It’s a New Year and gyms are flooded with people with the best of intentions. They’ve set a weight loss or other fitness goal to work towards in the New Year. Many of them have never been in a gym or haven’t used their membership in a long, long time. So what’s a good idea? Hire someone to help keep them accountable and help them with your goals, right?
Now before I go into the negatives, I believe strongly in my industry. A good trainer is worth their weight in gold towards keeping you accountable, safe and progressing towards better health and physical movement. Someone who is dedicated to their craft, learns constantly and uses many types of tools depending on the client.
The reason for this article is that in most chain gyms this is rare. The personal training world has no barrier to entry. I can direct you to a web site where for $200 and doing a quick multiple choice exam (which I got 92% on without studying a thing) you can get a certificate as a personal trainer. Many certification courses out there aren’t much better than this. Goodlife for one actually has their own training certification (called GLPTI) their employees are forced to go through (and have to pay for themselves) that teaches sales techniques, not proper training principles beyond periodization. Here in Ottawa, I recently learned that another big chain gym (Movati) is doing the same thing now. It’s not about results – it’s about money. Sales drives the training industry, especially in chain gyms.
Training also has its’ share of people who really don’t care. Most trainers (80%) leave the industry within two years and get into it for the wrong reasons. They want an easy way to make money because training has a high pay rate per hour while they can work where they like to hang out – the gym. At the beginning, maybe they have good intentions but quickly realize that they aren’t going to be working with athletes and fitness models and have to get up at 5am to service people. So their motivation is gone, and therefore your results.
So what can happen is a lot of people who really need help hire a “trainer” who has no knowledge or intention to really do a good job. Or, at most chain gyms you book a “free consultation” (ProTip: EVERY TRAINER OFFERS THESE, IT ISN’T SPECIAL). You get paired with not who is the best fit, but who has an open time that fits yours or a new trainer who needs to fill their schedule. And you get results – maybe – or possibly a higher risk of getting hurt or bad advice.
So here’s my recommendations of what to do when anyone starts looking for a trainer, either at a chain gym or elsewhere.
Do Your Homework
Chain gyms often have a wall of trainers, with lists of their skills and certifications. The newer ones will have less – or have things like “former college athlete” on their bio along with their one certification. This is to fill space, it isn’t a qualification. They will also be a lower level therefore cheaper to hire. This isn’t necessarily bad, it is just an indicator that they haven’t been around as long and possibly don’t sell packages well (ProTip: At most chain gyms, the “Level” of trainer is based on sales – not skills.)
Read the bios, then if you find one that you think sounds like they have qualifications to match what you want – go find them. Preferably WATCH them with a client. Some things to look for:
- Are they paying attention and focused on the client?
- Are they writing things down or recording somehow (some use tablets now)?
- Are they coaching and correcting when needed or just counting reps?
- Are they doing proper rest periods or chatting for minutes between sets?
Then – if they seem to be doing all these things – approach them (or the manager) and ask specifically to meet with them for a consultation. I’ve been doing this job for over 15 years and my consults are my time. Why? Because I as the trainer need to know if we are a good fit to work together, and sometimes I need to refer people to someone else if we’re not. I just recently did this with a friend of mine because she wanted something I don’t specialize in, even though she wanted to work with me.
If you’re going the independent or at home trainer route, make sure to ask for references from people who have similar goals to yours. Any good long term trainer has lots of happy clients, even if they are former clients for whatever reason. If they can’t provide this simple thing, then you might want to be wary. You also want to make sure that their style and facility matches with things like your location and how they will motivate you since you likely can’t see them work with people ahead of time.
Don’t Fall For Sales Tactics
A good trainer will have a plan, but if a potential client asks me how long it’s going to take to get to their goal my first answer is I DON’T KNOW. I can give a rough estimate, but it depends on a variety of factors, the biggest of which is your adherence as a client.
Many trainers will sit you down and say “It will take x amount of weeks at this phase of training (usually using big words like hypertrophy or mesocycle) to get to the next phase, we go through these phases and then you’re at your goal!” Hooray, right? But that’s over a period of 9 months and most will tell you you need 3 sessions a week to get proper results. Don’t get me wrong, you get the best results with more sessions – but cost (and time) is a factor for most people. Any trainer who says you MUST have this amount to reach your goals is trying to sell you something.
But wait – the total amount might be $$$ but we can stretch out that amount and you can pay for it over 12 months instead of 9, so it’s affordable. And then they start in with telling you all your flaws, or reminding you of that dress you want to fit into in six months and try to shame you into signing a big contract. I had a former co worker who prided herself on making people cry during consultations. Many trainers are really very good salespeople disguised as experts. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine and honestly it disgusts me. However, many trainers are hired by gyms for sales skills, not training skills.
