What Every Personal Trainer Should Know
Like many of you I’m a member of a few Facebook groups. Some private, and some not so much. There’s a family page, a Cressey Performance page, a page that’s dedicated to my old JUCO baseball team, another one that I frequent which is for movie nerds, and another that may or may not be nothing more than a ode to………..you guessed it…..bacon.
What can I say? I love the stuff.
Another group I’m a member of is one that I was invited into recently – there’s a secret handshake and everything! – run by a group of young fitness professionals on the up and up.
They’re a group of young men and women whom I know and have a personal, if not a more than an informal relationship with, who asked myself and several other colleagues of mine if we’d be willing to participate and to serve as “mentors” so-to-speak. Nothing fancy or time consuming, but rather just a place where they can ask questions, seek advice or just talk shop.
I said yes, but only under the stipulation that whenever I’m addressed directly they’d have to do this first:
It’s been great so far, and I’ve enjoyed the open dialogue and discourse.
One question in particular caught my attention the other day:
What are subject matters you think every personal trainer must know? And what are some subjects matters personal trainers should know, depending on what kind of niche they want to work with?
It’s a loaded question for sure, right on par with your girlfriend asking “do I look fat in this?” or “wanna talk about our feelings?”
But I felt it was a question that deserved some attention and something I’d attempt to tackle in today’s post.
Upon graduating from school back in 2002, when I first started out as a personal trainer I felt I knew everything.
I had been lifting weights since I was 13, played four years of college baseball, had a six-pack, and had graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Health Education. How hard could it possibly be to train Jim from accounting?
Come on dude…I got this.
Needless to say, out of the gate, it was a rude awakening for me.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a cakewalk. I quickly realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. And, to be honest, I considered it a success/borderline miracle if my client happened to finish his or her session with all ten fingers and toes still attached.
Of course the panic button was pushed less often the more experience I got. After a few weeks I started hyperventilating less and less into a brown paper bag. After a few months I started hitting my stride and getting more confident in my abilities. And after a year or two I was basically a personal training Jedi.
Okay not really, but I was far cry from the rookie trainer who was green around the gills not long beforehand.
I can only speak from my own experience, but below are a few candid thoughts which I feel every personal trainer should consider:
1. Career vs. Hobby
What’s your goal? Are you doing this “personal training thing” because you see it as a viable, rewarding, long-term career, or something that, because you like to lift weights and stuff, will help you pass time until something better comes along?
Collecting baseball cards is a hobby. World of WarCraft is a hobby.
Taking people’s health and well-being into your hands is NOT a hobby. At least it shouldn’t be.
I know I could sit here and wax poetic about how the barrier to entry in the personal training field is spotty at best. At this point it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to stop people from getting certified on the internet by paying a random site $79.99.
That said, I truly feel that those trainers who approach this as a CAREER – and not just something to do – are the ones who are going to last the longest and do well for themselves.
2. Know Anatomy
This seems like an obvious point, but you’d be amazed as to how many seniors in college on the cusp of entering the work force can’t even name all four rotator cuff muscles, let alone each’s function.
Let me ask you this: shoulder bone connecting to the arm bone jokes aside, how do you expect to train someone’s body if you don’t even know what it is or how it works?
Now, I’m not saying you have to be an anatomy savant like Eric Cressey, Bill Hartman, Mike Robertson, or Bret Contreras – all of whom are on another level if you ask me.
But you should have a basic understanding of how the human body works, and I’m not just referring to insertion points and actions of the muscle. You need to know FUNCTIONAL anatomy.
Take the glutes for example. Read any anatomy book and you’ll learn that the glute max extends and abducts the hip, as well as externally rotates. Cool, we’re all on the same page there.
But it also decelerates hip internal rotation and adduction, as well as pronation of the foot. All of which are kind of important with regards to non-contact ACL injuries.
Knowing this will undoubtedly help a trainer (hopefully) choose appropriate exercises and movements that train the glutes (and posterior chain) in a more “functional” manner.
That’s a very rudimentary example, but it helps showcase my point.
Check out my Resources Page for recommendations for books, DVDS, and the like. There are a lot of them. Then again, I know a lot of smart people.
3. Know Program Design
This goes hand in hand with anatomy, and is just as much of a learned skill as anything else. I love the analogy that Mike Boyle has routinely used in the past on program design and how it’s like following a recipe.
Some people need are cooks and NEED to follow the recipe as it’s written.
Some people are chefs that can write new recipes.
You can read more HERE (<—- please read it).
Along the same lines, trainers should write programs and NOT workouts. Programs are planned, well-thought out, structured training plans with a goal or purpose in mind (fat loss, training around an injury, preparing for a competitive season, etc). Workouts are nothing more than a trainer babysitting.
You’re not a babysitter.
4. Know Technique
Whenever I train at a commercial gym I can’t help but observe my surroundings. Yes I always see some eye wash like a guy deadlifting with a rounded back or a woman who’s 40 lbs overweight performing DB curls on a BOSU ball.
Part of me wants to walk over, shake the shit out of them, and point them in the right direction. But it’s not my place. And, to be honest, they don’t know any better. At least they’re doing something, right?
What really sets me off is when I watch a trainer doing dumb shit with a client. Worse is when I watch the trainer allow poor technique and do nothing to correct it. That to me is UNACCEPTABLE.
The problem, most of the time, is that the trainer doesn’t know what good technique is. Well guess what??? It’s your JOB to know what good technique is!!!!!
A little humility goes a long way if you ask me.
If you don’t know how to coach something, don’t put it into a client’s program! Simple as that.
I’m often asked why I never include any of the Olympic lifts into my programming. My answer: I don’t have a lot of experience with them! Not to mention they’re not a great fit for the population I work with.
Regardless, as a trainer or coach it’s imperative you hold yourself to a standard. Use the window test.
If you were an outsider looking through a window watching your athletes or clients train, would you be proud of what you see? Are they squatting to good depth? Are their knees caving in on each rep? Do their backs round every time they do a 1-arm DB row? Do their hips sag and elbows flare out when they perform pushups?
If so, why aren’t you fixing it? Why aren’t you regressing the exercises?
You’re a coach, so coach!
5. Get Into People’s Heads
One of the comments left in the original discussion was this (which I’m stealing):
For me, client compliance and communication with general pop. If you can’t convey your message and set up systems that your client can find success with then you’re basically a walking overpriced textbook that no none can read.
I read a lot of books on behavioral economics by authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely, the Freakonomics guys, Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner, as well as others like Robert Cialdini and Chip & Dan Heath.
The reason being, because of the statement above. It’s important to learn how to communicate with people. If you’re an uppity a-hole who talks over people’s heads all the time, how do you expect them to follow through with your advice?
Conversely if you’re someone who “just shows up,” counts reps, and does nothing to set people up for success other than charge their credit card each month…..then you’re not doing much.
To understand why people do what they do, and why they think what they think can be an invaluable asset to you as a trainer and coach.
No one is insinuating that you have to sit people on a couch and become a psychologist, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a better understanding of what goes on in their head and how you can better motivate them to not hit up McDonald’s on the way home or take their freakin fish oil……..GOSH!!!!!!!