What Makes a 'Good' Personal Trainer?

It's easy to write a trainer off as incompetent based on what you can't see behind the scenes. When January rolls around and it's time to get back to the gym, shirk that mentality and listen to your voice of reason.
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It's the holiday season.

As a fitness trainer going into his eighth year of his craft, I know what that means.

Really, it's the nature of the business to experience the workload intensify in "waves," so to speak. One of the biggest waves comes right at the start of the year. Fitness aficionados and couch potatoes alike converge at the gym of their convenience, some due to New Year's resolution, and others by typical routine, and others still because they feel guilty for the amount of garbage they ate over the holidays.

Nevertheless, January is the month that the typical gym's accounting books look pretty darn good.

Gym chains can expect their business to boom after the holidays by way of memberships, and by extension, personal training sales. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but the "sales" part of the equation holds much more weight than many are willing to acknowledge. I don't know too many businesses out there that will turn away the opportunity to make money; in the case of the commercial gym, everyone who walks in the doors can benefit from the purchase of personal training with one of the staff members, regardless of the training background and abilities of said staff.

I'm here to save the day. It's the misconceived notions about trainers and coaches that make training sales as high as they are at the break of the new year, and just like anything, the visual effects usually speak the loudest. In truth, what you see as a prospective client can make your mind stray from what's actually important when searching for a trainer. But you're smarter than that. Here's what the masses will consider important factors in looking for a trainer, and why you should think twice.

6-Pack Abs

There seems to be this going "rule" that trainers need to possess the bodies that clients want to have, in order to be deemed "worthy" of investing your money into their services. It doesn't take a braniac to realize that this is far from grounded thinking. Exercise is a science just like many other disciplines, and what's most important is that the person you're hiring has a few marbles in his or her head and possesses good knowledge. With that said, I'll be first to admit that I love McDonald's. I'm sure many other trainers do also. The fact that we in the fitness industry are human beings first shouldn't detract from your incentive to hire us for our services to help you. Hey, anyone in their industry should practice what they preach -- with that I don't disagree. Trainers who don't make a solid attempt to follow a healthy lifestyle that includes training and eating well shouldn't be in the industry that they chose, and shouldn't be role models for other clients. But discounting a guy who has years of experience, a firm schooling background, a good track record and impressive client-based results because he doesn't have a showtime-lean body (because his natural human tendencies allow him to periodically indulge in food that actually tastes great) is absurd. It's time to get back to reality. Great bodies don't always mean great trainers.

The Most Advanced Exercises

Just like the entertainment industry, the flashy and fly usually dominates all. "Innovative" new equipment that we see on infomercials proves false to its claims nine times out of 10 due to the fact that practicing the essential, traditional, basic movement patterns still trumps everything when fitness goals of toning up, getting more conditioned, improving cardio, bulking up, leaning out, looking better naked, becoming more explosive, improving performance in your sport or whatever you have as a training-related goal are in first priority.

I speak from experience when I say that tools like the Bosu ball, resistance bands, wobble boards, TRX, slosh pipes, valslides, and other accessories can really be a key to attaining more business, simply because they do a great job of bringing attention to the trainee in session. As a beginning trainer, my limited practical knowledge made me rely on what "looked the coolest" to give my unsuspecting clients workouts that they would view as valuable for the same reasons.

The truth is, trainers won't get you faster results just because their methods are unorthodox. All of the above tools should be used as just that -- tools. Seeing a trainer whose methods are unique in their simplicity is a green light for a sound knowledge base and sure-fire results. There's no replacement for making sure you get stronger at the basics, especially since most clients simply aren't conditioned enough to perform complex movements well. Less is more!

Program Design

Many commercial gyms pride themselves on the fact that their staffs of trainers follow a stringent protocol that involves full scale tracking on each and every client's progress, weight lifted, periodization, diagnostics and goals. As a result, each trainer follows their client around with a clipboard, pen and paper, and fervently records every set, number of reps, and how that transfers into the applicable phase of periodization.

Before I go on, I have to say that I'm in favor of tracking progress. I believe a competent trainer should do most, if not all of the above; it's part of his job.

With that said, the rest is entirely up to the client. The reason I and many other personal trainers whom I know don't follow strict, prearranged programming with a number of clients is not due to negligence, rather because it becomes a pointless act when the client's consistency is off, or his frequency is too low. Take note that as much as we hold you clients accountable, we can't control your outside lives. Holding yourself accountable to make it to the gym three days weekly with your trainer, or at the very least, be dedicated in "homework" that the trainer may supply you with is essential and places a purpose behind your investment. Don't be too fast to look at the guy without a clipboard and pass him off as unprepared!

Someone who Gets You Results Fast... Too Fast

Fitness success stories we see on TV can do a lot to condition our minds that results can be expected at a much faster rate than they should be. Usually such stories are attached to the promotion of a new product for sale -- go figure. Losing 60 pounds in eight weeks with the new "AbSculpt" training system sounds a bit too good to be true, and it usually is. Likewise, in the real world, training clients who lose a huge number of pounds in a relatively short time were likely recommended an elixir of supplements and a dietary plan that was not sustainable for the long term. Alas, this too shall pass and the rebound effect will come knocking at your door. The average person should gun for a comfortable weight loss of a couple of pounds per week -- no more than three. That's what's truly safe and reliable to count on. As far as building muscle goes, I'm pretty sure we all know what we can blame extremely fast lean muscle gains on, and my recommendation is for average joes to stay far, far away.

Be Discerning!

The point of this blog wasn't to talk smack about the hardworking trainers of the fitness industry. Rather, to make the clients involve a deeper sense of selective behavior when considering which trainer is right for them. Think about your goals and the most reasonable action plan to accomplish them -- and which trainer at your local gym best fits into that plan. Furthermore, it's easy to write a trainer off as incompetent based on what you can't see behind the scenes. When January rolls around and it's time to get back to the gym, shirk that mentality and listen to your voice of reason. Ask questions, and increase your personal knowledge by reading from credible sources -- the beauty of the World Wide Web is that everything's available to you. We're here to help.

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