A good trainer has a plan – but it is adjustable and takes into consideration things like time, budget and realistic situations. Most of my client roster basically had three weeks off schedule recently because their kids were out of school for holidays. A good trainer will adjust based on these circumstances. If you are in a specific phase of training then it can be extended, adjusted or whatever you need. Life happens.
If it sounds more like you’re buying a used car than hiring someone for a service then please think twice. The person should be telling you about how they are going to do things, not haggling on prices.
Don’t Sign a Long Term Contract
You’ve found a good trainer. You’re getting results, you get along and they seem to be a good fit. Excellent! But one day your trainer tells you that they are changing to a different gym that is inconvenient for you – or worse, is leaving the industry. There are little to NO safeguards that you can get your money back if you have paid them up front.
A chain gym will simply assign you another trainer (it’s in your contract). If you do your vetting process properly as in my previous paragraph this may work out well. But they will NOT give you a refund. Find another trainer that is a good fit for you and hopefully you can continue on the road to results. However, if you never signed a long term contract in the first place you can potentially move with the trainer which might be a better option.
If it is an independent trainer, then hopefully they are ethical enough to refund you, but this can be drawn out, and if they are more of a salesperson than a good trainer then likely they will simply disappear, especially if they are leaving the industry. Buyer beware. It’s much safer just to not have a long term commitment paid for up front. If a potential trainer is trying to get you to sign something for a long period of time, be careful and ask for options. (ProTip: Sessions should not cost less just because there are more of them, no other professional does this type of thing.)
Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your Trainer
One thing that should drive the personal training industry is SERVICE. Just like any other industry. If your trainer is showing up late, constantly cancelling or rescheduling and you’re not getting the level of service you want then have a discussion with them about expectations and if they don’t meet them, you have the right to find another one who meets your needs.
The trainer/client relationship is often fairly close and can develop into friendship (which some trainers take advantage of in my opinion) so a client can “feel bad” for asking for good service from someone they are paying for a service! This is ridiculous. You’re paying $1 a minute for service – not a chatting partner or rep counter or someone who just doesn’t feel like working that day.
Just like any other professional, you have the right to expectations, and so does the trainer. I can count on one hand the amount of clients I’ve actually fired myself over fifteen years, but it has happened. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and do what is best for yourself and moving towards your fitness goals. Any professional will understand.
I applaud any of you who are looking to improve in 2017 and work towards getting healthier and in better shape. Set some short and long term goals, and remember the key to your success is consistency over time. The journey is worth it when you realize how good you feel and how much you can move without pain. A good trainer is a partner in that journey with you and I hope that you all find good ones.
If you want to reach me for inquires within the Ottawa area or elsewhere you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to my web site at http://www.srottawa.com if you have questions. I’m always happy to help.
Happy New Year!
It’s not often I post twice in a week, but I just read something on my Facebook that was both sad and alarming at the same time. In a nutshell, one of my acquaintances who is training for a fitness competition posted that after her leg workout, she got the shakes and threw up – for the second time.
This wasn’t the most alarming thing. Throwing up after a workout is just stupid, unhealthy and totally unnecessary, and anyone should know that. It should also be a sign to you that something might be seriously wrong, and posting it on Facebook in order to seem hardcore is bad enough. Let’s not also mention that you already did it once, and then chose to do it again. What was even more alarming were the comments, likes and things that people were saying to actually ENCOURAGE this behaviour and make the original poster feel GOOD ABOUT IT.
“Very proud of you.” ?????
“That’s awesome! I want to do that workout!” ?????
Are you fucking kidding me?
Let’s step back and take a reality check here for a second. If this person pukes, it’s really cool? This is a good thing? Vomiting is basically your body telling you that it is so overloaded that it needs to vent anything else it is doing in order to make you lie down. It is telling you that it can’t take care of a simple process like digestion because you have totally destroyed it. This is an incredible stress on your digestive and nervous system. You can also die from it, or it might result in a trip to the hospital. People vomit when they are having concussions, brain aneurysms and have ingested toxins. However, you can also vomit from intense pain or emotional stress. Any way you cut it, this is not something to be celebrated.
At least the coach posted that the volume was obviously too much and that it was counter productive, but then proceeded to “like” the girl replying that she felt like a champion. After vomiting. Good job, champ. Maybe if you do it enough you’ll get a shiny medal or a piece of paper that says you’re a “pro”.
