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.


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