The personal training industry is a racket, supported by a clientele that will never achieve results. This is what I’ve learned in 10 years of personal training.
My experience with the fitness industry started when I was a skinny 20 year old and decided to hire a personal trainer.
I came to this decision after a lifetime of scrawniness. I lifted weights in high school, but never got anywhere. I asked the jocks how they did it and they’d give answers, but didn’t really know. When we worked out, they’d continue to be strong and I’d continue to be weak. Then as a sophomore in college, my buddy and I pooled our cash together and hired a real personal trainer who taught us how to work out properly.
When we looked for a personal trainer we didn’t care about a certification. (Certifications didn’t exist back then). We looked for a guy who had the type of build we wanted. Being skinny, young males, we hired a guy who was yoked, an ex-bodybuilder. He was a good guy. He told us how many sets and repetitions we needed to do each week in order to get the builds we were looking for. For an hour this guy put us through a workout routine and corrected our form along the way. He liked our motivation and the next day worked out with us again for free.
For a year, six days a week, we worked out on our own, doing exactly what he showed us with no deviation. Every eight weeks I noticed a change in my body. (I’d later learn that varying a workout is good thing and we would have accelerated the process having known this, but considering this was the first time I was getting real results, I was not about to stop doing what was working).
At the end of the year I had gained 25 pounds of muscle and was stoked. My fitness goal changed from just wanting to feel confident with my shirt off, to experimenting with ways to enhance my physical performance. So for two more years I played on a couple of rugby teams, went to master’s swimming, added distance running, body weight exercises and anything else I could learn to enhance my physical prowess. When college ended, I felt that joining the navy in an effort to become a navy SEAL was a viable option. (There is a lot more to becoming a navy SEAL, than peak physical performance, but if you start off in great shape, it’s one less thing you have to worry about).
As a SEAL I met people of various athletic backgrounds. There was everything from Division 1, wrestlers, football players, swimmers etc. There were guys who were All Americans in college, NCAA champs in their disciplines and along the way, I learned from these guys and what they did to achieve their athleticism. The SEAL teams were great, but eventually that time ended and I was back to being a civilian.
Gyms Care About Your Money, Not Your Results
People often asked me how to work out, and so a friend of mine suggested I make some supplemental income by advising and training. To do that I learned I needed to get a personal trainer certification. (If you google personal training certification, you’ll see the list that comes up. Most gyms accept any that appear in your search). If I paid for a course, I could get certified. Once I had a certification, I could be insurable and work out of a gym.
I picked a popular certification and paid several hundred dollars for the course. They in turn sent me a big binder of pages about personal training and a website where I could log in and take the test to prove I was indeed qualified to personally train. That was it. There was no physical requirement, no demonstration of skills, just a book and an unmonitored test. I didn’t have to study. For all the test providers knew, I could be overweight with donuts in my mouth, chain smoking a pack of Kools while washing it all down with chocolate milk and gin. All I had to do was sign in, read the answers in the book, and fill the test out online. There was nothing hard about it. If you can read and spend a few hundred bucks, you can become a personal trainer.
Somewhere there is a person who created these certifications making toilet paper out of his surplus of one hundred dollar bills.
Now that I had my certification, I was hireable. I worked part time at a few gyms and met other personal trainers. Most of these folks were just basic people who worked out and decided to buy a certification. Occasionally, I’d meet someone with an impressive athletic background, but their knowledge and resume had nothing to do with how much it cost to buy their service. It also didn’t make them any more hireable to a gym. The chain gyms want some smiling fitness tool to sell you a bunch of training sessions. They are not looking for the professional athlete, the NCAA Division I athlete or the Ironman triathlete. They just want people with a bullshit certification, to convince you to keep buying shit at the gym in the form of: memberships, training sessions and crap at the juice bar.
When applying for jobs I’d often get asked by a potential employer, “What will make people want to train with you?” I’d say that I had been a Navy SEAL, was a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu had completed 1/2 Ironman triathlon and was training for a full Ironman. In other words, I knew what I was doing. This didn’t seem to matter. They were looking for sales people. They’d often point out their top trainer.
“See Terry there? Terry started out here just like everyone else and now Terry is our top trainer! Terry has sold more personal training packages this month than last month and last month was a record breaker! Everyone loves Terry.”
Inevitably Terry would be some cream cake with a perma-grin on his/her face that had a nauseating “can do” attitude even though they themselves had never done fuck except sell personal training, (crap they learned in a $600 binder that said they were certified by ACE or NASM).
I get it, sort of. A gym has to make money, but not at the expense of the people. This is where the clientele needs to take a stand, but they don’t. They just water down the system. They buy these personal training sessions from the smiling Terries, miss sessions, train half ass, stay weak, and then buy more. Rather than do this, a client should buy sessions from a someone who knows what he or she is doing and then for the time they have, push themselves with the trainer’s guidance.
Don’t Become Part of the Problem
Gym time should be uninterrupted time
You have all day to be disrupted by business, family and excuses why you are incapable, but for your workout session, none of that should matter. Just show up and try. That’s it. It’s like clockwork. You will see results if you can do that.
If you are on a cardio machine and can read or follow a TV show, you are not pushing yourself.
If your cell phone is on during the workout, you are not pushing yourself.
These distractions lead to candy ass workouts where real results are rarely achieved. It is why the Terries of the world will always be in business. Their knowledge will never have to be tested, because you have to speak to your wife or buddies in the middle of a workout. These gym goers will never know what it’s like to commit to real physical effort for an hour a day. It is why in two years of personal training, you haven’t achieved shit physically, while a hungry teenager (my favorite client) who just wants to make the team, will make incredible gains before the season starts.
Find a gym nearby
If you want to get fit, the first thing you have to do is show up. Select a gym where this is possible. A mediocre gym within walking distance is a hell of a lot better than the all star gym or country club across town. The all star gym is great when you have an open Saturday and don’t mind the commute. But for the other 364 days a year when you are in a time crunch and dead tired from being overworked, you’ll be more motivated to visit the gym right around the corner.
How to Spot Personal Trainers, Not Salesmen
Select a person you will want to spend time with
If you don’t like your trainer, you’ll end up blowing off your workouts, so shop around. There is nothing wrong with telling the folks at your gym you’d like to train with a different trainer for each session until you find the trainer that works for you.
When you try out these trainers, ask questions: What’s their athletic background? Who have they trained? Why did they become a trainer? What are their strategies for getting you to your goal? Too many people just take whatever trainer is assigned to them without ever really seeing if this person knows what they are doing.
Take note of the trainer’s accomplishments and also the trainer’s individual path. Some trainers may have gotten into fitness late and may not have major athletic accomplishments, but if they have a stable of clients who are athletes, or if they have come a long way physically, they know what they are doing.
As far as certifications with acronyms for names, I don’t see them being worth anything. What is worth something is knowledge in a medical field: physicians assistants, rehab therapists, sports therapy, kinesiologists, etc. If you are the type of person that likes Eastern medicine, the same holds true for that. I’ve known some great trainers who are educated in acupuncture and other forms of Eastern healing. Not all good trainers will have this extra knowledge–and that’s fine–but if they know about rehab therapy, or acupuncture, it’s an added benefit. A trainer who knows how to avoid injuries and can work you through injuries you may acquire, is a valuable person to build a relationship with.
There are good personal trainers out there, just do your research and don’t expect a gym to do it for you. Otherwise you’ll be paying top dollar for a smiling Terry, while ignoring the former Olympian who was so busy turning him or herself into a machine, they never learned to perma-grin.