Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where's the Personal in Personal Training?

What is a "personal trainer" anyway? Most of the people I know who have personal trainers describe them the way I would describe my high school sports coaches (back when coaches were bad-asses and we dreaded their wrath). A trainer's job should be more than just to whip the asses of people who lack motivation. Hell, many people can get that at their daily jobs. Why pay for it?

I don't know about you, but I can kick my own ass worse than any trainer can. Most of MY coaches spent their time trying to get me to back off and avoid injuring myself. When I say I don't need motivation, I know what I'm talking about. And when I tell a trainer what I need as an athlete, I also know what I'm talking about. If I hired a personal trainer, I would want him/her to understand my goals as an athlete and help me put together a plan to accomplish them.

My new gym membership came with a "free" session with a personal trainer. What they don't tell you is that "free" really means "you have no choice and we won't give you the option of turning it down." Ok, no problem, it's free, right? And I don't have to pay for it, right? Ok. I made the appointment. My trainer asked me what my goals were. I told him: "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk."  My trainer replied: "I'll do some research on that before we meet." And YES, I DID believe him - I always start by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

My training session began with a questionnaire that my trainer filled out while asking me the questions. The first question (again): "What do you want to get out of personal training?" I replied (again): "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk."

The second question (and I am NOT making this up): "Can you be more specific?" Umm, how much more specific CAN I BE?!?! My trainer looked at me expecting me to (actually) narrow down my answer. I said (for the third time): "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk." He looked down and started writing.

I mentally checked out. I don't know what he wrote. I don't care what he wrote. I came to a quick conclusion: personal training with this person will do nothing for me. The rest of my session involved exercises with balls, chairs, weights and one machine. My trainer rarely made eye contact with me (people who know me will tell you this is one of my major pet peeves). After he mumbled instructions, I had to ask him several times to repeat himself. After giving me exercises, I had to ask him several times how many reps (there's that word again...). While doing exercises, I had to ask him several times "in which muscles should I be feeling this?" He never once asked me about my triathlon training and racing.

We ran out of time but he told me the last part of the workout was supposed to be "bike intervals." Bike intervals? Seriously? Then he asked me if I've ever done bike intervals. Seriously?!?? At the very least, he could have looked up "triathlon" in the dictionary.

Maybe it should be called "impersonal training." Or maybe they should send these people to "personable training." During my session, my trainer spent more time showing me what HE could do in exercises I could BARELY do. Is that the trick? They convince you you need a personal trainer by showing you things you can't possibly hope to do (the first time)? Sounds like job security to me.

And it's a good gig if you can get it. At the end of my "session" I found out personal trainers make a LOT of money. Even with the special "half price deal for signing up within 10 days of my membership." My "trainer" took me in a little glass-enclosed room and told me I needed 12 sessions. Really? What does that cover, 12 months? No. "Six weeks." You've GOT to be kidding. I gave the excuse: "I can't afford it" (this was more than partially true). The next step: "Well, what CAN you afford?" Think fast, Jeanne! "I can't make any financial decisions without talking to my husband."

Whew! Made it out of that one, mostly unscathed. I was not given an option to NOT make a second appointment - "to assess the first session and do the bike intervals." Then I suppose I'll give my final "no." God only knows what excuse I'll come up with then. Whatever it is, I'll have to live with it every time I walk in the door. And I know myself - I'll feel embarrassed and guilty every time I see him. Yes, even though I shouldn't. Which makes me wonder: does personal training extend to the mental realm? Because THAT'S the personal training I could really use.


  1. Obviously, the motivation to be a 'personal trainer' has nothing to do with 'helping your fellow man (or woman)'. It sounds more like a commission-based position where the biggest perc is being able to work on bigger pecs in between sales.

    My suggestion is to use the same tactic I use when I am bombarded by a hard-selling salesperson: No Thank you - it's just not for me. I repeat that like a mantra no matter what their next question is. Eventually, they will get bored and go away (or believe me to be autistic and still go away).

    No need to feel guilty - you would have felt worse had you stuck with the 'program' (or lack of thereof) !! The waste of time and money and potentially putting yourself at risk for injury just wasn't worth it.

    I'll see what kind of info I can find for you !!


  2. I look at it this way; if I’m in better shape than the kid with the “Trainer” shirt on and the 800 calorie smoothie in their hand then he/she should be paying me for my time. Some of the “trainers” at my gym are young kids just out of high school who know the absolute minimum about fitness. I imagine they attended a one day class, took an open book test and “presto” they’re a personal trainer.

    My first two questions would have been “How much of what you plan to teach me parallels Joe Friel approach to strength training?” and “can you help me with my gait?”. I’ll bet you an 800 calorie smoothie that they don’t know who Joe Friel is BUT they might know enough about carpentry to help you fix your gate…..

    All the best,


  3. When asked about future sessions you should present them with this blog entry. I think it sums it up perfectly.

    Trainers show you what to do - coaches help you reach your goals.

  4. He sums up 90% of PT's mate! I am one myself and I hate nearly every one in the industry! shit pity I can't train you, regarding gaining to much bulk unless your diet supports it won't happen mate. learn squats,deads, clean and press if done right will add so much to you training.

    Stronger more efficient muscle will propel you further and faster, which in turns makes your cardiopulmonary system work harder, making it adapt faster resulting better fitness and endurance. and esp the clean and press will add alot to you power production.