In my many years as an exercise professional I’ve worked in many different types of facilities, including chain gyms, private studios and corporate facilities. When I began in the industry as a wide-eyed personal trainer working for a national fitness chain (you can guess which one) I was probably a pretty poor trainer. The fact that anyone can call himself or herself a trainer with no formal post secondary education and a certificate from attending a 20-hour weekend course – or even via online correspondence without attending a classroom at all – means that the industry is full of unqualified, inexperienced individuals. A case in point happened to me a couple of years ago when I moved to a new city with my wife and had to restart my practice up from nothing. I was hired by (ironically enough) the same national chain gym I began my career with to train in a brand new facility. Attending the first staff orientation session and starting to talk to the other trainers that had been hired, I received some startling news. Guess how many of the “trainers” in the room had ever trained anyone before other than themselves?
And it was me.
Out of – and this is the true number – over TWENTY new trainers, I was the only one who was even certified, or with any practical experience handing weights to anyone beyond “I’ve trained my buddy/parent/Aunt Sally in their garage”. Shock was not even a small part of my emotion when I found this out. The worst part was, these people were allowed to train clients right away without having even attended any coursework or receiving any actual training about training! Of course this was never revealed to the clients in question but ethics never seemed to come into play working for that particular company. I’ll get to that situation in another article in the future.
So what would happen is that a client would pay money (sometimes thousands of dollars) for someone who was dangerously unqualified, had no clue about proper movement, form or progressions, and in a large part didn’t have any idea about how to actually help the people they were “training”. Or, the client would pay the exact same amount and get someone with ten years experience, and a high level of knowledge of the human body and how force and movement actually affect it.
Through the years due to working in an unregulated industry I have seen some horrendous things. I have worked across from people who spent most of their time with clients doing the same routines over and over – with entirely different people. I have worked alongside people who injured their clients through ignorance, referred them out to therapists (at massive expense) – and then the clients continued to train with them! Lazy and potentially dangerous trainers are commonplace in most commercial gyms today, and to me this is just ridiculous. So I ask anyone who is reading this who is thinking about or currently has a trainer who does the following things: why are you paying for that?
- Inattentive or distracted trainers. They would rather make conversation or stare at a television than pay attention to you and what you are doing. And, I believe that any trainer even touching a cell phone when with a client should be fired on the spot. A trainer who sits on his/her butt while their client is exercising should be reprimanded as well. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but it often makes me look good compared to others when I’m actually engaged, spotting my client properly and coaching them like a trainer should. When a person is holding excess resistance and being asked to do movement that is taxing their neurological system, you might want to keep an eye on them.
- A trainer who can’t tell you what progressions you have made and why they are following that path, or why you are doing a particular exercise in a particular way. And “I saw this really neat thing on YouTube” doesn’t cut it. You are not a guinea pig. Tracking your results should also be happening on a regular basis. Ask to see your file once in a while.
- A trainer who can’t properly demonstrate or do what they are asking you to do. If your trainer can’t do it, do you really think you will be able to? If you can’t do a proper lunge movement standing with your feet on the ground, why would you be doing it with a foot off of the ground, on an unstable surface, or with impact? Far too often clients are asked to do things not because of any purpose beyond the trainer wanting to create “muscle confusion” (whatever that is supposed to be) or because the trainer is bored – not the client.
- An obviously overweight, unhealthy trainer. Yes, I said it. Unless the trainer participates in a sport that requires them to be overweight (and there are many examples of this) trainers should constantly be applying fitness principles to themselves i.e. working out. My personal program is constantly changing based on my personal goals, just like the clients’ program should be. Lead by example.
In order to change this paradigm there are two things that need to happen. The first is that fitness facilities need to see training as something other than a cash cow and stop packing in unqualified, undereducated trainers for the sake of more revenue from vulnerable new members who just don’t know any better or fall for a slick sales pitch. The likelihood of this happening is probably .001%. However, the other is that as a client, you need to expect more of your trainer. And, as a trainer you need to expect more of yourself and give your clients what they have spent their hard earned money on. Personally if I was paying a high amount of money per hour I would expect a pretty high standard of quality, and so should you. If you are a trainer reading this, remember that these people are entrusting you with their physical health and well being, and what you do to them every session can either create a strong, healthy body – or destroy it. As one of my instructors used to say, use your powers for good, not evil. Although I guess I shouldn’t complain too much – it keeps me busy!