What I look for in a fitness professional
Like all of you, I don't have a lot of free time. When it comes to working on my fitness, I don't like gambling on new trainers or instructors. I have my go-to folks that I can always rely on for a challenging and fun workout guided by someone I firmly believe is an expert in his or her field and worthy of trusting with my most precious assets - my mind and body.
When I was first swept up in this growing fitness world, intellectual curiosity led me to pick up a few fitness certifications of my own. I did not want to teach. I wanted to know what level of knowledge is required to start teaching so I could distinguish between trainers and instructors that merely passed an exam versus those that I call "fitness professionals" - the individuals that continue to educate themselves in exercise science and wellness trends and have a passion for helping others achieve their fitness and life goals. While I learned some interesting and useful things while working on my certifications, my key takeaway was that the minimum level of education required to enter the fitness industry as a trainer or instructor is just enough to be dangerous.
I have a fairly regular weekly or bi-weekly schedule of workouts, which includes a number of group fitness classes, solo workouts, and sessions with my trainer. But sometimes I like to try something new or have to find another workout that fits into my schedule. I seek out recommendations from friends in the industry or with similar tastes, do some independent research, and I have very high expectations by the time I enter someone's class. I can appreciate a good quality instructor that has a motivating presence, delivers solid programming, and shares some adjustments and knowledge that not only make me feel safe but also stimulate some brain activity. My favorites also focus on connecting with their clients and have a magical unicorn quality that inspires my best effort and my willingness to test my own limits and fail if necessary. But if a trainer or instructor falls short of motivating, programming, or displaying an understanding what he or she is asking me to do and why, we're breaking up forever.
So, how does this help you?
First, look for quality and don't settle. You don't have to work out at a specific gym or studio to find a great coach - the quality of coaching will vary in every business. Though I am still a big fan of live, in-person coaching (for myself and others), I've found fitness apps that feature terrific talent with experience in their field and the miraculous ability to coach quite effectively via a pre-recorded audio feed. Generally speaking, whether you're doing a live or audio workout, if you think you are being short-changed by the workout or the lack of enthusiasm your trainer or instructor has for the job, you probably are. Some common examples of short-changing: your trainer or instructor focuses on making you sore (fine as a side effect but not as a goal), treats the session or class like his or her own workout and just hopes you're keeping up (never okay), or uses cues like “go faster” and “push harder” (whereas optimal coaching goes to how a movement should feel and where to feel it, how to know when you can work harder and when it’s okay to pull back, when to inhale and exhale, etc.). A somewhat technical example of short-changing is when a trainer or instructor programs a strength workout entirely in the sagittal plane (think: front-to-back movement, like squats, plyo-lunges, mountain climbers, burpees, etc.). Basic online fitness certifications teach programming in multiple planes of motion, and the most basic observation of human movement (not to mention all of exercise science) counsels in favor of training the body in three dimensions. If you're not moving sideways, twisting, or turning - basically if you could do the whole workout sandwiched between two walls at your sides - you're being short-changed. Keep your mind and eyes open for this one, and you'll be surprised by how many trainers and instructors are stuck here.
Second, know and believe that fitness is for everyone. I recently wrote an article on this. There is a workout for everyone. There are fitness professionals that will help you get the job done in the moment, and there are fitness professionals that will get you hooked. Seek them out. Google and Instagram are your friends in this search. Look at their education (undergraduate and graduate degrees in fitness are less common, but look for nationally-recognized, accredited certification programs, such as ACE and AFAA for group fitness, NASM for personal training, Schwinn or Mad Dogg for indoor cycling, and any continuing or advanced training), experience (time in the industry, disciplines taught, work with special populations like clients with injuries or conditions), and how they brand and market themselves (expert, coach, motivator, model, etc.). Is fitness a passion or a paycheck? Are they sharing knowledge and trying to motivate and inspire followers and clients? Do you like the workouts they coach or do on their own? Who are they following? It's all relevant, and you are entitled to judge all of it for yourself.
Third, share your feedback and share your workouts! This is a very public and very competitive industry filled with myths and misconceptions. Feedback (good or bad) is helpful, whether it's posted on social media (better used for positive feedback), relayed to the gym or studio manager, or shared directly with the coach after the session or class. Voicing your reactions to a workout is a useful tool for the coach to better understand clients and to improve coaching skills, as well as for you to potentially learn more about the coach and his or her goals for clients and classes. You should also share your workouts with your friends, whether it's a social workout or just passing along recommendations - groupie makes this easy, so check it out! See you at the gym –