Most often, when looking for a personal guru in their club, people judge a trainer by his clothes – his appearance or the appearance of his clients, giving little thought to his mind (the intellectual and technical side). We will tell you how not to do it, and tell you how to do it.
Myth 1: The strongest is the right one!
The strongest, the most massive and relievable people in the gym (or the slimmest and flattest in Instagram) will give the most useful, sensible and safest advice on training/nutrition; you can tell from them that they know everything better than anyone else. Yes, life is different, sometimes they do know … but often they don’t.
First of all, the idea that an outstanding athlete automatically becomes a great coach, is not confirmed by life. Look at professional sports – many champions fail in their subsequent coaching careers. And others, who didn’t even make it to the top level competitions, became great teachers and helped a lot of athletes to reach their potential.
It’s not about physical attributes, but a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the respective sport, and the ability to simplify and explain the right things to each athlete, so that he or she can improve their skills. You think Michael Jordan’s coaches easily beat him? Well, well, well.
Second, the most pumped-up and dried-up guys in the gym became this way not because of their unique knowledge, but because of their unrealistic motivation. Because of which they build their entire lives around the gym and the kitchen. Of course, they charge us emotionally, showing exemplary discipline, but they are far from understanding biomechanics and physiology, are familiar with the latest research and are able to develop individual programmes with different objectives for different people.
For some trainers, fitness is a profession (trying to help others), and for others, a hobby (influenced by their own training). Amateurs also learn and improve their skills, but in what they enjoy themselves. As a result, the client will pay for the trainer to tell and show them how they train themselves, rather than create a truly ‘personalised’ programme for others to achieve their own goals.
Myth 2: The better looking clients, the more competent the trainer
Does that sound reasonable? Nah, it’s also nonsense. The fact is that the vast majority of fitness club-goers engage in health and wellness training “for themselves”.
Sure, everyone wants to improve their appearance, but few people become fitness maniacs whose lives are limited to the barbell and the cooker. Sometimes people say straight out that they are not going to change their diet, and they only need exercise to compensate for their favourite dishes. Therefore it makes no sense to expect the trainer to transform a client who eats whatever he or she wants and does not move at all outside the gym in one or two workouts a week.
The average person goes to a fitness club to improve their health and mood; he does not care about records in chinning or abs (if for that something has to be sacrificed), the main indicator of training – is the pleasure received from it. That is why quite successful fitness professionals (including yours truly) have regular customers who have not changed that much in appearance and have not become record-breakers over the years of working together.
However, fitness (powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.) trainers do not understand how it is possible to waste time “aimlessly” by working out “for yourself”. They do not understand that they can go to the gym for pleasure. But that’s their problem, not the client’s. If a person just wants to feel better, to be energised, to sleep better and to enjoy life – that’s the norm. And a sensible coach will support that.
What a good coach is really like
Now, having debunked the basic myths, let’s start discussing the qualities of a true professional. Of course, it is good that he knows how to enthuse the client, to inspire and maintain interest in regular training.
But the main characteristic of a real trainer is the ability to prescribe the right exercises. Just as a doctor prescribes a medicine, a fitness professional must individually select the right movements for a client.
It is not enough to be familiar with a lot of different exercises and even to know the techniques. If this is all a trainer can boast of, he or she is no different from iron fans without education, who watch training videos on the Internet, read books, magazines, etc.
A good trainer differs from an average trainer in that he understands:
- Which exercises are not suitable for a particular client (due to physique, age, physiological or psychological limitations, etc.)
- Which exercises are more effective in reaching this particular client’s goals and how best to position them in their programme
Three circles of trainers
In my opinion, the coaching set can be described using three concentric circles – according to the degree of effort they put into constant self-education.
This is the largest group that draws training information from popular media, such as fitness celebrities or professional athletes. Needless to say, these are not the most reliable sources (with a fair share of pseudoscience)?
The trainers of the circle of the first resort to the easiest and quickest ways of certification and validation of qualifications. In reality, their education is to find new, trendy and unique “tricks” and “trainers”, to impress the naive masses of ordinary people with their advancement.
Trainers of the second category are already seriously spending time and money on education: they follow the releases of new books in their field, regularly attend training courses (not for the crown, but with a genuine interest), get acquainted with the latest research. And of course, thanks to all this, they become real experts in prescribing exercises – with what is known as an ‘evidence-based’ approach.
The rarest fitness specialists become those people who are not just interested in professional development, but prefer it to any other kind of training. We can say that they are obsessed (in a good sense of the word) with self-education: they devote all their free time to reading scientific literature, analyzing new research, attending lectures and seminars, etc., etc. There is simply nothing more important, enjoyable or interesting for them to do.
That is the kind of trainer everyone would like to study with. Unfortunately, sometimes out of 20 personal trainers in the club there are only one or two real enthusiasts. And sometimes none at all. If you are lucky enough to find such a professional – appreciate it.
By the way, going back to our myths, trainers of the third, rarest category look much less pumped up than fitness amateurs from the first circle. And there’s a great explanation for this: they don’t spend their time endlessly pumping and counting calories, they spend their time continuing to learn and putting their knowledge into practice with you. That’s why you should try to find such a mentor, who can design the most effective personalised programme to achieve your personal goals.
Trainer Assessment Questionnaire
Even if every coach (from all three categories) genuinely wants to help their client, not everyone is equally good at it. It requires constant self-development, skill building, and mastery. Willingness alone is not enough – by the way, the same can be said of training experience. What good are long years in the gym if you still do not understand something, repeat old mistakes and are still stuck in basic misconceptions?
Ask the candidate for the position of your personal trainer these questions. His answers will help you to determine whether you are just a fan of iron, or a competent professional:
- From what sources do you get your information?
- Do you continue to improve your skills?
- How many hours a week do you spend on your education; how long do you develop an individual programme for each client?
- What is the last thing you studied to raise your level?
- What do you plan to study further?
- This is my goal. How do you think you can achieve it?
- How is this method better than the others? Why is it more helpful to me?
- Do you prescribe the same basic exercises to all your clients? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Have you had clients like me (similar physique, age, gender, health, etc.) with the same goals?
- If yes, is it possible to talk to them about the results of working with you?