The Truth About What Makes a Good Personal Trainer Part 1: Debunking the Myths About How to Spot a Bad Trainer

Qualities of a good personal trainer and how to identify a bad trainer are two topics often addressed in industry articles and discussions. However, I think many of the qualities these articles and discussions commonly identify generally lack perspective, are unrealistic, and major in the minor while missing the bigger picture issues that are far more relevant. That’s why I’m writing my own three-part series on these topics; to share my perspectives on what does and what does not make for a great fitness professional.

To kick things off, in this article (part one in the series) I’m covering common myths about spotting a bad personal trainer. In part two, I’ll cover common myths about what makes for a good personal trainer; and in part three, I’ll discuss the qualities I feel specifically are attributes of a strong personal trainer.

Before we get down to business, I wanted to let you know that you can now get access to the Brolando Experience videos. You’ll get over 10 hours of education from both myself and Alan Aragon packed into 4 videos that you can watch conveniently from your computer or tablet.

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Myths About How to Spot a Bad Trainer

Most, if not all, of the articles I’ve read typically identify eating, texting and excessive talking during sessions among the signs of a bad trainer. As someone who has achieved long-term success at every level of the personal training game, including being awarded the 2016 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year, I have no problem telling you that I have done, and continue to do, all of these things with clients. The following three sections explain why.

Eating During Sessions

These days, I only train clients part-time, but for the 15 years when I did train full-time (10 of those years as co-owner of a private gym), both the gym’s co-owner and I were booked solid, training clients back-to-back for 8 to10 hours a day. We told clients, “Either we eat during your sessions or we take your timeslot off our schedule.” Of course, none of the clients cared that we were eating because that might have been the only available timeslot we had that worked with both our schedules. Plus, as small business owners, we’re not leaving money on the table, even if it means wolfing down some food and taking bites in between a client’s sets that doesn’t interfere with the flow of their session. Many of our clients actually liked the fact that they got to see what we were eating; that we made it a point to get in our meals and were eating healthy meals in the way we were advising them to do. They saw that it is possible to eat healthy on-the-go.

Don’t get me wrong, we would always ask our clients if they minded that we eat during their session, as long as we were considerate and strategic about it. Not one single client ever complained.

Texting During Sessions

Just like eating, I’ve often thrown out a text or two during the client’s rest break or in between sets. Of course, I’m not talking about sitting there and having full-on personal text conversations. One reason this may happen, especially as a busy trainer, is because it’s my next client texting me to ask if they can come in early or late, or possibly bring another person to workout with them who could be a potential client. In fact, in those situations, I’ve had several clients get mad at me for playing the, “I-don’t-answer-texts-during-sessions” card. They’re upset because they are trying to make plans and they know it only takes a few seconds for me to reply to a text. Doing so really doesn’t take away from the other client’s session if it’s done quickly and during a rest break. And, they’re absolutely right!

Additionally, many articles about the qualities of a good trainer usually state that they write things down during the session (i.e., take notes, record sets/reps/weights, etc.). I certainly agree with this! I often take notes about the session on my phone, which could appear to an outsider as if I’m texting. That said, if one acknowledges that a trainer can take the time to write things down throughout a session without delivering a lesser value to the client, then one certainly can’t think that a trainer taking a few seconds to text, in a scenario like I described above, takes away from the value of the session.

Again, I’ve always asked the client(s) I’m training if they mind that I quickly text another client about something that is time-sensitive. Not a single client has ever even remotely had an issue; in fact, when I’ve asked they look at me as if to say, “Why are you even asking, of course you can!”

Talking Often During Sessions

An important part of personal training is relationship-building. The only way to do this is through communication that goes beyond the technical aspects of exercise programming and coaching. Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that you just talk for most of the session while not dedicating much time and effort to exercise. Creating a good relationship with clients and continuing to cultivate that relationship involves talking and bullshitting during the session. For example, I might even continue to talk to them during the first few reps of a set about something we were talking about during our rest break as long as they are demonstrating good control. Then, as they begin to fatigue, I’ll go right into coach-mode until the end of the set. This provides the human-side we all crave and the trainer-side they need without allowing the two to interfere in order to give an effective training session.

Another problem with simply watching a trainer and judging them based on what you see, is that you have no idea if they’re doing what they’re doing because of specific client needs. For example, I have a long-term client who loses his breath easily, so we must take extra-long rest breaks between sets. During those rest breaks we talk and bullshit until they’re ready to go again. So, if you were watching us train and saw the time we spent just talking, you might label me a “bad” trainer, when in the case of this client, a truly bad trainer wouldn’t allow this client adequate rest and risk a severe medical incident.

How Their Clients Look is NOT a Sign of a Bad Trainer!

Another thing that is often discussed to identify a “bad” trainer is if a trainer’s clients don’t look that much different from when they started. This idea is so detached from the reality that I don’t know whether to call it laughable or delusional.

Here is the reality, the majority of clients most trainers will work with are recreational exercisers. Although many of these folks may say that they’re looking to lose some fat, they’re really after weight-management; most aren’t genuinely interested in becoming gym rats who organize their entire lives around gyms, kitchens, and bathrooms. Others will openly state that they’re not at all interested in changing their eating habits and are exercising for defense to offset all the foods they love to eat.

Generally speaking, most clients are exercising for general health and fitness purposes and will often say things like, “I don’t want to think when I’m working out.” These folks just want a great workout experience that challenges them but doesn’t hurt them. They often gauge their training success by how much they’ve enjoyed each workout, how they feel at the end of the workout, and by the fact that they’ve completed a certain number of workouts per week. Though these clients become fitter, feel better, and are more confident, these general fitness expectations explain why so many competent fitness professionals (including yours truly) have long-term clients who don’t look much different or don’t have impressive increases in their lifting numbers than when they started.

As you can see, the common myths around what makes for a bad personal trainer can certainly be debunked as long as the trainer uses discretion and stays focused on the experience of the client. Stay-tuned for my part two of this series where I’ll be debunking the myths around what many believe makes for a good personal trainer.

Nick’s Toronto One-Day Mentorship on June 2, 2017. Click HERE to register.


Nick’s Upcoming Live Events

Teaching at The Fitness Summit on May 5, 2017, in Kansas City, MO

Teaching at SCW Florida MANIA on May 6-7, 2017 in Orlando, FL.

Teaching at the Strong Summit on May 27-28, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a PreCon and conference class at the Annual CPTN Conference on June 2-3, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on July 15-16, 2017 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (Info coming soon)

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on August 26, 2017 in Sweden. (Info coming soon)

Teaching at the AFPT Fitness Convention on September 1-3, 2017 in Oslo, Norway.

Teaching at the Elite Fitness and Performance Summit on September 14-16, 2017 in Chicago, IL.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on September 23-24, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Info coming soon)

Teaching a private two-day Personal Training mentorship program on September 28-29, 2017 in Dubai. (Info coming soon)

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on September 30, 2017 in Dubai. (Info coming soon)

Teaching at that Nor-Cal Fitness Summit on October 13-15, 2017 in San Francisco, CA.

Teaching at the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference on December 1-2, 2017 in Aston, PA.

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