capacity; and poor health behaviors. Transforming a client begins with educating them on adjusting their lifestyle to include healthy behaviors, and hoping that they will be implemented during your training time together. Similarly as a  jet taking off the run way,  there is alot of turbulence when dealing with the psychological factors that influence a client's outlook. Strength coaches know this stuff and deal with it in a small way with their athletes. However, the pressures of life and sport are different. It is apples and oranges.

Somehow, the fitness industry looks to strength coaches as "more advanced" because, in all likelihood, their clients are more advance [athletes]. It is simply perception. Strength coaches look cooler training giants of athletic precision and prowess. We trainers that train your average sedentary overweight desk work? Well...we look annoying.

3.) We are listening to physical therapists too much.
In the last 5 years, we have seen an influx of physical therapists educating personal trainers. I see this as a good and bad thing. Our unregulated profession allows many different skill sets into the mix. There are trainers that are very affluent in corrective exercise and joint kinematics; while there are those that specialize more in behavior modification (ie: motivation, adherence, etc) and exercise implementation. In simplistic terms, listening to a physical therapist is important, but the audience should be other physical therapists. In order to really absorb and apply the concepts that they bestow onto the personal training field, it should be received by those that have the right tools in place to carry out those concepts. I don't believe ALL personal trainers have the right tools in place to carry out what all physical therapist preach.

Foam rolling has become popular among personal trainers because it is an easy modaility that can be applied. You see modalities like this trickle down over the years. Years ago, massage therapists and physical therapists performed muscular therapy. Then, it was introduced to the fitness industry in the form of foam rolling. Today, foam rolling has become very user-friendly that rollers are now sold in department stores directly to the public. What's the next thing? Shall personal trainers learn how to administer iontephresis or muscle stimulation? Having this information from guys like Gray Cook or Stuart McGill is important if you know where your involvement starts and ends.

4.) We are going into business too early in our careers.
I know its fun to bash commercial gyms and big-box facilities. But truth is, you will not find another outlet to acquire clients faster than a commercial gym. As much as Crossfit and private studios are gaining popularity, they will not kill big-box gyms. Crossfit and Reebok have nothing on places like LA Fitness or Crunch --and that's in revenue. Truth be told, commercial gyms are a fantastic way for new trainers to acquire a plethora of skills that will benefit their career down the road including:

Building a rapport and relationship with customers
Time management
Marketing your skills directly and indirectly
Learning business appropriate demeanor 
Customer service and goal setting
Interacting with fellow professionals

Alot of these skills are acquired provided the management is running smoothly and there is a sense of teamwork. I cannot guarantee that all gyms function well enough to promote growth to their employees, but there is a greater chance of learning more about business from another business model...good or bad. If its good, you learn what to do. If its bad, you learn what not to do. Chalk it up as a opportunity to ride the coat-tails of someone else's investment and learn from it.

Many personal trainers opt to enter the business side of this profession with little "under the bar" experience. Armed with simply a certificate and insurance, the tool box is scarce. The tool box is made up of "copied" exercises or butchered YouTube videos with little to no rationale behind them. Rationale comes from experience (ie: making some mistakes here and there and correcting them the next time the situation arises).

Personally, I didn't open my own business for close to 12 years. I had been a personal trainer, manager, and fitness director before I laid some money down to establish my own place. Why did it take me so long? Partly scared, part procrastination, and partly preparation. I felt confident enough in my ability, business savvy, and relationships to begin my adventure. Those years were jam-packed with mistakes, disappointments, embarrassments, and successes that have allowed me to think critically and passionately about my profession. I hope you will experience the same.


  1. Lots of good information in here. Many people want to skip steps. Thanks for the read

  2. Don't skip the steps and look for long-term success!

  3. John, great post. But I do feel like the big gyms are going to be taking a hit over the next 5-10 years. And it is not necessarily due to what they provide, rather, in my experience, the lack of a relationship that many of the chains have with their members. You mention it here as number 1. I've witnessed the chain gyms and their rules not allowing the staff at the facility have the ability to truly nurture a relationship with their members, and too many of those responsible for the financial transactions, refunds, etc, are staff at the headquarters, not the facility.

    Each professional walks their own path, and should be open to learning. I do a ton of my business with post-rehab clients, so I listen a lot more to PT's, OT's, etc, than strength coaches. But I take what I can from everyone and apply it as necessary, based on the client's needs.


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