Six Tips To Make You a Better Trainer

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Today’s guest post comes from personal trainer (and friend) Mike Anderson.  Enjoy!

I mentally wrote most of this post while sitting in attendance at the First Annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few of the people in attendance were personal trainers, not strength coaches.

Those of us who are personal trainers, and not strength coaches, are the red-headed step children of the fitness industry. I often read things on T-Nation (even here on Tony’s blog) about “pencil-necked personal trainers” who couldn’t train their way out of a paper bag and who constantly do stupid things with their clients.

Note from TG:  That is true, I’m a culprit of that.  My bad!  But in my defense, how else am I supposed to react when I see a trainer take his overweight, woefully deconditioned client through a circuit of BOSU ball squats, standing on one leg while hoisting pink dumbbells over their head?

This is understandable; the personal training industry is very misunderstood. It has long been filled with random people who simply put clients on machines and count reps for them. While there ARE exceptions to the rule, much of the time there’s very little thought given to proper programming and helping clients get results in the most time efficient (and safe) manner possible, and more thought put into what arm-band to wear, which sneakers to pimp, and trying to figure out the best way to “swindle” a client into purchasing the next big batch of training sessions to meet their monthly sales quota.

Nowadays, though, we have a new breed of trainer. There are more and more of us who base our clients training on current science and research rather than on bro-science.

In order to help people fix the misconception of what a personal trainer is I wanted to give you all a few tips that helped make me a better trainer, and it’s my hope that these tiny bits of perspective can help you too!

1) Find a Mentor

Whether he knows it or not, Tony has had a huge impact on my career so far.

Note from TG:  Dude, I’m a freakin Jedi.  I know everything…..;o)

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he has helped mentor me through the first few years of my career. I’d been reading his blog for about a year before I first contacted him with some questions, he responded quickly and went out of his way to help me.

Every subsequent email was answered with promptness and full attention to my queries.  I finally met him in person and he continued to be a huge help to me whenever I had a problem or question. He has also provided me with this forum several times to help kickstart (what I hope to be) a writing career  and to get my name out in the world.

Considering he is one of the “celebrities” of our industry, this really meant a lot to me.

I’m lucky to live in an area that is dense with quality strength coaches who are pretty accessible: Tony, Eric, Greg and Chris out at CP; Mike Boyle and Ben Bruno up at MBSC; Jeremy Frisch at Achieve Performance; the guys at Total Performance Sports, and a ton of really great coaches at Boston University and Northeastern University.

Even if you don’t live near a great coach, you can find a way to get in contact with them. Most people in this industry are more than willing to pass on some of their knowledge to the next generation. Find someone who is smarter than you and learn something!

Note fron TG:  I get this question a lot from other trainers in the industry asking me how they can go about getting better.  Mike hit the nail on the head in this regard:  try to reach out to any local trainers or coaches.  Whether it’s a reputable trainer at a commercial gym or an area strength coach at a college or university, most will be more than willing to allow you to come in and observe and talk some shop.  

Just remember one very important rule:  you have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth.  Use them in that order.

2) Find your Style

This is something that I see a lot of new trainers lacking. They start training and will adapt every session to what the client likes or feels like doing.  They have no particular style to their sessions.

Everyone who trains with me knows they are going to spend some time on mobility, then get their hands on some heavy compound lifts. Is my style unique? Not at all.  Is it effective? Sure is.  Do I stay true to it regardless of who I’m training? For sure.

3) Don’t Stop Learning

It’s pretty easy to get comfortable in your job and stop trying to get better; that’s your death sentence.

There is so much new information that comes out on a regular basis in this industry that you need to keep up. Not only that, but so much of this information is FREE! There’s a ton of great blogs and articles out there written by very knowledgeable coaches; take advantage of this!

If you can read these articles and attend a seminar every once in a while, you’ll gain enough tidbits of information to keep yourself current.  Don’t be the trainer telling your clients that eggs are bad for them or that squats will hurt your knees.

4) Keep it Simple

Very few general population clients out there need anything besides the basics and their variations. Stick to these and stay away from progressing clients too fast and they will see results.

The fanciest exercise I do did with my clients are sled drags (unfortunately I was recently banned from doing these.) I stick to the 5 basic human movement patterns (as described by Dan John): squat, hinge, push, pull and carry.

Use variants of these with your clients, inform them about eating a diet full of real, quality foods and they will be better off in the long run.

5) Sell the “long term”

What I mean by this is; don’t sell a session to a client, sell your program.

Rather than treating each session as an independent hour, every session should be an hour spent working towards the client goal through the use of a program. If possible, you should be writing a full-length program (at least one month) for your clients and using it.

At the very least, you should have a template that you stick to. One of the most frustrating things that I see is when a trainer goes into a session with a client with no plan; you’re not getting results, you’re just getting them tired.

I mean, really:  anybody can do that.

6) Get with the right people

This refers to your clients and the people you work for/with. Having clients who are ready and willing to work hard and put forth the effort makes all the difference in the world; unfortunately this is something you don’t have a ton of control over. (Especially at the beginning of your career).

As you establish yourself more, it’ll become possible for you to become a little more selective in whom you work with.

Working with/for like-minded people will make a huge difference in how you approach work. Having good co-workers gives you the opportunity bounce ideas off of people and find out what other people are having success with. It also gives you the chance to run your programs by someone else to get a second opinion.

Working for a gym where the management is on the same page as you will also make a huge difference. It’s difficult to get results and keep clients happy if your management doesn’t support you in your quest to make clients fit, healthy and happy.

If any of you can take even one new tip from this article, then I did my job. Have a great day, and go lift something heavy!

Author Bio:  Mike is a Boston area personal trainer and currently interning with Boston University Strength and Conditioning. Mike is also finishing his degree in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He loves bacon, beer and his 7 year old pit bull Lexi. You can reach him with any questions, comments or notes of affection at michaelkaneanderson@gmail.com. You can also visit his website:  http://commercialgymtrainer.blogspot.com/

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  • FreakSammy

    I am not a personal trainer or strength coach. I’m just a guy. But, my son asked me to write him a program, and I took the tools I’ve learned from guys like Tony and Ferrugia and others. And within a couple of weeks he was thanking me for making him sore in places he didn’t know could be sore, and no months later he’s bigger, stronger, more confident, etc. So in a sense, the knowledge here *was* passed along to another generation.

  • Alison Minton

    I would like to add something to this list… maybe it fits under mentor? Furthering your education? Either way, you absolutely need to find someone to observe your sessions with a client so you can improve how you teach, see and correct movement. Yes, one can read all the literature out there to learn how to teach a squat, find the faults, etc, but you really can’t beat live feedback that is constructive (key word)!

    • Mike A.

      That’s a great point Ali, getting constructive feedback from someone is always useful. Thanks!

  • Will

    Really enjoyed that- thanks Mike!

  • Sean

    great stuff as per usual brojangles

  • willb

    Killin’ post, man! You’ve definitely passed it forward, and been a great mentor to me. I love how Tony getting better means you get better means I get better means my clients work better, and then the whole thing goes in reverse. The proof is in the (long-term) progress.

  • http://www.facebook.com/callie.durbrow Callie Durbrow

    Awesome post Mike. I definitely agree with your point about keeping it simple. Clients an benefit so much from the basics and trainers try to get too cute.

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