(How to Hire One and Why You Need to Choose Carefully.)
Whether you stay soft and flabby or get chiseled out of stone, for many people it will come down to the trainer that they choose. It is not the act of hiring a trainer. Choice is important. But for the average person that doesn’t have the knowledge to make an informed decision, this turns out to be a lottery. Are you prepared to play this lottery? You should’t be. So I aim to put the power back in your hands and help you make an informed decision with this article.
Though I don’t think a personal trainer is needed indefinitely, I recommend someone that is new to training hires one to teach them the correct form. This should be quite a simple thing to do and yet in the last 6 years of going to different gyms in Japan I have met very few trainers I would be able to confidently recommend a client to. And sadly after reading Martin Berkhan’s recent article I have to draw the conclusion that this problem is not confined to Japan.
Which brings us to quite an interesting problem: If it’s difficult for me to be be able to confidently recommend someone, how does a beginner know if the trainer they have hired is showing them correctly? How can a person know whom to choose?
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All trainers are not made equal. All gyms are not made equal.
You need to be very careful with your choice!
I hope this article can explain why this is, the pitfalls you should avoid, and provide a guide to choosing a good one. If you have a trainer at the moment, I hope this will help you to decide if it’s time to consider getting a new one.
Firstly however, it is important to understand why the fitness industry is in the ‘shit state‘ it is, before you can diagnose if you have a problem.
The ‘Shit-State’ the Fitness Industry is in. (A quick recap)
Any person that sets foot in a commercial gym usually gets given a basic program by a trainer during their ‘gym induction’ which utilizes the weights machines and some form of cardio equipment. It will usually be a full body routine. It’s quick to teach, low hassle for the gym, the chances of the member hurting themselves is low, and it ensures little in the way of future questions. The staff the gym needs to hire to do this require little in the way of qualifications, so they are cheap to hire.
This is the most profitable option for gyms, needless to say this doesn’t mean it is the best for you.
Even a rank beginner will stop making gains on such a program within a few months, and at this time, presuming they don’t quit they will either go looking for routines in Men’s Fitness, hire a personal trainer, or both.
Here’s where the problems begin.
A Little Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing.
When a person goes to the oncologist they rarely argue with their doctor’s suggested course of treatment. They can’t. They do not have the knowledge to. They put their entire trust in their doctor to choose what is right for them.
However when a person goes to a gym the situation is unfortunately very different. Through years of being exposed to advertisements in magazines and on TV, nearly everyone seems to have an opinion on what they need to do to get strong and the equipment that is necessary for this. We are no longer in ignorant bliss, and this little bit of knowledge is what screws us.
Every gym is there to make profits. This will be achieved by either:
- Giving awesome results for its clients, (as is the case with DeFranco’s Gym that has a reputation for getting kids into the NFL) or
- Providing excellent shiny, pretty-looking facilities that the average person thinks they need and thus getting a lot of membership sales.
Unfortunately most of the fitness industry is clearly stuck in category number 2.
To paraphrase Rippetoe here:
The typical Gold’s Gym manager asks themselves, ”What, of the $300,000 of equipment do we have on this exercise floor that we can use for these people?” Not, “What problem (weakness) is this person trying to solve?” and thus tailor the program for that.
The unfortunate result of our “little bit of knowledge” is that the world becomes a weaker place because of it. Even the few knowledgable trainers at your gym may be steering you toward less/ineffective exercises purposefully.
First allow me to explain why this is, and then how you can tell these people apart from the idiots, because you may well have to hire one.
The Commercial Trainer’s Dilemma
Let’s set aside the majority of trainers that have either become engulfed in their own commercial gym “machine training” bullshit, think squats destroy the knees, never touched a barbell in their life, or have got lost down the ‘highly-advanced Bosu-ball “core balance” training’ road.
Here I want to consider the trainer whom knows that compound movements are best for strength, understands good form, and has the ability to teach it.
Paid on commission, they face a huge dilemma.
Competing with the other trainers in the gym, when a potential client comes to them with an open copy of Men’s Health Magazine and says they want to be shown the latest six-pack routine, though they know that squatting deep and heavy and getting the diet in shape is the best way to build and reveal abs, the trainer has little incentive to try and convince them, for fear of losing the custom.
Sexy (read: complicated) training is what is selling. Barbells and pull-ups while effective, are not sexy. Yet communicating this to the client can be very difficult when the whole gym is set-up is a joke.
Here’s the biggest problem: They learned long ago that clients can rarely handle the pain and mental focus it takes to squat low and hard when everyone else’s training around them seems so easy. And even if they do, considering body-recomposition is 70% diet, a huge factor in which they have no control, it becomes very difficult to justify the hard training to a client that is lazy with the diet and “just wants abs!”
The client quits, finds another trainer, and make no progress but are happy with their routine because they can get a sore stomach. The trainer waves goodbye to their commission, and the customer is no better off.
The job of the trainer is to listen to what the client wants, but prescribe what they need.
So when you come along, can you trust them to show you what you need? Or are they likely to take the safer option when teaching you?
There are probably a lot of personal trainers out there in commercial gyms that are as much the unfortunate victims of circumstances they work, or were trained in, as their clients.
Do I think that gives them an excuse? No. I think it’s despicable. It angers me immensely. I feel cheated out of years of training because of this. If they can’t explain and convince customers of the type of training they are recommending then they need to study more and/or try harder.
Checklists For Choosing a Good Trainer (or Identifying a Bad One)
Fortunately, you know exactly what kind of training you need because I have written it here in the training guide, so we have taken this problem out of the equation. All you need to do is find someone that can teach it to you.
Are they knowledgable enough?
- Do they show clients what is effective or a what is easy for them to teach?
- Before hiring them, watch them train someone.
- Does your trainer have the ability and knowledge to show you the exercises that you need?
- Ask them to show you a barbell squat. Did they go past parallel? If not, choose someone else.
- Do their teaching methods suffer any of the 25 symptoms of “Fuckarounditis“?
- Are they going to have the balls to stand up to you and tell you what you should be doing, or are they a soft sap that is likely to pander to your every whim?
- Is the force of their personality enough that they are going to be able to push you to get those all important last couple of reps out at the squat rack when your mind is telling you you can’t go on yet your body still can?
- Personally I like a whole torrent of abuse in this situation, but this differs for the individual. You know what you need. Look at them. Can they give it to you?
Looking at them physically, do they inspire confidence?
Is your trainer doing too much for you?
- Are they mature enough to leave you the hell alone?
- Your trainer should be spotting you with his eyes, not with his hands. I see trainers getting a Deadlift workout when spotting their clients at the Bench-press every week. If your trainer regularly give you assistance on the last three reps for every set then they are not doing their job. You need to be lifting the weight, not them.
Breaking Out On Your Own
You don’t need a personal trainer forever. But you need to set yourself up now, so that you aren’t dependent on one. Log your own workouts. Time your own rest periods. Load your own barbells with plates. Prepare yourself now for when you are doing it on your own.
Once you’ve got the form down, a gym partner with the same routine and level of commitment is perfect. Second place is your gym log and the knowledge that you’re going to have to post the results on fitocracy.com [ask me for an invite code through Twitter] for people to see. This should be enough to motivate you in most situations.
Thank you for listening to my little rant. I hope you found this useful. Good luck!
Further links you may find useful: