PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
Choosing a trainer is harder now than it has ever been before. What should you look for in a personal trainer or fitness instructor? Is it about qualifications? Experience? What a trainer specialises in? How many clients they have trained? Their testimonials? Where they have studied? The list of possible criteria is long. There are literally hundreds of things you could take into consideration.
In this article, I will cover a few key points. First, we will look at how people currently go about choosing a trainer. This will look at the current criteria used by the general public, the hype surrounding various methods, the marketing methods used, the strategies used by trainers to fill their bookings and where the industry is currently sitting. Secondly, we will analyse what is really important in choosing a trainer. We will cover a set of criteria for choosing the right trainer, how to find the trainer that meets those criteria and finally how a trainer can become a better one. This includes a thorough analysis of how a trainer takes a client from a blank canvas to a finished product having achieved their ultimate goals and all the steps in between.
State of the Fitness Industry
Choosing a trainer is especially difficult in the modern era, where fitness courses to become a qualified personal trainer are extremely common. There are qualification courses as short of nine weeks that qualify a person with zero experience to take charge of a client or group, design a programme for them and guide them through their training. This is a very short period of time considering the complexities and almost infinite number of possible scenarios and necessary contingencies required to train clients effectively.
Lack of Specialisation
Choosing a trainer is confusing in an industry where everyone is an expert at everything. Ever since the birth of the fitness industry trainers have gained general fitness qualifications and promoted themselves simply as “a personal trainer”. But what do these trainers actually do? Think about other industries and make a comparison. Take a look at the medical profession, where doctors spend many years studying theory and then again more years working practically in the field under the supervision of experienced medical professionals. We have the general practitioner; they are able to provide the bare basic treatment for the most basic of medical conditions. But what do they do most often? They assess the problem and then refer the patient to a relevant specialist that is more equipped to deal with that specific issue. Take heart disease for instance. If you have blocked arteries that require surgery on this most vital organ, are you going to seek out the general practitioner? The jack-of-all-trades to perform the complex surgery required? This is unlikely. You seek out the cardiac specialist that is qualified and experienced at treating the specific thing you need treated.
This can be said of just about any well-respected profession. You see the relevant professionals for the specific service you require. The problem with the fitness industry is that trainers are not seen as professionals in the same way as doctors or chiropractors. Trainers are mostly generalists with no dedication to a specific specialisation.
Modern Fitness Marketing
Fitness is quite often about finding the best marketing strategy. It is rare that a popular course is promoted that aims at teaching trainers the technical aspects of a specific specialisation. Most independently run courses are aimed at fitness marketing and becoming a “6 figure trainer”. For this reason, the general exercising public is conditioned to look for only certain qualities in a trainer. The trainer with the best marketing strategy is the trainer with the most clients, regardless of their level of skill or their ability to produce effective results for their clients. Quite often, the outstanding trainers are not the ones in the spotlight, so they fall behind in popularity, and as a result, people notice their lack of bookings and assume they are an inferior trainer.
Fitness Fads and Cults
Fitness fads have been around since the dawn of time, ever since organised exercise has existed. Fads are a major factor in choosing a trainer in the modern day world of fitness. The fact that a one trainer has a CrossFit certification and another is simply a strength and conditioning coach not associated with a popular fitness system has a huge bearing on their popularity.
Methods such as CrossFit have shaken up the fitness world. Those that participate in this popular programme are generally attracted to the cult-like following, the competition and the camaraderie. Followers and enthusiasts of the CrossFit methods are much more likely to see a CrossFit certified coach as superior to even the most experienced and effective trainers not associated with the method. The same is true for any popular fitness system, programme, fad or following, whether it is effective or not.
Fitness marketing plays a big role in choosing a trainer. It is most often the trainer with the best marketing skills, budget or method that makes the most money and attracts the most clients. For you, in terms of the skill of the trainer and the effectiveness of the results he/she delivers, it is the trainer who has marketed their services most effectively that gets your $$$.
Current Criteria for Choosing a Trainer
Choosing a trainer is almost purely a product of psychology more than the ability of the individual trainer. There are certain key criteria used for choosing a trainer. These criteria are what is most often demonstrated by the general public. There is certainly a pattern that exists. Here are the current common criteria used by people to choose the right personal trainer:
1. Creative marketing - People like to know they are getting the best product or service they can buy. Purchasing in general is governed by the packaging, the advertising, how often they see it, the messaging used to communicate the product etc. Choosing a trainer I no different. It is common for people to look for the trainer that appears to be the most up to date and state of the art. Marketing alone portrays this to a public that have nothing else to base their decision on.
