Thursday, October 3, 2013

Six habits of a good personal trainer

In my last article I discussed how the "Crossfit's Dirty Little Secret" article is actually a rebuke of the fitness industry's dirty little secret, that anyone can easily become certified to become a personal trainer or group exercise instructor.  In this article, I will discuss things to look out for to determine if a trainer is good or not.  The following habits are common for good personal trainers:
  1. Their primary focus is the client
  2. They are a reflection of their program
  3. Their exercises are rarely machine based
  4. Their sessions are comprehensive
  5. They are upfront about their place in your fitness journey
  6. They are constantly collecting data and adjusting workouts accordingly
Let's go over each one of these one by one.

Their primary focus is the client

This one should seem straightforward, but I see so many trainers break this rule.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a trainer talk on their cell phone or carry on a full conversation with someone else while training a client.  You don't need to ignore someone who says hi, but to turn away from the person who is paying you for the hour is ridiculous.  For the entirety of a training session, a good trainer will be reinforcing good technique, walking around you to make sure your form and posture are good, and gathering information that will help them determine if you are on the right track.  If they just sit on a medicine ball and count then you should reconsider.

They are a reflection of their program

I have always been a believer in the notion that a person's outward appearance isn't an accurate reflection of the knowledge they possess.  However, I feel that a person who is going to guide you toward the goal of being fit and healthy should be fit and healthy themselves.  It's not that I don't believe an unfit person can have the knowledge to get you where you want to be, they may have that knowledge.  The problem is that whether or not they understand it or not, they are an example for their client.  There is also something inherently wrong with someone telling you something is doable when they themselves cannot do it.  The final piece of this puzzle is that these people should have some health or training philosophy that should get a client from point A to point B.  It's not just about having the knowledge of how to get from point A to point B, it's about knowing how to get people to do the work.  If the trainer can't do the work themselves, they are an example of how effective that philosophy is, and the answer is "not very".

Their exercises are rarely machine based

On the surface, most people will say that this is a debatable topic.  The problem is that it's not.  I'm not saying a trainer shouldn't use machines at all, there are a few instances where a machine is necessary.  Machines dictate the path of resistance so the muscles that would normally stabilize a load get ignored.  Even if you don't buy in to this notion(You would be wrong, btw), most people sit for 95% of their day, do they really need to sit for the only 5% where they are supposed to be getting physical activity? If I may be so bold, most trainers who program an entirely machine based workout are lazy and are not worthy of your time or money.

Their sessions are comprehensive

A good training philosophy will cover the gamut of health and fitness from strength to balance to flexibility.  I require all of my clients to foam roll, stretch, strength train, do balance work, and so on because all of that stuff is necessary for good health.  In fact, I think it's so necessary that I do all of that stuff myself as well which goes back to being a reflection of your program.

They are upfront about their place in your fitness journey

A good trainer knows that most of the work in a fitness journey is outside of the gym.  This includes avoiding prolonged sitting, getting regular physical activity outside of the gym, getting a full 8 hours of quality sleep, managing stress, and formulating an eating plan that involves quality food.  This is the main course of your health and fitness plan.  Your 2-3 training sessions per week should be looked at as just a side dish unless you have imbalances and weaknesses that are compromising your ability to move properly.

They are constantly collecting data and adjusting workouts accordingly

Every training session, your trainer should be collecting information about how you are feeling, how you have been sleeping, and anything that could affect your workout.  If you have an injury or a part of you hasn't been feeling great, your workout should be adjusted to prevent an injury to the area.  In the same way, if you haven't been sleeping well or have been under a lot of stress, your session should be dialed back.  You don't want your side dish to affect your main course, but it does in so many ways.  It can affect your appetite, your sleep, your willingness to move, and even your ability to move.  A good trainer will save you from yourself by explaining why this isn't a good idea.