Need a Personal Trainer? You Better Read This Before You Hire One!

I used to think of trainers as an athletic type of samurai; Rogue souls, thoroughly trained and well-educated in their trade, who wandered the fitness landscape, helping those less fortunate than themselves for modest profit, but ultimately serving no master with authority greater than their own.

But over the years, as I’ve become better acquainted with the craft and achieved my own level of mastery, this illusion has all but vanished. Too often, my command of the Fitness Arts exceeds much of the litany of those masquerading as trainers.

I fear the art of Fitness & Strength Training is suffering. The true Masters are fewer and further between. As the onus on personal health and the role exercise plays in aiding it continues to grow, the numbers of people flocking to tender their services will also continue to swell. Just like any other profession, some will operate with honor and genuinely assist those who seek their guidance, while others harbor shady or nescient intentions, simply hoping to turn a quick buck.

Something needs to change. If the profession is allowed to progress at its present course, we’ll have more Sith Lords than we will Jedi Knights. Not only do potential trainers need to better educate themselves, but they also need to learn to act the part. It’s a package deal and one that could go miles in restoring a bit of luster to a dulling vocation.

This is why I’m setting forth a simple code for budding trainers, one that could help a new generation uphold the traditions of the profession and build a stronger clientele.

I call this code The Way of the Barbell.

Precept #1: Be an Ambassador, not an AmbASSador.

This is paramount above all else and encompasses all other subsequent edicts. Remember when your elementary school class would go on field trip and your teacher would warn you to be on your best behavior because “you’re representing the whole school” with your actions? Training at a gym is just like that but without the accidental wetting of your pants.

To many gym patrons, albeit mostly the lesser experienced, a trainer is a figure of authority (regardless of whether you actually have any) and a diplomat for Fitnessland (or Fitlandia, I haven’t quite decided). It’s imperative that you treat other gym patrons and the gym itself with the proper respect. One poor decision or horrible faux pas and a client could chose to permanently end diplomatic relations with Buffmerica (no, I don’t like that one at all).

Precept #2: Lead by example.

People (usually those paying you, although there will always be cheapskates looking for free advice) will look to you to guide them through the jungle that is the gym. Many of them will be bereft of any experience, so they will mimic your actions as acceptable gym decorum. Therefore, any bad habits you regularly display will be passed along, like a genetic disorder, only to show up later (think cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia or left-handedness).

So, it’s up to you to snuff out boorish behavior before it begins. This means:

  • No Horseplay. (Save it for the pool) Don’t run in the gym. Don’t play ‘tag’ or other homoerotic games with your lifting buddies. Don’t jump over equipment. I can’t tell you badly I want to drop a 90-lbs. dumbbell on the foot of this trainer who regularly hurdles himself over the weight rack at my gym, as if he’s saving precious seconds by avoiding the seven-foot walk around them.
  • The rules apply to everyone, including you. If the posted gym rules declare you can’t bring that smoothie from next door into the free weight area, then don’t. You’re not exempt (unlike real ambassadors who enjoy diplomatic immunity). While there may be other perks that come with the job (like sleeping with your clients), you’re not Steven Segal and you’re not ‘Above The Law’ (or currently blaming the FBI for the end of your career).
  • Rise above the pettiness. Many of your clients may be older ladies. Older ladies like to gossip. And while interacting amicably with your client is advised and certainly good for business, participating in said gossip is not. It looks unprofessional when you’re on the floor of the gym, talking shit about somebody else. Plus, your client shouldn’t have that much oxygen to devote to running their mouth anyhow. Do what everybody else does and wait until you’re in private (and maybe have had a few drinks) to badmouth your friends, family and co-workers. It’s probably not a bad idea to avoid making sweeping generalizations about old ladies, either.
  • Do as you say and say as you do. You know the saying that dictates that you need to love yourself before you can love anybody else? Same theory applies here; get yourself fit before you try to whip somebody else into shape. It’s really hard to take fitness advice from a trainer who looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Precept #3: Use the Big Muscle.

It’s not just about pushing heavy weight anymore. Fitness training has expanded over the years, with many areas of concentration, like plyometrics, having developed their own specific followings. In order to get the best results for their clients, trainers now incorporate the aspects of exercises from various disciplines into their sessions.

You would do well to learn as much as you can about everything. Become a know-it-all (without acting like one). Just look what it did for Ken Jennings (intelligence-wise, obviously the guy is a toothpick). I know that after you passed your certification test, you thought the days of ‘reading’ and ‘books’ were behind you, but they’re not. You need to keep learning, growing and strengthening your greatest muscle — your brain (no, not the Kegel muscles).

That said, you should have an area of expertise. General knowledge is important, but you really make your bones by being the best in a certain field. That’s why utility infielders sit the bench while the top earners are the All-Stars positional players. Unless you’re a pitcher, because then it’s advantageous to be well-versed and be able to throw different pitches. Or maybe not, if your velocity isn’t there. And what about ‘five-tool field players’? This is where the analogy kind of falls apart. But, you see, if I was an expert at analogies, it wouldn’t and I’d be getting paid big-time and my readers would reap the benefits.

So, try and find an area in which you can specialize, like a doctor (A more fitting example. If I only knew how to use the ‘backspace’ button…). Maybe you could become the trainer who exclusively uses those oversized exercise balls that were all the rage for two minutes a few years ago. Most of your exercises, while all utilizing different muscle groups and having wide-ranging effects, could all be based around the oversized exercise balls.

You’d become known as ‘The Trainer with the Balls’. (or maybe ‘The Ball Trainer’ or ‘The Ball Whisperer’?) Your reputation would grow and eventually you’ll have a full roster of clients and potential clients, all clamoring to break a sweat on your balls. You might even write a how-to fitness book and name it ‘My Ball Workout’. Obviously, the real money is in TV and DVD sales, so you’d come out with your own series — ‘Busting Balls’.

See how beneficial specialization can be?

So, the morale of the story is, success is there for the taking. Just like working out, you have to want it and be willing to put in the effort. But, if you’re willing to follow the Code and apply yourself, you too could become a true Master of the Fitness Arts.

(Master of the Balls?)