In the world of fitness – especially fitness training – there’s a plethora of influence that can be transferred to the clients, intentionally or unintentionally. In the short time I’ve spent in this industry, I’ve learned enough to realize the difference between training for things like money and commercialized glam, and training for the love of the industry, and to help others. I’ve written on these subjects before.
What I see more and more, however, are examples of clashes between the aforementioned “groups”. The commercial folks bash the performance folks, and the performance folks bash the commercial folks. The performance folks are often pinned for being too cautious of what can create injuries, and taking a very slow and gradual approach towards a client’s cosmetic goals – all in the pursuit of “functionality”, “corrective exercise”, and “health”. The cosmetic and commercial folks are often pinned for not doing such things. I try not to get too involved in any of these heated debates unless I’m provoked.
I guess if I had to choose which category I’d fall under by default, I’d have to say I belong to the functional fan club. I try my best to give clients an approach to training that involves good technique cues, and keeps their health in line. Albeit, there are particulars. Many clients who I see in person need an evaluation and re-evaluation of their health slightly more desperately than others.
Here’s where things cross the line. I’m sure (on the topic of health, conveniently) my life expectancy has decreased due to the amount of pencil necked trainers out there who split hairs in search for the “best method” of training. This can be anything from deciding which methods of periodization to use with clients, to contraindicating every exercise in the book, to spending way too much time with muscle activation, tissue quality, and other things that can be viewed as ancillary to actually giving the client a “good workout”. This mentality often crosses over into the way they train themselves. It makes my blood boil! No one will ever be perfect, and there’s only so much that you can include wall slides, clamshells, multifidus and levator ani activations in your or your clients’ “workouts” before they call you out. We’re personal trainers, not practitioners. There are simple, effective ways to both address issues and tackle fitness goals at the same time. Think about it – if you’ve already got enough knowledge as a trainer to be able to perform all sorts of diagnostic tests and remedial exercises, you surely must have enough to design a fitness regimen that can give a client a good, safe workout oriented towards his or her goals. That is all.
How much is too much?
But the cosmetic crowd isn’t in the clear either. Let’s face it. All credit to the discipline and mental conditioning it takes to train for, compete in, and even win a show. A lot of time and energy needs to be put into getting your body ready for the stage. But the growing craze – especially around Toronto – is that everyone become a “competitor”. Everyone and their brother are training for a show, which shows just how easy it is to enter one of these things. Many of them are open contests. Admittedly, being allowed to compete at certain shows directly depends on how well you do at other shows, but the point is, loose ends are giving anybody the right to call themselves a “fitness athlete”. In the 5 or so years that I’ve been really following this stuff, I’ve seen the introduction of more and more federations, and a steady dwindle in exclusivity for the once hallowed bodybuilding and fitness competition stock. I guess also by some form of osmosis or telepathy, the fact that you’ve competed in one of these things (despite not attaining a “pro card”) gives you an instant card to say that you’re an authority on all things fitness.
Let’s face it. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to do any real extensive training research to become a fitness competitor. What separates the good ones from the bad ones, genetics aside, would be how well they followed their set protocol to build muscle and cut down – especially where timing is concerned. Much of the rest is left to the transient decisions of the judges.
I’d confidently guess that 95 percent of typical fitness consumers do not know anything about what they’re looking for when it comes to purchasing the services of a personal trainer. Often, they’ll base their decision making process on things like the way their prospective trainer looks, the price of the services, whether or not the salesman did a good enough job becoming their “friend” first, what they see on TV, and whether their gym plays Rob Zombie or Savage Garden during peak hours.
The other 5 percent can get into the mode of learning from a trainer who’s more concerned with playing “doctor” to clients, and worrying just a trifle too much about the punctilious details of his musculature. Nothing goes unnoticed. Unfortunately that means doing sessions that involve activations mobility patterns and other “drills” for the whole hour. Maybe 16 weeks into the advanced periodization, you’ll be able to bench and squat with the empty bar.
Because of how “impressionable” clients are, that same bodybuilder or fitness competitor –slash – trainer I mentioned before just got a “one-up” on the prospective client by saying that he or she competed nationally in the IBFF, IDFA, WBFF, WTF, LMFAO, or LMNOP jurisdiction of fitness competitions – not knowing that if they really wanted to, notwithstanding the closing result, they could enter and compete in those same competitions tomorrow.
I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine, and she was recently on the brink of buying personal training sessions from an employee of a fitness chain gym. She had told me that he seemed like he knew what he was talking about, “plus he was ripped”. His muscular development was a major contributing factor to sway her decision – and she’s no fool. The best part about this? I curiously asked her what it was he said to her to make her think he knew his stuff. As she answered me, she told me that in the fitness assessment, she mentioned my name as a trainer friend of hers. The trainer said he knew me “very well” (I’ve never met nor heard of him before in my life), and that though I’m ‘good’, I only specialize in resistance training. Funny enough, a term my friend wasn’t familiar enough with to know that that’s basically the nexus of any exercise program at all, regardless of the implements used. The only real alternative to ensure you’re not “resistance training” would be to build programs based purely on cardio and bodyweight calisthenics. You’ll be looking like a group fitness aerobics junkie in no time! Alas, more blanket statements, commercialized propaganda, and souped-up words used to tickle the ears of the innocuous consumer who doesn’t know the difference.
Will doing this get me more clients?
Nonplussed as I was in hearing this, I decided to spin it into a message to the public. In the above experience lay two examples – first, how people are looked up to in the commercial fitness industry for reasons they shouldn’t be, like how muscular or lean they are, or what they’ve participated in. Sounds nice, but there’s more to it. It’s up to the clients to seek the right resources and educate themselves to be aware of the warning signs. Second, it shows the never-ending clash between the science guys and the image guys.
With this post, I’m not trying to maliciously attack any given population of personal trainers. I also am not against either crowd. I’ve listed two extreme cases – the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. I do believe there should be better screening in the world of personal training to ensure that trainers know enough to keep a client safe. Being someone who trains yourself enough simply isn’t sufficient. On that note, I also believe there should be more resources out there that can allow very technical, diagnostic based trainers to find the balance between “fixing” and actually training. When that balance is found, it usually means a star is born. I’m still looking for mine. I’m not calling anyone out – just talking about what I see around me! As trainers, we should be striving to get our clients into safe training methods that give them awesome results that they can notice. Now who wouldn’t want that?« back to previous page