Saturday, July 13, 2013

What is a Personal Trainer?: Part Two

In our last installment, we looked as some of the roles that a personal trainer plays: Role Model, Cheer Leader, Disciplinarian, Teacher, Student. Today I'll wrap up this short series with four other important hats that a trainer has to wear, along with the qualities I hope to bring to my own work as a trainer.

Be a Counselor. This is a touchy one. A personal trainer has to remember what they call the "Scope of Practice." There are boundaries beyond which a professional must not go. A good trainer can assess physical issues, and give advice, but never forgets that a trainer is not a physician or a nutritionist or a psychologist. We aren't social workers, and we aren't even close friends. We are people clients pay to help them improve their own wellness. To the extent that my advice can help you to become stronger, more fit, and more able to meet your own physical goals, I can be your counselor. When you enter realms like personal finance, crumbling relationships, and mental health, a personal trainer should be able to keep their advice to themselves.

Be an Observer. Even more important that the things a trainer says are the things a trainer hears and sees. A good trainer is always watching, always listening, always paying attention and giving feedback. Spy on them a little. When they are with a client, are they connected for each repetition and movement, or are they staring at their watch, their clipboard, their phone, or the shapely rear end of someone on an elliptical trainer across the room? A trainer who can't show up and stay with you isn't worth your money. When I am training a client, nothing can be more important than their face, their form, their breathing... their safety and success. The best trainers are always scanning. They notice things that your partner might miss. The direction of your foot. The bend in your knees. The angle of your chin. They also see changes and improvements. A good trainer may tell you a lot of things you didn't know about exercise, but they'll also tell you a lot of things about yourself that you couldn't have seen from the inside looking out.

Be a Producer. It's easy to forget, because the time we spend is often fun, but my relationship with my clients is a business relationship. They are paying me for a product - their own improved wellness - and they expect me to deliver. The data matters. Are you getting stronger? faster? more flexible? Is your endurance improving? Do your clothes fit you better? A good trainer always knows your goals, and helps you to work toward them. Initial assessments, and periodic follow-ups should help you to keep track of your own progress. Trainers are accountable to the business for the revenue their clients generates, but they're also accountable to their clients. For sure, there is only so much a trainer can do to help you reduce your waist or increase your bench press - most of your progress depends on your own behavior - but if you know you're sticking with the program and you're not seeing the growth you expect, it may be time for a talk. Remember, you're the client here. You're not just the customer, you're also the employer. You have a right to expect results or to know why you aren't getting them. Good trainers care about producing those results.

Be an Inspiration. This last role is a little hard to put your finger on. In many ways it's a matter of personal style. Each trainer finds their own way to make you want to be better. One might have such a commanding presence that you want to be like them. Another might fill you with awe and respect so you want to earn their high regard. My own favorite trainers have a way of making be believe in myself. They seem to see me doing things before I know I can do them. Yes, I want to please them, but they make me want to please myself, too. It's like that song about "You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings." Great Trainers know how to help you soar higher than you knew you could.

I started this two-part series as a way for potential clients to know what to look for when shopping for a trainer. It's turned into a kind of a manifesto about the kind of trainer I hope to be. Still, I hope you find it useful as you make your own decisions about who you want to pay to help guide you toward your own wellness goals.

Till next time: Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift heavy. Run hard.


Friday, July 12, 2013

What is a Personal Trainer?: Part One

Assisting Coach Chelsea at the Y
A good personal trainer plays a lot of roles. Their job isn't to get you in shape, it's to point you in the right direction. I tell my clients, "I can get you to 5. Getting to 10 is your job." That doesn't let me off the hook, though. Here are some of the things I think a Personal Trainer needs to do to be good at their job: things I strive to include in my own work.

Be a Role Model: I don't think a trainer needs to look like Arnold or Jillian, but their appearance and conduct should reflect a commitment to wellness. I wouldn't reject a trainer out of hand because they have a big butt or a pooched belly, but seeing them in the break room with large fries and a coke might get my attention. Physical, mental, and spiritual health go hand in hand. A good trainer is working for balance in their own life, even as they are coaching clients to strengthen themselves.

Be a Cheer Leader: When I told my friend that I would be leading a group exercise class, she asked, "Are you going to have to chirp 'GOOD JOB!' every three minutes?" What I've found is that sometimes I have to do it even more often. When my trainer encourages me like this, it isn't to convince me, or even to praise me, really. It's to inject positive energy into my workout. Four push-ups may not be an earth-shattering performance, but that little boost could be the difference between giving up and pressing for five. The truth is, you deserve praise for showing up. That may not be the most strenuous part of your workout, but getting off the couch and into the gym is surely the most important part. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric once said that Leadership is knowing when to kiss and when to kick. I've found that a kiss is usually a lot more encouraging.

Be a Disciplinarian: Having said that, there are also times when a boot to the butt is what you need to get you over the wall. Fighting for your life, (and isn't that what we're all really doing?) is a battle between pride and shame, love and fear. My trainer has probably said, "You're doing great!' to me a hundred times, but the day I'll never forget was during a brutal set of Burpees in the sun when I fell to the hot asphalt, panting on my knees and she shouted, "Don't you give up on me, Bob!" She had earned my trust. We were a team. I would have died out there rather than not finish that last rep. Not because I was afraid of what she would do if I disappointed her, but because I was afraid of what it would feel like to know that I could have gone on, but didn't.

Be a Teacher: Ultimately, a trainer's job is to make themselves obsolete. Just as you outgrew your third grade math teacher or your freshman writing professor, you may very well outgrow your need for your trainer one day. That might mean moving on to a different coach. Or it could mean taking the things you've learned and designing your own programs. A trainer should always be helping clients to increase their knowledge, not just the size of their biceps. That could mean a quick cue on how to perform a squat more safely, or it could be a 10 minute conversation on how to get to sleep at the end of a stressful day. A trainer who does nothing more than carry a clip board and count reps is not worth your money.

Be a Student: Like any good teacher, a personal trainer must first be a student. The good ones are always reading, listening, watching videos, studying other trainers. Exercise science is growing every day, and knowing what works and what doesn't; what's an effective mode of exercise and what's this year's latest fad is important. Every professional certification requires continuing education. If your trainer is certified, that suggests to you that they've made a commitment to learning and staying current on the state of their art. A new client has the right to ask about their trainer's education AND experience. I want to know that the person teaching me to use combat ropes has spent some time at the end of a pair of them, not just watched somebody else use them on YouTube.

A trainer plays a lot of other roles: Counselor, Listener, Producer, Inspiration. We'll take a look at them in our next installment. Till then,

Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift heavy. Run hard.