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Friday, March 14, 2014

7 Mistakes Even Top Personal Trainers Make

Is your trainer focused on YOU?
“I really like to work with guys” in her job description should have immediately signaled a problem. Substitute “hook up” with “work” and you can quickly see how a new hire at my gym several years ago quickly turned into a profession-shaming nightmare.

The fitness craze had reached its zenith and our gym owner determined we needed to hire someone new. I felt thrilled: I had reached my peak client base; my coworkers were equally swamped. I received the daunting task of going through applications to find our new trainer.

This one definitely stood out in more than one way. Let’s call her Bambi. A little older than other applicants, with impressive credentials, she had nearly a decade’s experience working at one of Los Angeles’ top gyms and quite the testimonial base.

Bambi clearly practiced what she preached, at least
based on her website’s numerous pictures, most of her in various states of undress. (“Are you looking at porn!?” my coworker incredulously asked, passing by my desk and catching a glimpse of Bambi’s webpage.)

Maybe that should have been my first clue. Bambi knew how to charm me in her interview. She knew how to charm her male clientele even more.

As I watched her shamelessly flirt with three different male clients her first week on the job, I felt like trouble was brewing. When rumor struck Bambi had hooked up with a wealthy long-standing bachelor at our gym, I regretted hiring her. When I learned she was hooking up with several said bachelors, it became time to have “the talk.”

Evidently Bambi was tops in several categories, if you get my drift. “You’re a disgrace to our profession,” I wanted to say after the gym owner finally fired her. But for once, I held my tongue.

Listen, I’m no prude. What you do in your own time is your business. When you show lack of integrity and degrade my profession, it becomes my business.

I don't want to place all the blame on Bambi. She personifies the countless professional "eff-ups" I’ve witnessed along my career. Among the most egregious mistakes I’ve seen even top trainers make:

1.    They undervalue their services. Everyone loves a deal. Bambi knew that, so she often “discounted” her services to build clientele. Trouble is, undercutting your market will devalue your work. Sure, you’ll get more business – at least initially – but you’ll end up with the wrong kind of clientele and eventually you’ll suffer burnout. I also see trainers create enticing package deals to hook clients into longer contracts. Fine: Just don’t sell yourself or your profession short. “People commit with their wallets,” says my mentor JJ Virgin. Let’s say I was giving you relationship advice; you’re probably likely to tune it out. But let’s say I’m a therapist and charging $200 an hour. Suddenly you’re going to take that advice very seriously. Treat training similarly: No freebies or ridiculous discounts.

2.    They’re self-proclaimed know-it-alls. When I entered this business eons – okay, decades – ago, I constantly got invites to conferences. (This began in the dark, pre-email ages where they actually called or snail-mailed you a flyer.) They just want my money, I thought, and quickly dismissed them. Well, yeah, they do want my money; they aren’t giving this information away out of kindness. That’s not to say conferences and other educational experiences are shams. (Okay, some are, so turn on your BS detector.) Top trainers consistently attend conferences, network like crazy, maintain certifications, keep up with the latest science, and read voraciously in their field. Like any field, fitness constantly evolves. If you don’t evolve with it, you discount your clients a valuable service. In this rapidly changing field, “old school” is no school.

3.   They’re easily distracted. Yeah, correcting form and diligently monitoring clients for hours on end can become dull, tedious work. Oh look, your boyfriend just texted you! What a happy distraction, and you’re certain your client won’t notice if you take just a peak. Whether you realize it or not, sitting on a bench rather than actively participating, checking text messages, chatting needlessly with coworkers, and other distractions during your client's session, reflects poorly on your professionalism. You expect your client to be 100% present and to give their all. Why aren’t you demanding the same thing of yourself?

4.   They burn themselves out. Balance becomes an operative but often-elusive word in the fitness world. I know trainers who put in 10-hour days and then work online forums or take client calls outside the job. While I commend your work ethic, I don’t care how much you love your job: All work and no play will eventually burn out your adrenals and make you a miserable mess to be around. (If you don’t believe me, ask your boyfriend… or, um, ex-boyfriend…) Prioritize so you have down time. Don’t make the gym your hanging-out destination when you’re not working. And make weekend family time, even if that simply means a night out with the girls or a fun movie.

5.   They don’t practice what they preach. A rumor circulated among my coworkers someone saw Bambi scarfing down a burger and fries at a popular California fast-food restaurant. I wasn’t inclined to believe that rumor, and besides, even the healthiest of us indulge sometimes. Just don’t think if you constantly binge your clients won’t know. You’ve heard the acronym TOFI: Thin on the outside, fat on the inside. Lean or muscular doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. I don’t care how metabolically blessed you are; a less-than-optimal diet will eventually catch up to you.

6.   They’re oblivious about their reputation. Bambi liked her men. She made that clear in her description, and even more as she began to work at our gym. She once got into a catfight with a coworker that escalated to nearly yelling. (Neither Bambi nor the other trainer are at our gym today.) Bambi also became notorious for wearing boobs-spilling tops and short shorts that rode up a little too much when she squatted. Either she didn’t care or remained oblivious about her reputation. She clearly wasn’t going for a Trainer with Integrity award, but get it together. Treat personal training with dignity and raise the bar high so personal training remains a respected profession. Trust me: Others talk, and your reputation will open or slam professional doors down the road.

7.   They get lazy with tracking. Helping a client with proper form during a Romanian dead lift is exciting; updating their body composition charts is not. Don’t get lazy with paperwork. Every profession requires it, and it can become tedious and cumbersome. I notice personal trainers on top of initial intake forms – informed consent, medical history, lifestyle history, body composition, and other pertinent information – but they drop the ball with follow-up info. Ideally, you should log and record every rep for every client. Getting sloppy can backfire. In our litigious society, you never can predict if a chummy relationship goes sour or a gym accident triggers injury. Stay protected and don’t let a sloppy mistake ruin your career or worse.

I wrote about these seven common catastrophes as a sort of “get it together” for all trainers. We all drop the ball occasionally, and I want this blog to serve as a wake-up call to raise our professional bar higher.

I realized though this blog might also work if you’re considering becoming a trainer or even looking for the right trainer. Steer clear of anyone who displays these seven characteristics. If your current trainer exhibits any of them, call them out or speak to a higher-up. And if you’re considering a career as a personal trainer, vow right now you will never, ever fall into these traps.

Have you ever had a trainer do something horrible like answer a personal call during your session? Share your horror story in the comments below or on my Facebook fan page.
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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