Are They Working Hard or Hardly Working?
It has been some time since I have put my thoughts into writing but today I saw something that inspired me to write this short article about the things you should be looking for in a personal trainer.
For the past ten years I have had the opportunity to work with, manage and teach many aspiring health and fitness professionals. In this time, I have also been a witness to many practices that I will never understand and today was one of them. When I exercise I tend to keep to myself and observe everyone else. I do this for a couple of reasons; one of them being that I am a lifelong student and I am always watching people to learn from them and their successes and mistakes. The other is that I have had the pleasure of observing some of the best and some of the worst fitness professionals in the industry.
Today, I witnessed something that I still cannot wrap my head around. When I am teaching aspiring fitness professionals the one thing I spend a fair bit of time on is safety. Today I witnessed a complete disregard for safety by a certified personal trainer. While working with his client and spotting her on a dumbbell flat chest press, he spotted from the elbows (which is the first mistake). When spotting his client, she failed and the dumbbell fell on her face. The part that I am still struggling with is that within a minute, he attempted to spot her again from the elbows, and again, the weight fell on her face. First things first, when spotting any dumbbell press, you should always spot from the wrists or hands so that when your client does fatigue, you do not push the weight into their body or face like I witnessed today. This is one of the most commonly made mistakes in a fitness facility but any educated fitness professional should know this. Secondly, he did it twice!
There are an increasingly large number of people seeking personal trainers in North America. With this demand, the industry has been exploding with new theories of training, new certifications, new styles of training, new corporate fitness facilities and more and more boutique style training facilities. Before you sign up and purchase personal training, there are some things you might want to consider.
Age, Maturity, Engagement, Body Language, Appearance and Attire
Something that is not always easy to determine prior to purchasing personal training is the age and maturity level of the fitness professional. But if you have the opportunity, it is always a good idea to observe the personal trainers while they are exercising in the facility and while they are engaged with a client. This will reveal very important information regarding the personal trainer’s perspective on exercise and their approach to personal training. Look for things like whether the personal trainer has their shoes tied up, are they leaning on equipment or sitting down when their client is exercising, are they observing their client’s performance from all angles and viewpoints, are they smiling and making eye contact with their client, are they carrying a coffee while they are training their client, do they look like they just rolled out of bed and were late getting to the client’s session, are they carrying their client’s file and are they writing down information, are they actually watching their client’s technique or are they looking at other gym-goers, are they motivating and talking with their client? In between sets are they being personable or are they staring off into the distance, are they offering feedback to their client? Does the client look like they are enjoying themselves? Are they working hard or hardly working?
The answers to these questions will tell you the quality of the personal trainer you are going to get. The personal trainer should be very easy to talk to, smiling, dressed well and appear to be organized and prepared. The personal trainer should be paying attention to the client, what they are saying, what they are doing and how they are doing it. They should be providing feedback and motivating the client. The personal trainer should be inspiring and engaged with the client at all times. Their tone of voice and body language should be motivating and attractive. They should be putting the “personal” in personal training. That is what you are paying for!
Aside from the personal side of personal training, you want a personal trainer who knows what they are doing. In the industry today there are more certifications than we know what to do with. There are certifications that you can achieve by attending a weekend course, certifications that require a minimum of two years of post secondary education before you can achieve them, certifications that you can achieve online, certifications that are one day workshops and certifications that specific to a type of equipment. What you want to look for in a personal trainer are certifications that are theory based because the theory-based certifications typically require formal education prior to attempting the certification. Some of the more common theory based certifications are CSEP – CPT, NSCA – CPT, NSCA – CSCS and the YMCA Fitness Education certification. These are certifications that require education and mentorship hours to achieve. This means that they have formal education in health and fitness in addition to their personal training certification. Keep in mind that just because someone is wearing a shirt that says “Personal Trainer” does not mean they are certified. I was a “Personal Trainer” for a year at a well renowned fitness facility without any certifications.
Most fitness facilities will post their personal trainer’s credentials for you to see. Google what the certifications are or the requirements to obtain them to see just how qualified your personal trainer is!
Ideally, your personal trainer should have formal education (post secondary) in health and fitness as well as a theory-based certification. I am not saying that any personal trainer who does not have this is not high quality (I currently do not have a theory based certification but I do have 10 years of post secondary education in exercise science and 16 years of work experience in the field) but it is something to consider!
Walking the Walk
Another questions to ask is, does your personal trainer practice what they preach? Are they coaching you to do something that they cannot do themselves? If this is the case they might not be best suited for you. Think about your stockbroker. If they were encouraging you to purchase a specific stock, but they would not purchase it themselves, would you buy it? If your doctor prescribed a medication for you but they would never take it themselves, would you be confident in taking it? Find out what your personal trainer does in their spare time, their hobbies and interests. This will tell you a lot about whether they will be able to inspire you and motivate you to health and wellness.
In closing, a real fitness professional will be professional. They will treat their job as a profession. They will design workouts and programs specific to your needs and your abilities. They will contact you on your off days and see how you are feeling. They will ask you questions about you and listen to your answers and offer advice when needed. They will be YOUR personal trainer and make you feel that way. They will inspire you to be better, to do more, to achieve goals that you have never thought possible. They will educate you and teach you why you are doing what they are telling you to do. And lastly, they will encourage you and guide you to the results you want to see while making sure you are getting there safely.