2. Revolutionary methods and systems - In the modern fitness industry most products and services are sold on the premise that there is one new and unique method for achieving the most commonly desired result for the target market and that this method has been magically uncovered by a particular trainer. If this is communicated effectively to the public then a large proportion of people will be attracted to the method or system.
3. Specialisation - People want to choose the best trainer for their specific goal. A person wanting to lose a large amount of fat is not going to hire the trainer that specialises in soccer conditioning for pre-teens. This is obvious and logical. The fat loss expert is seen as someone to hire in order to lose fat, regardless of the trainer’s actual and factual ability to produce the claimed result.
4. Word of mouth - If your good friend Sharon’s cousin lost 43kg by training with John Smith then people within her circle of influence will hear about this amazing transformation. It’s like Sharon has been told about it. Sharon hears that you want to lose a large amount of weight and her cousin’s trainer springs to mind. This one client might be the trainer’s only major success story, but even just that one reference is enough social proof for people to choose that trainer, even without further research.
5. Cost - Another popular prerequisite for choosing a trainer is cost. Quite often in the fitness industry people will shop the same way they do for everything else. The main goal being to get a product or service for the least amount of time and money. It is common for the general public to ask a trainer immediately what they charge. This is even true for potential clients that have the means to pay a little extra. Everyone wants to save a bit of money. So quite often people will base their decision largely off of how much a trainer charges per hour or per session. This is obviously not best practice.
Some of these points such as word of mouth are relevant, whereas things like cost and marketing are the areas that cloud judgement.
The current state of the fitness industry and the way in which people choose a fitness professional to work with is very much in a mess. The industry is so crowded that it seems every second person is a personal trainer after doing a three-month course. This has lead to a lot of confusion and disappointment. A lack of respect has grown from this. Trainers are not seen like other professionals. A doctor is not questioned. The doctor charges whatever they charge and it is accepted because that’s the industry standard, and you pay even more for a better doctor. The same applies for chiropractors, massage therapists, motor mechanics, electricians, landscapers etc. They charge a particular rate, provide a service that is agreed to from the start and everyone is, for the most part, satisfied with the arrangement. The fitness industry is different, it’s not tangible and is often under-valued. It is my goal and the goal of Unleashed Training to make the profession of fitness a real profession, one that is seen in the same light as a chiropractor or a psychologist. If a trainer’s service costs $100 per session and it delivers on what is promised then that’s how much it costs, it’s not up for debate and should not be seen as outrageous. This will weed out the poor quality trainers from the professionals until the industry is solid.
Choosing a Trainer
A person’s health, fitness and physical performance should be a major priority. For this reason choosing a trainer should be done methodically and properly using criteria that ensures you are getting the best service and the most effective and efficient outcome.
What is a Trainer? And how do I know what to look for?
First of all, what is a trainer? A fitness trainer should meet the following criteria:
1. Qualifications - In order to be a trainer, an effective one, there must exist a baseline standard, some form of certification. This is easy to get by modern standards. A qualification on its own does not mean a trainer is effective, it just means that a person has taken the basic first measures towards becoming a fitness professional. A trainer that has kept up to date with ongoing qualifications gets at least a base level of credibility, as this shows a commitment to development within their profession. Keep in mind though that the most advanced qualifications do not necessarily determine the most effective trainer. Along with qualifications, a real trainer is insured and has all relevant licenses and certification to operate.
2. Not a trainer - We have been talking about choosing a trainer, however personal trainer, fitness trainer, fitness instructor and all related terms are overused and don’t hold a lot of meaning. Instead of a trainer you should seek a coach. I’m a strength and conditioning coach myself, which means that I specialise in sports performance. However I also provide AAA-standard performance training for the general public looking to get leaner, stronger and healthier. A strength and conditioning coach is someone that works with a client or group in order to coach them from where they are to where they want to be, as opposed to simply directing workouts. Seek a coach, not a trainer.
3. Experience - A trainer/coach has to start somewhere. Having said that, look for experience. What have they done? Who have they trained? What success have they had with clients? It is always dubious when a brand new trainer claims to have a revolutionary method and set of systems without having actually applied it to real clients and athletes.
