Personal Training – A lost art form
The evolution of fitness and exercise programs has been drastic over the last fifty years, picture a frumpy Charles Atlas vs. Arnold 20 years later. From a performance standpoint, world records are broken every year. Football players get faster and faster, while simultaneously becoming more massive. Science continues to develop, and we understand more and more about the human body, thus learning cooler ways to make it grow or become more explosive. A good personal trainer stays on top of such science, and finds a way to incorporate new techniques into achieving your goals. However, a great personal trainer understands the meaning of motivation, and compassion. The science can take a back seat to hard work. The trick is knowing how to get trainees to push themselves well beyond their comfort zone while remaining to be a like-able individual. If you can’t push people to the next level… then you’re useless. If you can push but they hate you… you won’t be successful. To find balance, a trainer needs to be experienced in the fitness realm and honest in every possible way. By keeping your words true, good or bad, trust is developed between trainer and trainee and that rapport will carry you through the demanding times.
Personal training has become slightly watered down in it’s quality and understandably so. Tons of people like working out, and tons of people want to make money doing what they like. As a result, they figure, “Hey… I’ll try to make money by helping people work-out!” They sign up for an online course, and go apply for a job at Work out World where the gym charges is clients $70 per hour. I purchased one of these courses and couldn’t get past the chapter where they carefully explained what type of physical contact is “O.K.” and what is not. If you don’t understand what’s appropriate with respect to physical contact, then your are a dumbass and you have no intuition. You probably shouldn’t be a trainer anyhow. It seemed like these courses were more about anti-lawsuit training than they were about motivation or exercise science. The truth is, you can’t teach someone how to be a trainer; the necessary qualities are slightly abstract.
Experience in the field is obviously necessary. I’ve been a fight trainer and fitness trainer for 12 years. I was a hard-core athlete since the age of 12. Without being exposed to hundreds of different kinds of training and feeling each of them, I couldn’t possibly relate to my students. For example, when I teach a yoga technique, I make it clear that I understand what my trainee is going through. “Ignore the burning feeling in your groin, and breathe deeply into the tension in your back that results from this posture.” They understand that I’ve been there before, and that I’ve pushed through exactly the same barriers that they face. This not only cultivates trust, it shows that you know what you’re talking about!
Passion is something that simply can’t be taught. As a fight trainer, I CAN’T STAND IT when my students throw sloppy punches. I yell and scream like a maniac! I will make them perform the same punch over and over in slow motion until they do it correctly… I don’t care if it takes 1000 repetitions! You can’t teach someone how to care about the results of their students. Many are happy to just say, “Good job! Niiiiice rep!” Then they take their money and go home, having given you little more than a pep talk. When it comes to lifting weights, you’re going to get some results regardless of your form. You could also just head out to your back yard and lift a rock over your head and get something out of it. When it comes to technique oriented instruction, you really need someone who gives a crap about performance. I have a salsa dancing coach named Katie, and she’s fantastic. Part of that is her love for dance in addition to her love of passing it on. She can pick out the smallest flaws in my form and correct them. Subsequently, my hips then sashay out of control… until she tells me that I look too feminine and corrects that issue. The bottom line is that to be a great trainer or teacher of any sort, you have to truly care that your student is able to develop as a practitioner. The first time that I don’t care about the power behind one of my students kicks, I’m going to retire.
The last element that I’m going to touch upon not only makes you a better personal trainer, it’s also just a basic part of being cool and being a like-able person. Be honest and as real as you can possibly be! When one of my students throws and ugly punch, I’ll say, “That was absolutely terrible.” If they do it again, I’ll say, “That was even worse.” If I know that they can punch harder, I’ll ask them why they are punching like such a baby today. I don’t sugar coat anything, because my communication is not real if I do! If my words are my currency, I want them to be worth something. I refuse to pretend that I’m getting the result that I want unless it’s really there. This is not just an excuse to bark insults at your trainee. This is your opportunity to point out what they’re doing wrong and teach them how to correct it. Later, when they perform the technique correctly and I yell and scream their praises, they know that I’m not just boosting their ego. I have no problems telling them when they’re terrible, so if I’m yelling “Great job,” they know that I mean it! If it’s a tough process getting them to do something correctly, I express honest relief in my words. For example, “Thank God… I thought your uppercut was going to suck forever!” This allows me to communicate on a very real level with my trainees, and they appreciate it. If they are paying you for training, they want to improve themselves. It’s up to you to make sure that happens, and communication is vital.
Here’s where it get’s interesting: honesty doesn’t just include communication pertaining to the training itself. I take this to a degree that is almost a little out of control. For example, earlier this week, I was wrapping on of my students hands and I felt terrible. I was very hung over, and barely slept the night before. So I said, “Hey… I feel like crap so bear with me. I got wasted last night and hooked up with a girl that was well below my standards, and sacrificed my sleep to do it.” Of course her response is to laugh, because crap like that is funny. Also, you don’t want to just be a drone… issuing physical commands. By letting your students into your life a little bit, they become your friend and they realize that you’re not entirely unlike them. If I have to fart, I’ll say, “Hey, jump rope for a second… I’m going to go outside and let out a disgusting fart.” If it’s on your mind, just say it! Honesty is incredibly powerful! There are times when I will make up an exercise on the spot and be fully clear about the fact that I don’t even know if it’s possible! “Hey try to stand with one foot on top of this medicine ball and do a one-legged squat.” If it’s funny when they fall, then laugh at them! This is a practice that I employ not only in training, but in my every day life. Most people find it to be a refreshing break from the general dishonestly and hidden intentions present within other human interactions. Many times, people will train with you just to get a break from their every day lives, and being a straight-shooter is part of what makes this refreshing.
Whether you are looking for a personal trainer, or looking to be one, keep these things in mind. Personal training should not be a burden on the trainer or trainee. It should be a powerful experience that takes place with someone that shares a connection with you. You might have to shop around as a trainee and you might have to suck as a trainer for a few years before you get it. No matter what, stay passionate about the process and keep working hard. Love for the subject will conquer all barriers.
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