What Should You be Looking for in a Trainer?
Are the high profile trainers one sees on TV or in the media really the people you should be listening to? On balance, I think not. Probably the worst example of this is Tracy Anderson, who as trainer to Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow regularly gets a gig on the Oprah Winfrey show; just another reason to hate that woman!
Apparently Anderson tells her clients, all women that they never need lift more than 3lb dumbbells! Sure, you’re never going to need more strength than that in everyday life are you?! This fool plays on the notion that if women lift more than that they’ll become bulky! I have yet to decide if Ms Anderson is disingenuous or simply stupid; perhaps both.
From memory, the only really good high profile trainer I can ever recall being top notch, is Jack LaLanne who died earlier this year aged 96. I heard a radio interview with LaLanne a couple of years ago, the man was an inspiration. Have a look at some of the clips of his TV show on YouTube; you won’t see Mr Motivator doing what he did.
The Great Jack LaLanne
So what makes a great trainer? Knowledge, motivation, being a great example? Yes to all those but there are other attributes that we need to take into account.
Apart from a psychiatrist, whom you might need to use after going through a trying time in your life, a trainer may have more access to your inner feelings, opinions, and views than any other individual you’re likely to come across.
With that in mind, you might wish to be a little more careful in your selection process than you’d initially planned.
At present; I state this as I might change my mind on this, I believe the most important attribute a trainer can have is to be an excellent communicator.
A good trainer needs to listen, not just to the client making excuses, but listen to how they speak about themselves; how is their identity shaped? What are their values? What are their beliefs? An excellent trainer needs to be able to communicate on an individual level, this means getting relevant points across in a way which relates to the interests of the client.
I’m not about to start ragging on young trainers, we all have to start somewhere, and there are some really good young trainers out there. Two I have worked with over the last few years are Jenni Russell and Ian Chapman; both have huge personalities, and a natural ability to create rapport with their clients; they have this naturally, I had to work at it.
Having said this most of the best trainers / coaches I’ve come across, have some life experience. It’s really hard for an 18 year old straight out of school to have anything in common with a 45 year old mother of 3 who hasn’t exercised for 15 years. In fact, I’m a 45 year old father of 2 dogs who’s never had more than 4 weeks off exercise ever; how can I empathise with this lady?
Two of the best trainers I know, Becky and Pippa (www.getpipfit.co.uk) used to be very overweight and immobile, either through choice, or bad health. Because they know what it’s like to have been on the other side so to speak, I feel that they have an advantage over the likes of me, who’s never spend more than a couple of weeks being inactive.
In an effort to improve my own skills, I listen attentively to whatever Becky and Pippa have to say. Remember everything is relative to our own experiences, but we can and should learn from the experiences of others; it’s probably the only way that lifelong exercisers such as myself will ever get any idea of what it’s like to be inactive, weak, and scared, as many of those who seek a trainer are.
The following is an incomplete list of trainers that one would expect to find in most gyms; you’ll no doubt realise that I’m having a bit of fun here, but with all good comedy there’s an element of truth.
The Cheerleader Trainer (CT): If you need motivation then the CT is for you. You probably won’t get too much in the way of coaching, but they’ll count your reps for you and you’ll have fun while you work, and perhaps a headache too.
The Pretty Boy Trainer (PBT): PBTs are often late for their sessions because they haven’t met a mirror they didn’t like. Don’t you know it takes time to look that good! PBTs have mostly female clients who hope that their training sessions might develop into something a little more physical – if you know what I mean. This means that if you’re their boss you often have no idea where they are – probably shagging, which means they’re late for the next client, and so the cycle continues. OK, I admit, I’m just jealous of these guys; they get clients just because they look good, I have to get results.
The Best Dammed Pretty Boy Trainer out There!
At this point I have to say that not all PBTs are like this; my good friend Ian Chapman (who I also mentioned earlier) is a great coach, and these days he would never carry on like that. We must not discriminate on the grounds of good looks. See Ian’s site at
The Sycophant Trainer (ST): I had never thought of the ST before I had a conversation with my client Li; she regularly goes to Singapore and Malaysia and she tells me that these trainers are quite common in the Far East.