4. Walking the talk - I have seen so many out of shape trainers and coaches in my time. Coaches that struggle to maintain their own fitness levels should be a red flag that signals that the trainer does not live and breathe his/her profession. Keep in mind that a coach can’t be all things to all people. If you need to train for a marathon your coach does not necessarily have to be a world class distance runner. By the same token they don’t need to be massively built in order to hold credibility as a trainer that can help a client gain muscle. What the coach should possess is a sign of dedication, a sign that they take their own advice and excel in the fitness domain they have chosen for themselves.
5. Practical knowledge - A coach should be a walking text book of information on their given area of expertise. I have met trainers that have asked me to explain energy systems to them. In order to hold credibility as a trainer a coach must be able to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge base to their target market.
6. Specialisation - Rarely is a generalist the best option for the attainment of a specific fitness objective. Look for trainers that are dedicated to the area that you need to develop. If you want to lose fat then seek a fat loss coach. If you are looking to improve sports performance then see a specialised strength and conditioning coach that delivers the systems and tools necessary with the commitment to confidently and competently bring you to your objectives.
7. Systems and processes - An effective trainer uses specific means to achieve specific targets. Fitness industry certifications serve as a basic starting point for the fitness professional. An effective coach uses and develops systems and thorough methods. Take a look at the most effective Olympic coaches of all time. They had systems they used and developed through research and application. An effective modern coach has an approach, a specific way they go about doing things. Generalised fitness knowledge is something anyone can obtain through a small amount of effort. The development and analysis of fitness and performance systems takes dedication and systematic understanding of why the methods they use produce the results that they do.
Choosing a trainer is an important decision, it should be a priority and you should know exactly what to look for. The preceding criteria are a good starting point.
Systems and Processes
An inexperienced or ineffective coach will take a client through a basic health screen and write up a simple programme onto a programme card and then guide the client through these workouts. That’s about the limit of the service. The trainer then becomes a professional rep counter.
A quality trainer has a system and a process. This process is structured in a way that ensures all bases are covered by effectively assessing a person, constructing a well-projected programme and establishing goals and objectives. The effective trainer is a coach, they are equipped to answer all questions and they calibrate and control every aspect of every session and keep tabs on the time between sessions to ensure clients stay on the right track.
The following is a sample process used by Unleashed Training. This is an example of systems and processes at work…
1. Assessment - First, you will undergo a thorough assessment. During this stage we will conduct a series of questions regarding exercise history, medical history and goals. From there you will perform fitness tests, movement analysis and a body composition assessment. We will use the information gathered to create a comprehensive personal profile that will be used to design the most effective personalised programme for you.
2. Programme Design - Once we have created a thorough and comprehensive personal profile we will use the information gathered to construct a detailed and personalised programme that is designed to produce specific results right from the start all the way through each stage of development to the finished product.
3. Coaching - Coaching is where it all happens. Coaching is what takes the current you and turns you into a finely tuned athlete, no matter what your goals may be. Coaching with Unleashed Training uses a systematic approach to training, applying methods and systems built from the best coaches, teams and athletes from around the world.
In addition to this systemised approach to assessment, programme design and coaching there is also a system embedded within the training itself. This system is applied to all fitness methods used for each individual purpose.
1. Foundational - The foundational phase is where you will begin. This phase is of imperative importance. It is here you will develop a solid base foundation of strength and movement efficiency. Without a solid base you have nothing to build upon. The Unleashed Training system is thorough and precise. We place a large emphasis on ensuring each stage of development is complete before moving on to the next. By taking this systematic approach we ensure that you are left with no weak links.
2. Developmental - The developmental phase is where you really start to shine. Once you have a solid foundation of strength and biomechanical efficiency we build a layer of specificity that gets more specific throughout each training cycle. This is where you take your foundational and generalised fitness and make it something tangible and measurable. Whether you want to sprint faster, become a champion rugby player, win a tennis grand slam, gain muscle mass or become leaner than you have ever been before we have got it covered. Unleashed Training is founded on producing specific results and ensuring targets and objectives are met and exceeded.
3. Preparation - The preparation phase is the icing on the cake. The developmental phase brings you 95% of the way towards your chosen goal, the preparation phase is that lat 5%. This phase applies to the last six weeks before a big race or that last 5kg of stubborn fat.
This is the general structure, the overlying system that governs the service. The actual training systems used are another component altogether. An effective coach bases all training methods on effectiveness, not popularity. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and any trainer that claims to have the key is suspect. Coaching fitness and performance is an art and a science, it requires thinking, constant updating of skills and knowledge and the ability to apply what works within any relevant context in which one claims professionalism.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.