The reason I’m writing this is because this is one of the serious problems with the fitness world as a whole. Competitors use diets, drugs and whatever method they can to get into the condition they want to be in without any regard to what it is likely to do to them down the road. Being a fitness competitor or bodybuilder isn’t healthy in the slightest, but for some reason society pictures ripped abs and big biceps and aspires to be that way, not realizing that 90% of these people are sick, feel terrible and have massive health issues before long most of the time. And I’m not even touching the mental issue side of the industry. Want to find people with eating disorders and massive body image problems (both men and women)? Look no further than your local gym or Instagram fitness profile. This weekend is the Arnold Classic, where guys (and many girls) who have done amounts of steroids you can’t even imagine are celebrated with acclaim by millions of fans. Supplement companies all vying to be the next big money maker packing booths with people wanting the promise that if you just take this, you can look like (or date) the girl handing it to you! I promise! Just don’t read the ingredients because it might amaze you what people ingest these days in the hopes of looking “fit and healthy”. Looking it is about all that’s going on, unfortunately because if you looked inside these people, there isn’t an ounce of health there.
You can look great, perform at a high level and have a good quality of life without resorting to these things, but once you’re part of the club then look out. If you don’t push yourself that hard then you aren’t hardcore enough to be a champion! Blood, sweat and iron! Whatever it takes! Sacrifice your health and well being and you can have your picture taken by a photographer (that you paid) and photoshopped and then market yourself as a fitness expert because you look good with an airbrush.
And people believe it. And they wonder why when they turn 40 they can’t move their joints, have long term health issues or have to be on piles of medication. But hey, look at those pictures from 10 years ago, right? Remember that show I did? Remember when I used to be able to make myself puke? That was awesome.
The ironic thing is that under the circumstances of this particular person’s life she should be one of the last people to ever push herself that hard, knowing what could possibly happen. But for some reason beating herself into the ground with weights and intensity to the point of collapse and vomiting makes her feel good about herself.
And maybe that’s what we should really be talking about in the first place.
Since its’ inception The Biggest Loser has been a source of controversy, not only in the fitness world but across the internet and blogoverse for the extreme way that they approach weight loss and “health”. Most recently this all came to a head when at the finale the winner revealed a 60% loss of weight, losing 45 pounds in just over a month to win $250,000. The thing everyone freaked out about is that at the finale she looked incredibly skinny and was classified as “dangerously underweight”.
People, let’s have a reality check along with this “reality” show. If someone told me that I’d win $250,000 if I just got on a scale lighter than two other people I wouldn’t give a care as to what I looked like when it happened. I’m quite sure that immediately after that taped the contestant simply rehydrated, carbed back up and gained 15 pounds in a couple of weeks (if not days). In the fitness competition world it is quite common for men and women to drop 8-10 pounds of water in a day. Is it healthy? Of course not. Would I do it to win $250,000? You’re damned right I would. Professional fighters do it before almost every fight. For $250,000 you would be surprised what I would do.
On Season 7 Helen Philips lost 55% of her body weight and 30 pounds between the final episode and finale. She looked really, really unhealthy and her BMI was 18.9. Nobody freaked out. Did I mention that she was 47 years old? At least the contestant who did it this season was a former athlete and in her 20’s. She lost 45 pounds between the final episode and finale. The guy who came in 2nd in this controversial season dropped 57 pounds in the same time frame – nobody mentions that though, because he lost. These people are doing what it takes to win money. Period.
That all under the bridge, this show has never been anything to do with proper health and weight loss. Contestants regularly get injured doing workouts that they have no business doing. It gives a complete false impression of what healthy exercise and eating is (along with lots of product shout outs for marketing dollars). When one of your main sponsors is Subway, which has been proven over and over again to be almost as bad as many other fast food places for health then you really don’t have a leg to stand on. Showing people who are obese getting put through exercise that makes them pass out, throw up and hurt themselves is totally irresponsible, but it gets ratings, right? The “trainers” (and I put Jillian Michaels well into this category as a quotation mark “trainer”) spend barely any time with the contestants beyond shooting the puff pieces used for television. The contestants are contractually obligated to work out for several hours a day and eat mandated amounts of calories. This is about as far from “reality” as you can get, which is also why many of them gain weight back once they leave the show. Surprisingly enough, more often than not the ones who do well and get sponsorships and more promotional deals stay motivated to keep the weight off.
The show is about losing scale weight. For some reason, many people are obsessed with this concept. Athletes don’t generally give any consideration to their weight unless their sport involves weight classes like powerlifting or boxing. They care about what they can do with the body they have and how it performs. In an ideal world, we would all just accept our individual bodies, treat them with respect and focus on what they can do and what we want to do with them, not what a number on a machine says about you. For some sports, like cycling and running if you are lighter it does mean you will be faster, but smart people know that if it means your performance suffers then it isn’t worth it. Let’s focus more on what we can do, not what we look like.
Be healthy. Be strong. Be whatever you want to be without obsessing about a number because the media tells you you’re “too” anything, be it big, small, short or tall. Just get out there and stay active, do it responsibly and respect your body. And please, please don’t take this “reality” show as anything you should aspire to.