14 August 2019

Injurious Qualities of Personal Trainers: What is the antidote?

by Jacob Schepis 0

  It should be self-evident that there are certain qualities that are injurious to the success of a personal trainer. In many cases, if a trainer possesses these qualities, they have little hope in attaining a prosperous or lucrative career in the fitness industry. Although this is a rather cynical and pessimistic outlook, I honestly believe…


It should be self-evident that there are certain qualities that are injurious to the success of a personal trainer. In many cases, if a trainer possesses these qualities, they have little hope in attaining a prosperous or lucrative career in the fitness industry. Although this is a rather cynical and pessimistic outlook, I honestly believe that there is hope for everyone, with a few caveats. For one to increase their likelihood of success, they must willing to change, be critical of themselves and commit to pursuing better outcomes.


For context, in a previous article I ranted about how some clients and prospective clients have little respect for and don’t value personal trainers. Much of the piece was centered around the idea that folks simply fail to appreciate that personal training and coaching is someone’s livelihood and that we (coaches) deserve to be paid for our time.


Flipping the coin now, I want to take a critical look at why some personal trainers aren’t helping their cause. Why some coaches are simply injuring their hopes of surviving and thriving in the industry and what they can do about it. In many cases, coaches harm their potential and hinder the likelihood of obtaining the respect needed by clients and are thus undervalued.


I’ve identified three commonalities amongst such trainers and additional to these three diabolical qualities, I will also provide an anti-dote, which will hopefully provide some strategies to remedy these injurious qualities. I hope these proposed solutions are useful and that make for more than just another opinion piece demonstrating my lack of patience with the fitness industry.


Finally, with the huge influx of inquiries over recent months/years from coaches in Australia looking to obtain a position at JPS, this article will also serve as recommended reading before anyone submits a job application or proceeds to the interview process. Let this be your forewarning future JPS coaches…



1, The Qualification Gypsies


The first quality on my hit list are the qualification gypsies. These are the guys and gals who rack up a bunch of certificates, courses etc and have a laundry list of qualifications on their resume.


This is all well and good, but dude/dudette, can you coach?


It is common knowledge that basic personal trainer certification is far from adequate. In fact, it’s dismal. That’s why at JPS we took matters into our own hands and now run a certificate 3 & 4 in fitness. We recognized the inherent limitations of the current state of education for personal trainers and wanted to rectify the money grabbing attempts of institutes that have no interest in seeing their students succeed.


The qualifications necessary to teach people gym and those available to most PT’s are lackluster and fail to adequately equip budding young trainers with the knowledge and skills they need to excel as a coach. Not to mention, these certificates are taught mostly online now. It costs money to hire facilities and staff to teach, and online education brings about some serious issues.


As I’m sure you are all aware, there are many elements of personal training that cannot be taught via an online lecture or in a one day bosu ball or remedial massage course. The job of a coach is so multifaceted that it takes most half-decent coaches a decade to accumulate the know-how and knack to do a half-decent job.


The practice of a personal trainer requires significant hands-on experience. Just like a trade such as carpentry cannot be taught online, personal training cannot be mastered via online courses.


Instructing, assessing and correcting movement for a wide-array of individuals with anthropometrical variations that would stump most physiotherapists and writing training programs (not just slapping together a once-off generic routine, but adapting and adjusting a plan to progress an individual) is something you need to practice and try in real time.


Programming and teaching movement for clients are roles you must be familiar with before running your own coaching services or seeking employment in well-established facilities.


An education for personal training by law requires the requisite qualifications, but anyone interested in making a fruitful career out of coaching and getting results for their clients must get their feet wet before they dive into the deep end and seek more than just qualifications and a stacked resume.


Of course, I am biased. I have no higher education qualifications (yet), however I will not even look at a resume submitted to me if the individual has not at least endeavored to or has pursued and acquired an education and wealth of experience in the gym.


Do you know the basic terminology of gym equipment, you know the knurling and sleeve of a barbell?


Do you have a knack for navigating the gym floor during busy periods?


Can you alter a program on the fly if a client is demonstrating symptoms of under recovering?


Are you able to regress a hinge pattern for a client with horrible coordination, jacked up hamstrings and lower back issues?


Are you able to get inside a client’s head to get the most out of them?


These are merely a few of the core competencies of a personal trainer, not to mention being able to satisfy the fundamental role of guiding, motivating and educating clients through the process of behavior and lifestyle modification.


If you think that the cereal box qualification for PT, a love for exercise and your own interests in fitness qualifies you to be responsible for a paying client’s health, fitness and goals, think again.



The Antidote to Being A Qualification Gypsies:


  • Obtain an internship at a reputable facility.
  • Train family and friends for free.
  • Train yourself;
  • Shadow experienced personal trainers, if they let you;
  • Pursue further education in relevant and practical courses;



2. The Imposter


The next item on the hit list for personal trainers that are destined to be a lost cause are those who talk the talk but have never walked the walk. These are the imposters of the industry and are destined for career disaster.


If a coach is hired by a client to assist them in achieving a X goal and the coach has never experienced anything remotely close to what it is the client will experience in order to achieve X goal, I find it hard to formulate an argument that supports their ability to help the client in any meaningful way, especially when the client begins to experience hardship, which they will.


Beyond dictating what should and should not be done, it would be extremely difficult to empathise and relate to the client.


