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Time to get a new trainer

When it’s time to find a new trainer…

I’ve been thinking about writing this for quite a while now and just yesterday I saw this awesome post from Brad Schoenfeld (see below) which has finally propelled me into action. I really do get tired of seeing terrible trainers making money off the backs of their vulnerable clients who possibly don’t know any better but I’m not that keen to get into a slinging match either. So hopefully this is received in the way it’s intended and also propels anyone out there to give their crappy trainer the flick! So if you’ve ever wondered about your trainer, have a read of this….

  1. Quick Qualifications

Seems pretty obvious, but the journey to gaining a qualification is an important one. There’s a saying: “There are things you know you know, things you know that you don’t know and there are things that you don’t know you don’t know.” Undertaking formal, teacher-lead study, shows you the things you don’t know, you don’t know. My own educational journey has been incredibly humbling as I have been shown many of my own errors, I’ve learnt lots of things I didn’t know I didn’t know and come to realise that in the scheme of things, how little I actually know. Those that deliberately try and circumvent this process, do themselves and their clients a disservice. There is significant knowledge and skills to be learned along the way to achieving a qualification and there is no short cut to this. What really worries me, in the health and fitness industry, is the rise of the online, fast-tracked qualification. These days, you can become a trainer without stepping foot in a classroom or a gym and all within a matter of weeks. If that doesn’t worry you, then I’m not sure what will.

  1. Undervalues Education

One of the best things about the health and fitness industry is its continual evolution. When I think back to what I learned at uni almost 20 years ago compared with what is being taught today, there’s a significant difference. We know so much more than we did and it’s a foolish trainer who isn’t trying to keep up with the latest information. Of course it’s impossible to be able to keep up with all of it, which is why I believe so strongly in specialising. For this reason, I specialise in chronic disease management; namely cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and their associated co-morbidities. I spend a lot of my time, trawling through research and following real experts on social media. These people are the ones who share the the latest research (which they were often involved in directly) and assist in improving my knowledge and understanding of chronic conditions.

  1. Always Smash and Grab

If all your trainer does is beat you up, it’s time to strongly consider a new trainer. One of my favourite people on social media is Brad Schoenfeld. He has a PhD in exercise science and is pretty much the expert on all things hypertrophy (muscle building) related. He wrote a poignant post just the other day and it completely nails the “PT mentality”. “No, making a client so sore she can barely walk isn’t the mark of a good trainer; rather, it shows he’s clueless to the process that creates positive neuromuscular adaptations and insensitive to the needs and abilities of the client.” There is a time for high intensity and a time for low intensity and a good trainer knows when to do each. There are specific exercise intensities that are utilised to stimulate specific adaptions and guess what?! They aren’t all 100% intensity. Also worth considering is that a sign of a good session is not necessarily DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as the fitter and stronger you become, the less likely you will get sore. Its also worth mentioning that DOMS is considered to be low grade rhabdomyolysis (also known as myoglobinuria). Rhabdomyolysis occurs when muscle damage is so great, muscle cells breakdown and a protein inside the cell, myoglobin, starts to accumulate in the blood. Unfortunately myoglobin is nephrotoxic (toxic to kidneys) and can cause kidney failure and death. Think I’m being dramatic? There have been a number of cases of rhabdomyolysis occurring in people who had been beaten up by their PTs and, in CrossFit circles, it is lovingly referred to as “Uncle Rhabdo”. How sweet.

  1. Tells You to “Just” Eat Less an Move More

If you hear your trainer tell you that it’s as “simple” as eating less and moving more, get a second opinion. Seriously. Firstly, it’s obnoxious as it implies you’re too stupid, lazy and/or glutinous to lose weight. Secondly, the calorie theory of weight loss is a completely insufficient explanation of the complexities of weight gain/weight loss. Consider this example: if you remove 500 calories a day from your typical daily calorie intake, theoretically you should lose about a pound a week. If this model is correct, then a) weight loss should be linear and b) you should be able to continue to lose weight until you’re zero kilos. Firstly, we KNOW that weight loss is not linear (it’s some weird crazy up and down line with many many plateaus) and anyone with any amount of common sense will say how ridiculous it is to suggest that we could lose weight to zero kilos. BUT that is the logical conclusion of the calorie theory of weight loss. Weight loss is a simple mathematical equation, reliant only on a calorie deficit. Now obviously we can’t lose weight to zero kilos but the reason for that is your body is going to defend a minimum weight for you. So how does it do this? Via the neuroendocrine system – that is via your nervous and hormonal system. The neuroendocrine system is responsible for appetite signalling, hunger, satiety and long term energy balance so to suggest that it has nothing to do with weight loss demonstrates some pretty significant cognitive dissonance. Ultimately, when it comes to weight loss there are a number of factors involved and these include (but are not limited to) genetics, diet and dietary habits, physical activity, level of fitness, endocrine and metabolic factors, socioeconomic status, level of education, smoking status, gender and pregnancy. So whilst calories do matter, where they’re coming from is far more important and of course exercise is important but not for creating calorie deficits. So please please can we stop simplifying a very complex issue. As Dr Proietto said on a recent episode of the Obesity Myth, “Telling people to move more and eat less is just not understanding the condition!!” Hallelujah!

