I am a fitness professional and though some people would describe what I do as personal training or describe me as a personal trainer, I am a coach. A strength coach to be specific, and there is a big reason why. Most potential clients just assume that all trainers/ coaches know what they are doing and are educated in the same way. Just like you would assume that a doctor, physical therapist or accountant knows exactly what they are doing and understands all the little things about their specialty. It is assumed that all personal trainers understand all things fitness, performance, and fat loss. I am sorry to say, but this is just not true at all.
In the world of personal training and strength coaching there is no real professional license or standard of education that is used. There are certifications and some are better than others and require different education levels; you could be getting coached by someone who just completed a weekend certification a few days prior to training you or someone who has a masters degree in exercise science. That seems like a big difference to me. Most clients would put as much authority in what each of them say equally. An under qualified coach can stall your results in the best case and be pretty dangerous to your health in the worst case, I don’t want either for you. I want to help you make a better selection when choosing a trainer or coach when you decide it's time to reach your fitness goals.
Here are 5 things to look for:
1) Does your trainer sell multi-level marketing products, or really push specific supplements?
As exercise professionals, we all know that things start with changing habits and not with any quick fix supplement program. Supplementation is actually the very last thing I ever talk about with a potential client. Changing one's eating and exercise habits over time are key to making a lasting lifestyle change. If you don’t attack that issue first, you can take all the supplements in the world and you will not be any closer to your goals.
A lot of the time, trainers that are pushing supplements, or multi-level marketing products, like Advocare and It Works wraps, are just trying to make some extra money. In most cases, these are just pyramid schemes with low quality products, unsubstantiated claims, and in the worst case just flat out lies to sell products.
Don’t get me wrong, I like some supplements, but this is not a conversation to have with a client right off the bat. Once a client can show me they are ready to make a consistent life change, and want a little boost to have more effective workouts and get a little better results, then I recommend a few supplements that actually have some scientific data to back up their usage.
I recommend: Creatine Monohydrate, Branched Chain Amino Acids, Caffeine (before training)/Pre-Workout, Whey protein, Magnesium, and vitamin D.
If your trainer is pushing supplements on you from day one, maybe you should find a different trainer.
2) Does your trainer “shake things up” just for the sake of it, like using unstable surfaces or making up exercises on the fly?
Many inexperienced trainers worry that their clients are going to get bored with their workouts and stop training with them. This causes them to “shake things up” with bicep curls on a bosu ball or strange, dangerous combinations of exercises that don’t really make sense in the grand scheme of things. The most effective training programs I have ever written or followed myself have been the least “sexy”.
There is no such thing as “muscle confusion;” in fact when you change things so frequently it makes it harder to adapt to training and make strength and muscle gains. As sexy as it is to train arms and work with unstable surfaces, most of my clients don’t even train their arms directly. It is rare that you will see a bicep curl or side raise at my gym if you are a general fitness client. Most aclients need big multi-joint movements over and over to get good at them and really build some quality muscle while burning a decent amount of fat.
My training programs are not sexy, but they work and they will make you put the effort in; that is the point of training. You will get strong, isn’t that what we come to the gym for? The sets and reps change over time to get the best training effect but none of my clients will ever be caught dead doing bicep curls on a bosu ball.
3) Does your trainer subscribe to the idea that extreme diet restriction, “detoxes”, or deleting specific foods are required to lose fat?
Okay, there are a few things wrong with this picture and they all point back to the same issue, your trainer’s control over you. I want to teach my clients how to not need me! That is right, people stay for the coaching, the community and the accountability but most of the clients that have been training with me for a few years don’t need me anymore because they learn so much in that amount of time.
Before we even get into how bad each one of these strategies is for your metabolism, let’s just lay some things out.
-Consistency and calories are number one when it comes to dieting, so any fad diet that is hard to stick with long term probably isn’t the best choice.
-Your body has a natural detoxifier, it's called your liver. You aren’t detoxifying anything you are just making yourself miserable for no reason and losing a bunch of water weight in the process doing something that isn’t even close to sustainable.
-Cutting out specific foods or following a really restrictive diet is one way to lose weight, but again, it is not sustainable and that is the big kicker with a lifestyle change, it has to be sustainable! In addition, most people that go on an extreme restriction diet will gain back all the weight they lost and more after going back to “normal” eating.
The solution, and best strategy, is to track your food for a time and be aware of how many calories certain foods have. This allows you to stick to your calorie goals while eating the things you want to eat.
Look at this testimonial from nutrition client and competitive powerlifter Analeah Williams here
Or check out Bob's nutrition and training story here
Don’t let your trainer control you, let them teach you.
4) What certification does your trainer have? Do they have a degree?
Personal trainers can have all kinds of certifications and it seems like new certifications are showing up everyday. This is mostly because smarter trainers are trying to figure out new ways to make more money. These trainers figure why not teach other less experienced trainers a system that they built that has worked for them. In some ways this is good because it is a way to share knowledge and I think that is very valuable, but the water gets a little muddy sometimes as it doesn’t take much to create a “certification”. Sometimes these certifications really mean nothing other than your trainer listened to some lectures at another trainer's facility for a weekend and got a piece of paper that says they are certified. It doesn't mean they learned and it doesn't mean the people teaching were educated.
When looking at your trainer's certification the two big gold standard organizations are the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Both of these certifying bodies have peer reviewed research journals where they publish new scientific studies regularly. They also require a rigorous written exam.
To take that a step further, trainers can also test to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA after earning a degree in exercise science. In my opinion the certifications you are looking for in your trainer are either NSCA-CPT, NSCA CSCS, ACSM CPT or any specialty within those organizations.
This is why I call myself a strength coach and not a trainer. I hold the NSCA CSCS which, in my opinion, is the gold standard in training certifications. This doesn't mean that every trainer/ coach that holds this certification is going to be good or if they don’t have it that they are bad, but it's a place to start.
5) Does your trainer have a long term plan of progression for you that involves periodic evaluations and reassessment of goals?
First of all, there are many trainers out there that don’t even conduct an initial assessment at all. If your trainer doesn’t perform movement assessments or goal evaluations before you start a program, you are not being treated as an individual. Trainers need to take baseline assessments to make sure you are doing the right exercises for you with the least chance of getting hurt. This allows you to progress and achieve the results you want, stay consistent and really change your life.
Along with an assessment process, your training program and the exercises that are selected for you need to be progressed over time so that you keep getting stronger and performing better. Not all exercises are suitable for every person all the time, so it's better to control the exercises that are selected and progress them over time to make sure every client is safe and making gains. One size fits all just doesn’t work.
I hope all these tips help you find a coach that is worth your money and helps you avoid coaches that are just out there to make a buck and not here to learn and help others learn how to change their fitness and change their lives.