There’s a gulf between what serious fitness coaches want for people and what people want from fitness coaches.
A good coach wants to help make someone stronger, more mobile, and better conditioned.
People want to lose weight.
A good coach builds a program progressively, often leaving something in the tank so a client can continue without injury and with proper recovery.
People want to hire someone to “kick their butt.”
A good coach wants to teach you how to eat well for the rest of your life.
People just want a diet to follow.
A good coach wants you to strengthen your trunk.
People just want to be able to see their abs.
The difficulty for fitness professionals who want to be the best is that they have to compete with Instagram fitness celebrities posing in booty shorts, Facebook entrepreneurs hawking pyramid-schemey supplements and “cleanses,” and ripped guys at the local gym who are great at training their own bodies but less competent when it comes to working with a 45-year-old mother of three who works full time and has a commute.
And the challenge for consumers is that few people have the time and energy to sift through the noise to get to the signal. So today I want to give you some basic categories you can research when looking for a personal trainer.
1.) Certification: A national certification doesn’t guarantee competence, but it does show a modicum of interest in professional development. This is a VERY low bar.
2.) Equipment: This is a somewhat controversial assertion, but I would argue that the more a trainer uses machines in their work with the general public then the less they probably know about biomechanics—and that’s not a good thing. Run far away from the coach who tells you that they want to “start” you off on machines and then progress to free weights. If you’re not learning how to move, then you’re missing out on half the benefit of working with a coach.
3.) Professionalism: You should never see your trainer’s cell phone during a session. Never. They should be ready for you before you arrive, and they ought to have a plan for your session that builds upon previous sessions and toward future ones. If they can’t answer simple questions about how what you’re doing fits into a larger plan then they’re making it up as they go along.
4.) Focus: I’ve been the personal trainer who’s doing the job to support another career aspiration. And you know what? I wasn’t very good or very focused then. You want a coach whose livelihood depends upon and whose life is fitness. The focused coach is constantly reading, evaluating her own technique, and adding new tools.
5.) They’re willing to say “I don’t know”: A funny thing happens the more experience one gains in fitness—an increased willingness to admit when something is new or foreign or beyond one’s previous experience. The number of times I’ve referred people to other professionals (psychotherapists, physical therapists, certified dietitians, etc.) has increased proportionally with my years of experience. Think about your own work experience. Don’t you trust the people more who are willing to say “I don’t know”? Yeah, me too.
If you don’t ask these questions or pay attention to these cues, you might just find yourself working with a “fitness professional” who views you like an ATM, dumping cash into their pockets week after week irrespective of your progress. They’ll be more than happy to help you “lose weight” before your friend’s wedding with some diet plan they cribbed from the Internet.
The truth is, there ought to be a gulf between what you want and what your coach wants. He knows more about fitness than you do, and so he has a better idea of what’s appropriate, achievable, and sustainable. Whenever I find myself getting a little frustrated by the gulf, I remind myself of this fact: all good coaches are good teachers and view themselves as such. Use the five categories I’ve given you above to help find the right teacher for you.