  1. Doesn’t admit they were wrong

Nothing worse than a trainer who is never wrong. There have been so many times along the way I have been wrong, I could write a book on my mistakes alone. Admitting you were wrong is both terrifying and exhilarating. It’s terrifying because you don’t want people losing confidence in you but it’s also exhilarating as you’re growing, learning and not being dogmatic. Any trainer that takes a dogged position on anything relating to health, nutrition or fitness doesn’t understand research or that there is a never a one-size fits all approach.

  1. Encourages more and more exercise

Any trainer that tells you to push through your DOMS has missed some serious fundamental concepts around exercise prescription and the associated recovery process. When we train hard, we create some pretty intense trauma in our body and it’s during the recovery process that all the magic happens. During the recovery process, your muscles get stronger, bigger and more resistant to damage, your cells repair and replenish; so to undertake training before all of this is finished means you can actually reduce the results from your previous training session. Not to mention you can significantly increase your risk for injury and reduce the likelihood of adherence to exercise. Additionally, current research shows us that adaptations are occurring much sooner in our exercise sessions than originally thought and that by manipulating intensity, we can shorten the number and/or duration of sessions. At the end of a day, a smart trainer knows how to maximise both your training session and your recovery process. Train smarter not longer!

  1. Shows no interest in you

If your trainer is not interested in you as a person, find someone who is. A good trainer will know what makes you tick and how to get the most out of you at training. You can’t do this if you don’t know your clients. So find someone who actually cares about your goals and your life because when you hit a plateau (and we always hit a few along the way) they won’t give up but will spend some time researching, learning and growing in trying to figure out how to best help you.

  1. Doesn’t track your progress

How do you know how far you’ve come if your trainer didn’t record your starting point? Taking measurements, assessing fitness and measuring body fat percentage are essential things to do so that you can see how far you’ve come and stay motivated through the plateaus and tough times.

  1. Behaves unprofessionally

The health and fitness is rife with unprofessional behaviour and it’s possibly due to the nature of the industry itself. When you train people and work closely with them, it can be hard to not develop relationships and have the business/friendship line blurred. I personally have many friends who started as clients and are now both; but I do always keep in the back of my mind that there is a dual relationship occurring, which will naturally restrict the level of friendship (generally speaking anyway). Simply sharing the same interests with your clients will naturally incline you towards them but it is important to be careful and professional. Many years ago I quit working for a gym I had only just started with over unprofessional relationships occurring between the manager, staff and the members. Sadly this was not uncommon. It’s also not uncommon to hear about trainers getting into relationships with married clients and vice-versa. In fact, the issues with the industry have been so significant over the years that it has made my husband’s opinion of it low enough that there was a serious talk about getting back into training again after the birth of our children. On top of the unprofessional relationships, there’s also the client stealing, poor behaviour on social media, dodgy sales tactics, misleading statements and claims about services, the blatant delivery of services outside of scope of practice and more. Of course these unprofessional behaviours are not exclusive to the health and fitness industry but as consumers, we get a choice and I would be choosing someone with a high moral and ethical standard.

  1. Does not lead by example

Any trainer that is not leading by example has no right to be in the health and fitness industry. Please understand I am not referring to physical appearance in any way shape or form. I don’t care if a trainer has bulging biceps or 3% body fat, I care that they are living a life that exemplifies healthy living. If your trainer doesn’t eat well, is not exercising and expecting you to do sessions they couldn’t do themselves (within reason of course), why are you paying them lots of money? Trainers are meant to be leaders – they are meant to inspire, encourage and motivate and it’s pretty difficult to do this if they’re not living a healthy life themselves.


At the end of the day, no trainer is perfect and, to be honest, this list is partially complied from my own errors over the years. I haven’t always been as professional as I’d like, I haven’t always been the example I wanted to be but I do acknowledge my errors (which are ongoing of course as I’m in a perpetual learning process) and I am also very aware of my own weaknesses as a trainer (of which there are quite a few). The fabulous news is that the industry is absolutely saturated with trainers (whether they’re coaches, personal trainers or exercise physiologists) and as consumers, that gives us the power. So don’t settle for a trainer who is in it for a quick buck and does not have the passion, expertise, skills or knowledge to help you make the life-long changes needed to reclaim your health!

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