I was speaking with another trainer this evening, and we both agreed that there isn't really a "standard" for personal trainers. There are hundreds of different certifications, and unfortunately a lot of them aren't accredited. Basically, anybody can become a personal trainer within a weekend. Nobody seems to really know what to "expect" from a trainer either, other than teach them how to exercise and get "toned". So what characteristics should we really expect from a great trainer?
1. Being genuinely supportive throughout your fitness journey. This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately trainers have gained this mentality that they need to be some tough hard ass in order to get their client results. Bret Contreras wrote a great post (and amusing video) about how to not be a good personal trainer. His main point? A crappy trainer will berate you, criticize you, and make you feel inferior. This may be a motivational tactic to help you work harder, but it destroys the relationship between trainer and client. A good trainer should be willing to work through your limitations, weaknesses or doubts without making you feel like you aren't good enough. You are good enough, and that's why you hired a trainer in the first place, right?
2. Educate you. A good trainer will sincerely hope that you stick to some sort of fitness regime for life. So if and when you move on, you should feel as capable as possible on your own. You should know gym etiquette, how to perform the basic movements (squat, deadlift, press, etc. or proper modifications of such), what different equipment is in the gym and how it's used, what exercises work what muscles, how to avoid injury, or even advice on diet, cardio, or stress management techniques. If you're not learning anything new with your training experience, either ask more questions or consider switching to a trainer who is willing to educate you throughout your journey.
3. Help create changes in your daily life outside the gym. Personal trainers should do more than just prescribe a few random exercises and send you home. A good trainer will ensure that they're doing their best to make life-changing improvements in your daily life. Lets be honest, most people will hire a trainer to look better, feel more confident, or to achieve a healthy and sustainable weight. These are all life-changing events! So the trainer's job is not to "give a client exercises", it's ultimately to change the way that person looks, feels, and performs in daily life. A trainer should understand that their responsibility runs deeper than just counting reps at the leg press, and should make sure they're doing everything capable to make sure their client achieves their true potential in and out of the gym.
4. Instill confidence in their client. I got this last idea from Jon Goodman, who made a good point that you should be able to trust your trainer's abilities, knowledge, and dedication. Many trainers will try to make themselves look better by using fancy terminology or asking you to do complex exercises because "we need to work the quadratus lomborum efficiently in the saggital plane while simultaneously stimulating your vestibular system to increase core stability and... give you that six pack you've always wanted!" Often times, less is more, and a trainer who is honest in his/her abilities ("I'm not sure the answer to your question, but I will definitely do some research and get back to you by our next session") will naturally foster a trusting relationship between trainer and client.
Even if your trainer looks like Brad Pitt, make sure he's still an exceptional trainer!
Given my "diet" of mostly real foods, my bagged lunches I bring to work can evoke a little bit of curiousity. I'm the weird one eating a "meat bagel sandwich" while everyone else is eating pizza for a group work lunch. Since I also eat every meal with a large portion of vegetables, my boss is convinced that I am a "goat", which I politely correct him that actually I am more like an "omnivore goat," becaaaause, bacon. He also is convinced that I will "live forever" but argues that life is too short to eat healthy and exercise... So have a freaking slice of pizza and get fat already.
Triple meat bagel sandwich in all its wonderful glory
This is a very common phenomena. Being healthy, fit, exercising regularly, and eating well is HARD. If it was easy, everyone would do it right? And obviously, we sure don't have an epidemic of lean people right now...
I was reading an article that Molly Galbraith posted a few weeks ago that being lean is hard, but being fat is ALSO hard. Being uncomfortable in your clothes is hard, feeling ashamed in your skin is hard, feeling judged in public is hard. Climbing a flight of stairs is hard, carrying heavy groceries is hard, picking up your child is hard, having enough energy to get through a day is hard, constantly having sugar cravings or hunger is hard, sleeping poorly is hard, having a sex drive is hard, fitting in is hard, intimate relationships are hard, health complications are hard.
Being fit can also be hard, and I believe the biggest challenge in that case is making health a priority. But is making health a priority harder than being unhealthy? And is making health a priority even that challenging?
Everything is hard in the beginning. Your first day of school, the first day at a new job, having a baby, moving to a new place, driving a car. Changing your habits are even more hard. Cutting out grains for some people seems like the end of the world in the beginning. No bread???? No rice??? No oatmeal???? A month or so later, they've forgotten how much they NEEDED their oatmeal in the morning, and now these foods are just an occasional (and actually much more enjoyable) treat. Even completely cutting yourself off from something unhealthy isn't always that horrible. For example, fast-food just isn't even an option for me. It's like it doesn't even exist, and it hasn't existed in many years, since those times I used to scarf down large onion rings at Burger King with a Slurpee or five fully-loaded tacos at Taco Bell. Eventually, these things just become habit. And anything that is habit is easier.
Because who doesn't like soy, wheat, and autolyzed yeast powder in their taco beef?
Is making health a priority that challenging, even when it becomes habit? For starters, I think we need to change our perspective on "being fit". Yes, it's difficult at first. Yes, you will be uncomfortable. But that's like anything worthwhile. The issue is that we have this fascination lately with being "super ripped," spending an hour and a half at the gym for 6 days out of the week (and the last day is an "active recovery day" of spin class,) and CONSTANTLY undereating (did you know you need diet "breaks?") Folks, this is not necessary! In most cases, you don't need to count calories, run 3-5 miles everyday, or avoid every social eating situation. Is that your lifestyle? Dieting? Running? Guilt about eating certain foods? Or perhaps you haven't even started making an effort because you honestly never want to live this lifestyle, and of course, this is what "health" looks like, right? Never having a slice of pizza? Working out all the time?
Being healthy and fit should increase your quality of life, not decrease it.
I think this needs to be repeated for those that are already in shape as well, since it's all too easy to become consumed with "better, faster, stronger, leaner" until you begin to have some very unhealthy symptoms (irregular periods, poor sleep or recovery, cravings, etc.) For people just embarking on this journey, or perhaps those that have been in the game for awhile but are getting burnt out on a rigid lifestyle, re-direct your attention as to why you're putting all this effort in to begin with. Making health a priority does not have to be time-consuming, stressful, isolating, or restricive. If you think this is true, next time I'll share some advice on how to make living a healthy, fit lifestyle sustainable, simple, and even enjoyable!