The general public assume every Personal Trainer is the same – knowledge-wise at least – when the truth couldn’t be further away.
Did you know that “Personal Trainer” or “coach” isn’t a legally protected term? Literally anyone can call themselves a Personal Trainer. There is no requirement for continuing professional development. In fact, the only thing holding people back is the difficultly of obtaining insurance without qualifications – but hey, we can get around that right? Just don’t bother with insurance…
Did you know a Personal Trainer can get qualified in under a week, entirely via a laptop, without ever seeing a face-to-face client? Without ever setting foot in a gym? That’s scary, right? Imagine it being commonplace to be able to hire an accountant who has never submitted a set of accounts, or a mechanic who has never even driven a car, or a surgeon who hasn’t ever been in an operating theatre?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And yet – if you’re having sessions from many “commercial gym” personal trainers, that’s precisely what you’re getting.
What follows is the kind of stuff we reckon any client has a right to expect from their coach’s actual technical knowledge…
Ability to coach the Big Three.
Squat. Bench. Deadlift. Hear me out first – we’re certainly not one of those gung-ho companies that says if you don’t squat, bench and deadlift then you aren’t training properly. Of course, if you can do those movements, you’re leaving plenty of gains behind by ignoring them, but plenty of people have gotten into great shape avoiding one or more of the Big 3.
The problem is that a LOT of Personal Trainers will avoid teaching these lifts because…well…they can’t. They can’t even do them properly themselves, let alone be able to make the necessary adjustments to technique that should see well over 90% of the general public be able to do these moves safely, in one form or another.
There’s reasons for this – none of them justifiable – but reasons anyway. These lifts are rarely taught in any kind of depth on the base-level courses. Many of the instructors on the courses can’t do them either, so that’s hardly surprising. Secondly, they’re hard! To do them properly, with any kind of proper intensity and weight, is really, really tough. The leg press or Smith machine is just so much easier to do, and to teach.
If your Personal Trainer tells you that you don’t need to squat, bench or deadlift – and hasn’t given you a damn good reason why – the chances are you’re being very poorly trained.
Teach the Hip Hinge
This is a bit related to our first point. The hip-hinge (where you break at the hips, rather than the knees or lower back) is a vital element of training. It’s a vital element of simply being alive, and being able to carry out day-to-day tasks properly without hurting yourself.
We’re in a back pain epidemic at the moment. There’s many, many reasons for that, but one major element is people relying far too much on the muscles of the lower back to perform tasks that the glutes and hamstrings should be doing – enter, the hip hinge.
The reason so few Personal Trainers teach the hinge (and it’s closely related counterpart, the solid glute lockout) is because they can’t. Many don’t do it themselves; some don’t even know it exists.
It can’t be stressed how important teaching this move is. If your client doesn’t “get it”, that’s fine – but you need to be able to regress and regress and regress, until they DO get it. It’s taken us weeks in the past with a new client to get the movement sorted; but at RWF in Nottingham we will persist to get it right, because it’s so fundamental. It has a part to play in squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, chin ups, bent over rows, leg pressing – literally anything you do in the gym has a trace of hip hinging to it.
Never been taught it? You’re being conned out of money.
Matching up your abilities to exercises
Not everyone can do every exercise, at least at first.
Your Personal Trainer should be able to find a version of almost any exercise that you CAN do, with an aim to getting you competent to do the “main” move. This is coaching 101 – it’s essential that your PT doesn’t just spend 10 minutes trying to make you squat, realises you can’t do it straight away, and banishes you to the leg press machine for the next 6 months.
There are so many different variations to every exercises, even down to your stance, the bar you use, etc, that unless you’re sporting a major injury, you should be able to do version of any exercise.
It’s just damn lazy, and again, you’re being conned out of cash.
Making sure your programme is tailored to YOU
Too many PTs just recycle programmes. Yes, ok – sometimes with new clients you have to just cover the basics, and one programme may look similar to another. But, and here’s a bit BUT: after a couple of weeks your programme should be starting to individualise. Ask your PT to show you other client’s programmes. They should be able to pull out a variety of different plans, and explain why each client is doing what’s on their plan. The only thing worse than all clients having the same plan, is clients having no plan at all.
And yes, when as PTs we “discover” a new exercise, something we’ve not really used before, you can sometimes see a lot of their clients doing a similar “new” exercise, but again, the same rules apply. It should be because there’s an explainable benefit for that individual.
Only coaching high reps, or only coaching low reps, are as bad as each other. Very rarely does someone only need one particular rep range – often, high reps are simply easier to teach because technique doesn’t need any tweaking at such low weights, making it easy for the PT to just count reps.
Make sure your programme is tailored to YOU, not the other 5 people that day.
Knowing when they’re out of their depth.
I’ve never competed at bodybuilding – never wanted to train in that style, and never been good enough either! So, whilst I can almost certainly get anyone into the best shape of their life, I wouldn’t take on a paying client who wanted prepping for their first show. I don’t know enough about it. They’d be daft to want me to!
We have a couple of sports therapy specialists at RWF Gym in Nottingham. When in doubt about injuries or movement patterns, we refer clients to them for a second opinion to make sure we’re not getting anything wrong. We work with people’s doctors, consultants, their own physios, to make sure we’re not working out of our lane. People’s progress, and health, is too important for a PT to “wing it” – yet many do.
Basic Anatomy and Injury Prehab/Rehab
I’m not a believer in being able to name every single muscle in the body, and describe in forensic details it’s interaction with the wider picture. Of course, it’s necessary to know what movements are working what areas, what muscles are prime movers, and what common injury points can arise.
Your PT doesn’t need an in-depth knowledge of every single energy pathway and your hormonal make-up. It’s nice if they have, but for most clients needs it’s just not necessary.
That said, I’ve known plenty of PTs that would struggle to tell you what the rotator cuff is, or that the “arm muscles” are actually more than simply one bicep and one tricep!
Don’t mistake a basic working knowledge for no knowledge – some of the most intensely knowledgeable people with regards to anatomy have been the most awful trainers I’ve come across. The trick is in the application of the knowledge, not simply the knowledge on it’s own.
Are you currently having Personal Training in Nottingham? Have you had it in the past? Does any of this make you question what you’re paying for? If so, get in touch with us. We’ll happily let you know whether you’re being sold short – and help you to put it right!