The Essence of Personal Training

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We are currently recruiting new Trainers and it’s got me thinking what is the essence of Personal Training?  My conversations with other trainers have thrown up some interesting perspectives on what Personal Trainers should be doing for clients.  I can’t give a conclusive answer, but here are my thoughts on the key roles of a Personal Trainer.

I have been a Personal Trainer in Birmingham for eight years.  Before that I had worked as a sports coach as well as teaching literacy, helping Young Offenders and in sports development.  All these jobs involved a fair degree of relationship-building, but Personal Training is by far the most personal of all these jobs.  Maybe that should come as no surprise, the clue is in the name, but I genuinely believe that the better I know a client, better I can help them.

On many occasions I have found client’s weight gain is attributable to psychological or habitual practices rather than consciously eating too much.  Challenging and changing a habit or belief has led to a customer not wanting to eat or drink alcohol.

Similarly physical pains or weaknesses are more often linked to everyday habits than to an anatomical failing.  Correcting the way someone sits, works or carries things has frequently stopped them having physical problems.  Only by having a thorough knowledge of their work, home, family and personal life have I been able to help them achieve their aims.

Another essence of Personal Training is delivering the deliverable.  Most women would love a body like Kate Middleton or the toned curves of Beyoncé.  Most men (myself included) would like to look like Brad Pitt.  However all three have the benefit of great genes, youth, unlimited funds and the ability to devote hours to training.

As a Personal Trainer it is essential that I can assess what the genetic potential of a customer is, along with the amount of time they have to squeeze in training and whether they can afford to spend lots of time perfecting their diet.  It is important to ensure what people want and what is possible are as closely allied as possible.  Then I am able to help them be the best they can be within the confines of their age, genes, finances and living a normal life.  If someone has realistic aims, even if they are still very ambitious, they can be achieved.

Personal Trainers are role models.  We have a responsibility to be honest about our own shortcomings (mine involve chocolate and wine), how hard we train and how we motivate ourselves.  Many trainers like to project an air of effortless perfection.  They suggest their fitness and physique don’t involve dietary compromises, training very hard or being blessed with good genes.

Even worse are those trainers who tell clients to eat and train in a specific way, but don’t do it themselves and are unfit and overweight.  I am still shocked at Personal Trainers who apply to join At Home Fitness and fail our running test (5km in 25 minutes if you’re interested).  If you can’t lead, don’t expect others to follow.

Finally, I believe Personal Trainers need to be professional.  Our industry has no official regulator and for years had no unofficial regulator either.  For the past ten years there has been a government approved organisation called the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) which sets minimum standards and accredits qualifications.  This is the charter mark that should ensure Personal Trainers know what they’re doing.  However it has no legal standing and cannot stop a personal training working unlike the BMA can with doctors.  Given that foolish training practices can seriously injure someone, I would much prefer REPS to be able to regulate Personal Training much more rigorously.

That said, REPS works hard to raise standards, but there are still trainers who see a qualification as the end of the journey to a fitness career.  They don’t continue to work on improving themselves both professionally and personally.  Standards that are expected in other industries such as punctuality, personal hygiene and appearance, honesty and clarity are often not valued by a significant minority of Personal Trainers.

In a physically demanding job maintaining standards of appearance and hygiene from hour to hour can be a challenge (!) but is possible.  What appals me more is trainers who promise clients will achieve unrealistic results, charge whatever they feel they can get away with or turn up for appointments around the time agreed, not on the dot.  If Personal Trainers cannot enforce standards on themselves, how can they expect their customers to be disciplined with their training?  Why do these trainers expect clients to rely on their guidance, when they prove unreliable in simple things like punctuality?

Limiting myself to four key essences of a Personal Trainer has been tough.  I have overlooked many other skills in order to focus on those I deem the most important or the biggest challenge to Personal Trainers.  If you disagree, please start the debate by adding your thoughts.  If you think I’ve missed something even more essential, let me know.  Finally, it would be great to get a customer’s perspective on what they value most from their Personal Trainer.  You might have completely different thoughts.


Jamie Johnston is the head of At Home Fitness

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