Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Experience Will Always Trump All the Books You Read

Last week my wife gave birth to beautiful twin girls. The moment we heard the first baby cry out in the O.R. room (they arrived via cesarean section) was one of those moments that will live with me forever. After such a procedure, my wife and I had to stay in the hospital for 4 days in a room no bigger than your average bedroom.

Over the 4-day hospital stay, my wife was treated by 6-8 different nurses. I was astonished at how warm and fuzzy the nurse was our first night. Not only was she bright, compassionate, and knowledgeable--but she made us feel good and empowered us with tons of newborn information. A few times during our stay we had "student nurses" enter our room to check on my wife. They were young and eager to show us they had the right stuff to treat patients in this capacity. Oh my...how I noticed a difference.

The student nurses were still in school and still learning. They were basically performing the equivalent of an internship inside a hospital setting. Most student nurses walked into the room with an experienced nurse and were usually working together. I couldn't help but notice how the student nurses were focused on meticulous things that didn't really make my wife feel better or worse. But they seemed to be protocol. While I was attentive to the nurses that were demonstrating specific positions for feeding the babies, treating wife's c-section wound, and caring for our newborns. The student nurses had the book smarts; but seemed to fall shy in the experience of it all.

It reminded me of the fitness industry...once again.

Recently, it has been "cool' to show off the amount of fitness and exercise books we read on Facebook and Twitter and I am guilty of it too. But the books don't really do much other than enlighten you with the author's view of a certain topic. Books are simply a means of dispersing information. Watching videos is a means of dispersing information. Attending workshops is a means of dispersing information. Either route you take, you don't learn more. We use these means to confirm, affirm, and challenge what we are already doing. And if we find something that we have never seen before, we copy and paste it into our brain. There has been no learning yet.

So when does the learning begin?

Like those nurses in the hospital, they have gained experience through repetition and trial and error. The student nurses liked to cite textbook protocol, but the nurses liked to coddle, reassure, and ultimately, treat the patient more effectively.

Do something wrong the first, second, or third time and you learn how to fix or correct it the second, third or fourth time. As personal trainers, your first few clients in your career are the ones that you should tend to with genuineness, generosity, and honesty. Early in your career is not the time to bloat up your ego or mention how much you bench press on a regular basis. Early in your career is the time to allow yourself some mistakes  and learn by them.

Many new fitness trainers tend to measure their experience with the amount of books they have read. Or the amount of friends they have on Facebook...or the amount of money they have spent on attending conferences.   Should I be a an expert on home mortgages since I have paid thousands of dollars on my home over the past few years?

The answer is no.

Experience is not necessarily the number of years you spend on your craft, but how many times you utilize your skills in a given amount of time. For example, an employee at McDonald's gains experience faster because the business model is designed to overflow itself with customers. That is how McDonald's makes their business. The skills are refined through repetition.

As a personal trainer you have to constantly refine your skills by obtaining as many clients as possible. Those clients should come from all walks of life to enable you to work "different angles" and develop rapport-building skills. 

So how do you build experience in a the fastest way possible?

1.) Work with many clients. Fill your client roster to a level that will make you a little more busier than you would be comfortable with. 

2.) Work or intern in a busy facility. Busy gyms or studios are always fast-paced. The better support staff is,  the faster you will slide into the fast-paced nature of the business.

3.) Try all exercises on yourself first. If you learn something new at a seminar or a video, please be sure to try the exercise or movement out on yourself before you try to coach a client through it. This will help you build awareness, coordination, and certain cues that will allow you to coach in a better manner. 

4.) Put the books down and just do it! Learning is a safe haven for doing. I am a fan of doing. Personal training is like deep sea fishing. You can read all the instructional manuals, read all the books and listen to all the advice. But once you are out in the rough seas and trying to get the job done in a windy storm--all the stuff you have read goes out the window. 

5.) Work with different types of clients. Don't pigeon-hole yourself with one type of client. Try to work with all types--including those with pre-existing conditions, past injuries, emotional distress, and different physical capabilities.

Use books and other learning tools to enhance and supplement your experience. Make them add to the process---rather than replace. Hope this helps.


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