Li told me that she was introduced to her sister’s trainer when he came to train her at her home gym. “Oh you look so beautiful, you must be her sister”, he then proceeded to shower them both with compliments at every opportunity. Obviously this might be the way of things in the Far East, but Li told me he did this from the treadmill while he was training himself; he just called over to Li’s sister what exercise she was to do next, hardly looking at her as she performed her sets.
The heart-warming part of this story is that Li told her sister that if her trainer (me) every saw this guy I’d beat him to a pulp; she’s probably right.
The Skinny Girl Trainer (SGT): The Health and Fitness industry seems to exhibit reverse sexism; all the SGT has to do is have an on-going eating problem and voila, instant credibility. Unlike men they don’t need to exhibit either an appreciable amount of muscle, or be an athlete; apparently having bony ribs is evidence enough to show that they know what they’re talking about.
The Meathead Trainer (MT): This is the guy (sometimes the girl) who is massive; they have muscles on their muscles. Surely he must know how to get results? Well, he might, but it might include the use of steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. Quite often the MT is so into what they do they just can’t fathom that you might want to drink a beer at the weekend, or fancy a sugary treat once in a while. Their ideas about how to exercise and diet might be so far removed from yours that it seems like they’re speaking another language.
The MT can be a good trainer for some, especially type ‘A’ personality (red) types, but for many he’s way too extreme.
The Thinks They’re a Physio Trainer (TTPT): Here’s a true story; when I worked in the same gym as my Mrs we once spent an hour talking to a guy who had hamstring issues; we listened and gave him some advice; but it obviously wasn’t what he wanted to hear, so he went to a CHEK practitioner.
Our member had 4 sessions (around 6 hours) with this guy, he also had to fill in a detailed questionnaire which went into all sorts of rubbish, did your mother pay you enough attention when you were a child, etc. At the end of all this the CHEK practitioner told our guy to drink more water, and gave him 2 stretches to do, stretches that we’d already recommended; and they charged £500 (this was around 12 years ago when £500 was a lot of money!).
The TTPT tends to over assess and will have their clients doing all sorts of silly stuff which isn’t related to their goal. I assess all the time but I’ll assess while my clients are working on exercises which are going to help them achieve their goals.
These trainers are often seen doing really silly stuff on a Swiss Ball, and talking about drawing their belly button in.
Needless to say if you have medical issues please go and see either your Doctor, or a physio-nazi, Err I mean physiotherapist.
The Guru: One of the many definitions of the word Guru is one who has acquired special knowledge; I really dislike the whole idea of gurus as I don’t think that there’s any “special knowledge”. I’m too stupid to really understand Quantum Physics but that doesn’t make it special knowledge!
Guru’s feed on disempowered clients; they give information a little at a time in order to cultivate a true follower. Beware the Guru, it’s fine to have someone help you adopt new behaviours, but not at that cost.
The Coach: A good coach is with you every step of the way. They will empower a client, not make clients reliant on them. They will put an arm around the shoulders when it’s needed, and they’ll kick arse when that’s needed too.
They will adapt to that individual client’s needs, but not just to show that they know stuff. They will find new and innovative ways to motivate and inspire their clients.
They will understand what type of personality their client is and adapt their approach accordingly.
They will be a role model – of sorts, or at least someone whose achievements the client can respect.
I admit that in the above, I have been somewhat bias. I really do try to write these articles for you dear reader, but if I can get a weight off my chest at the same time then why not.
Just remember, when you hire a trainer make sure –
- You feel comfortable with them.
- Ask yourself, are they good communicators?
- Are they professional?
- Following on from the above; do they understand, and have a plan for you to achieve your goal?
- Give them a chance to get to know you, and you them; if after 5 one hour sessions things don’t seem to be working then find another trainer.
- Chris is a former British and World Champion Drug Free Powerlifter who has worked in the fitness industry since 1985, he currently runs the gym at the very prestigious Spa at Pennyhill Park (http://www.thespa.uk.com). Along with Powerlifting, Chris has competed nationally in Martial Arts, and has dabbled in Drug Free Bodybuilding. Chris can be contacted through www.getmightynow.com.