If you have read anything that I have written in the past (and I hope you have) you know that I don’t have the highest opinion of my own industry. In fact, to be blunt, my industry sucks. Anybody who takes a weekend course and passes an open book multiple choice exam and then demonstrates that they know how to coach someone how to sit down and stand up gets a shiny piece of paper framed and can call themselves a certified personal trainer.
Now, let’s get some perspective here. A massage therapist needs a minimum of two years of school and thousands of practice hours plus a rigorous examination process, and they massage people for a living (no offense to massage therapists of course). A naturopathic doctor needs not only a bachelor’s degree with high marks, but also another 4-5 years of post-graduate training, and they consult with people about things like hormones, do food testing (often through labs) and perform skills like acupuncture. Both of these things are something that requires a lot of knowledge and care. Hell, it takes eight months of schooling to learn how to roll a cigar in Cuba so you can work in a factory.
So then why is it okay that a person with minimal education (often nothing beyond high school) and a weekend course under their belt can tell someone to get onto a treadmill and run until they throw up, or lift so much weight that they can be severely hurt? Over my years as a trainer I have heard of (and witnessed directly) some of the most idiotic things that anyone could possibly do to someone, all in the name of “pushing through the limits” or “feeling the burn”.
There are many scary aspects about the fitness industry, but one of the most prevalent to me is that clients who hire trainers (especially at chain gyms, where trainers are often assigned by a salesperson who wants commission, not chosen due to qualifications) don’t do their due diligence, don’t bother to qualify the person they work with and just blindly trust that they are knowledgeable enough to not do anything stupid.
Here’s a quick clue: it takes no skill at all to be able to turn someone into a quivering mess on the floor. If I make someone lift enough weight, do it too fast, too soon and too often or put them on a treadmill and make them throw up a la The Biggest Loser this is not skill. It is a person (who is being paid to care for another person’s body) treating you like a toy with no responsibility whatsoever. Even better are the trainers who still believe in the “no pain, no gain” garbage mantra so if you aren’t sore (where they perceive you should be sore) they think they have done something horribly wrong and double the load during your next workout, crippling the poor person and ensuring that they won’t be able to work out for another week. Great job.
Here’s a quick clue – your body is a lot smarter than that. If you’re not sore, it doesn’t mean that nothing has happened to you and you aren’t going to get a benefit from it. Anyone who thinks that not having DOMS means you haven’t worked a muscle is wrong. Period.
So what does require real skill? How about watching your client closely so that if their form goes off you can cue them back into proper movement? How about stopping a set well before you need to so that they might be able to do a couple of more and learn a motor pattern without going into extreme fatigue? How about progressing things carefully with loads specifically targeted to that person’s capacity on that day at that time, not necessarily what they should do based on a week ago? How about when that person walks out the door, they feel better – not worse – than when they walked in because they are stimulated just enough to provide a good result without going over the edge?
It is not a badge of honour to not be able to walk up a flight of stairs after a leg workout or not lift your arms after an arm workout. It is not a good thing to feel pain for three to four days (there is a big difference between pain and recovery). It is not smart to give yourself goals that are potentially dangerous to achieve in a short time frame. But these are things I see the fitness industry do almost every day. And I would love that to change.
So if you’re a consumer reading this, please beware of my industry. That might sound strange, but it’s something I firmly believe in. Do your due diligence and watch out for the uneducated and inexperienced trainer who is all about the intensity or creativeness and none of the skill. I can guarantee you if you work out at a chain gym the personal training staff is probably 80% these types of people.
If you’re a trainer reading this, let’s all make a pledge to try to do better and use the skills that we have, or develop them if we don’t. Honing a skill is something that takes years to do, and another person’s body, which you have now had the fortune (or misfortune) to be trusted with is in your hands. It is a massive responsibility that you should never forget.
And, if you choose not to – you only need another 30 weeks of education to be able to roll cigars in Cuba. You’re probably better off doing that anyway.