Now, I am not saying that every coach must experience the exact issues or problems that their clients face. That’s asinine. If that were the case, it would be mandatory (by my standards) for coaches to become overweight sloths, neglect their health and fitness, work a 9-5 in the corporate world, knock up a broad (or be knocked up) and have the pressure of cleaning dirty kids and putting food on the table for the family.


Could be fun, but I’m not willing to try.


Instead, what I do believe is that for a coach to obtain buy-in from clients or have any respectable level of success in helping them achieve their goals, they must in some way, shape or form personally experience the process the client is about to endure.


A coach does not have to live and breathe fitness, abstain from all sensory pleasures, live the life of a monk or walk around with abs year round. However, if they are working with clients who wish to lose fat, it’s a damn good idea to have lost some fat yourself at one point in your life. If a client wishes to improve their 1 rep max on the back squat, you sure as hell better have gone through that process of loading up some heavy arse weights on your shoulders and performed a knee bend or two in a bid to defy gravity.


To effectively navigate a client on their journey towards a goal, the notion of having walked the path that the client is soon to pursue holds strong merit.


I will caveat the above with the fact that there are indeed some instances where experiencing the clients journey first hand is not possible or feasible. Injuries, ailments or pathologies are examples when first-hand experience may not be wise. That being said, given personal trainers are not experts in anything, these cases require referral to the relevant experts and a coach has no business playing god. This is what we call acting outside of a coach’s scope of practice.


Without laboring the point any further, my anecdote and observations over the years have indicated that successful coaches have improved their ‘fitness’ or are at the very least committed to their training, diet and health, in ways that closely relate to the primary goals of their clients.


There is a lot to be said for feeling something and the more extreme the goal, the more enduring the process required to achieve that goal is necessary, such as a contest prep. As mentioned previously, there are elements of ‘fitness’ that can only be learnt through experience, and personal experience plays an integral role in a coach developing an intricate understanding of all factors interconnected and impacted by that goal.


The Imposter Antidote:


  • Identify the common goals of your clients;
  • Set out to achieve one or more of these goals;
  • Monitor and log your journey;
  • Show case your progress/development.



3. The Oxygen Theif



There are two types of coaches in the fitness industry. Those who steal oxygen and those who help other breath. Maybe a little too dramatic and a highly figurative exaggeration, but the way I see it, some trainers get into the industry make a quick, easy buck and merely steal clients from the coaches who actually give a damn. They have no interest in adding value to the client or the market place and are minimalists.


These minimalist coaches aka the oxygen thieves, will wrap up a session on the hour irrespective of the context, view every client as a dollar figure and do very little beyond the services they are paid for.


The opposite to these toxic trainers are the value orientated coaches. They give life to the industry and their clients. They orientate their practice and career around a commitment to improve and desire to help themselves and others, whether they are paid or not. They see the value in going above and beyond the paid session to assist their clients in every aspect possible and also recognize that improving their value and ability to contribute to the industry is a worthy investment. These coaches are driven by not only financial success, but the product of their work, their client’s success.


The value of a coach, in my opinion is three fold.


  1. Education & Knowledge;
  2. Personal Development
  3. Client Success


These are the three pillars of a coach’s value ceiling. Raising these pillars higher and higher over the years creates value, to the client, the facility they work in and the industry. These value orientated coaches are self-driven, determined for greatness, want to learn more, delay gratification and invest serious time, energy and resources into their own development. Most importantly, they recognize that just like a painting is the end product of an artist’s work, their clients are a reflection of their efforts and are committed to ensuring each and every client represents a picture worthy of their efforts.


To be a highly sort after coach, you need to be value orientated and seek to progress each pillar of the value ceiling over the course of your career.


The oxygen thief antidote:


Education & Knowledge:

  • Read 20 pages of any book per day;
  • Purchase university level text books;
  • Enrol in courses, diplomas and degrees and climb the higher education ladder (see graph below)
  • Subscribe to a reputable research review;
  • Hire a mentor or enroll into our online mentorship course;
  • Write and record what you learn;
  • Practice sharing what you learn with clients, family and friends.



Personal Development:

  • Identify your strengths;
  • Identify your weaknesses;
  • Schedule 20 minutes of reflection per day;
  • Set short term goals (daily/weekly);
  • Set midterm goals (6-12 months);
  • Set long term goals (2-5 years);
  • Identify behavioral deficits (things you don’t do enough);
  • Identify behavioral excesses (things you do too much);
  • Bi-annual daily reflection of your growth!


Client Success:

  • See tips for furthering education and enhancing knowledge;
  • Prioritise the principles and individualise the method;
  • Further your understanding psychology;
  • Improve your communication skills and interpersonal skills;
  • Develop and refine your coaching systems;
  • Gather client data (training, diet and other key metrics such as body weight, visuals, girths etc);
  • Continually assess your clients progress and adjust/refine the strategy when needed;
  • Look for trends in non-compliance, drop off or retention issues and seek to understand these;
  • Bi-annually dedicate 1-2 days to reflect on client list and evaluate overall success of your coaching;
  • Hold yourself to the highest standard.


If you are a coach and are struggling to be respected or valued by clients and want to make headways in obtaining and retaining clients, then it’s imperative to ensure you minimise and eliminate these three injurious qualities and work towards gaining real world experience, practicing what you preach and becoming more value as a fitness professional.


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