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The Personal Training Industry and Holding Ourselves Accountable

It’s been 20 years exactly since I entered this field. When I started out, I didn’t know that personal training would become my career. Looking back now, I couldn’t be happier I ended up in this field all because I wanted to inspire a few co-workers.

That’s how it happened, one day I was a Sales Rep for a Vehicle Location Tracking device sharing info with my co-workers about things I was learning regarding diet, nutrition and weight lifting and the next day – we all received pink slips because the company wasn’t making a profit.

I decided that day – that I would never put myself in that position again where someone else had the power to determine my fate. That’s when I decided to work for myself and went into the field of health and fitness! I got certified and starting working at a local gym and built up my business one client at a time.

But this article isn’t about my start in the business it’s about the business of personal training and why we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I guess you could say it’s my “Jerry Maquire” moment.

I’ll start by saying I think it’s important to remind ourselves what a valuable job we have as personal trainers. I know, back in the day – before shows like The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club and Extreme Weight Loss made our field so popular, being a personal trainer didn’t get a lot of credibility.

But according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “employment of fitness workers is expected to increase 13% in 2012-2022 decade.” This is mainly due to our country’s high obesity rate (unfortunately still growing) and that people now realize there is a direct link between being healthy and exercise and diet.

Our roles as fitness instructors and personal trainers are now more than ever so critical in America’s fight against obesity. Besides our client’s doctor, we are the one person that has the ability to really impact their health and fitness. We are the one person that affects their relationship with their body and how it functions in throughout their day.

That’s a lot of influence and a lot of responsibility. And that is exactly why it’s so important to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Yes, there are certain associations like IDEA, NASM, AFAA, ACE and NCSA we can get certified through, but there really is no governing body that will fine us or bar us or sentence us if we don’t follow certain rules or guidelines for our industry. In some ways but it can leave the field feeling a bit like the Wild Wild West.

In the UK, they have something called REP (Register of Exercise Professionals) and the only way to get on it is to have met various Levels of qualifications and certificates. It’s almost impossible to get work as a Personal Trainer in the UK without being on this REP list.

Not so in the United States, pretty much anyone can print a business card and call themselves a personal trainer. And while having a Personal Training Certification is of utmost importance, I feel how we conduct ourselves on the “training floor” is equally as important. This is the critical time when we have our client’s health, physical and sometimes even emotional wellbeing in our hands.

Forgive me if I go on a bit of a rant here, but I must.

Throughout the years I have seen so many irresponsible and lackadaisical trainers just phoning it in or what I call just “collecting checks” who appear to really not care about this profession and that hourly session with their clients.

I really have seen it all; trainers on their phones during sessions, trainers chatting with other trainers while a client is doing a precarious exercise with horrific form, trainers eating their meals in front of the client and trainers hitting on other trainers or other clients.

“Are you kidding me?” I would say to myself and so many times I just wish I had the nerve to walk over and say, “what the hell are you doing?” But I didn’t, as I felt it wasn’t my place to “police” other trainers.

I would think to myself, eventually the client will notice this isn’t standard practice and will fire the trainer. But week after week that same client would be in the same precarious position and the trainer would still be oblivious. “Wake up” – I wanted to yell!

And don’t even let me get started on professional hygiene, showing up in tattered clothes, being late session after session or swearing at clients thinking that’s what works because some trainer who shall remain nameless made it popular to yell at overweight people on a network weight loss show. Ok, I think I have made my point. Rant – over…almost.

I know we all entered this field for different reasons, some may have entered this field to make good money while pursuing an acting or singing career (mainly in LA or NYC) or to put yourself through college.

Or maybe, so you could have a flexible schedule to pursue hobbies or athletics or perhaps you became a personal trainer because someone told you it’s great money (and it is – some personal trainers earn more money per hour than some careers requiring 4-year degrees).

Yet most of us are in this field because we truly enjoy the idea of inspiring and motivating people to live healthier lives and that’s fantastic! And I truly believe that the majority of us really take this career seriously and act with professionalism.

But just as a reminder and maybe as a wake up call I felt inspired to write the below as we must always remain accountable to our clients and to this industry. We should maintain the same level of professionalism that we would give to any other profession we might choose.

We as personal trainers, collectively, should care about our industry and the level of our knowledge and attention we bring to each and every training session.

To that end here are my suggestions for holding ourselves to a higher standard:

• If you aren’t certified – get certified! We’re responsible for our clients’ body and future health so it’s imperative we understand things like proper set up and alignment for exercises, which exercises are contraindicated based on a clients medical history or past injuries. We must also be armed with the right information or know where to find it when a client asks an important health or fitness related question.

Remember, our clients pay us because they look to us as the professional so if you aren’t certified, check out ACE, AFAA, NASM, ACSM and NCSA. Some certifications are more expensive and more extensive than others. Explore which one is the right fit for you and get your certification.

• Be up to date on the latest trends and new styles of training in the industry so if our clients ask about them we can respond with an intelligent and informed answer.

• Arrive at our sessions before our clients or a few minutes early to set up the training area and be there to greet them.

• Wear professional, appropriate training clothing.

• Stay off phones while training clients. In other words, be present. Unless you are using your phone as a timer for interval workouts – which I often do. But otherwise, make the workout a phone free zone!

Just yesterday I was in the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice California (my home training gym for 20 years) and a former Mr. Olympian turned personal trainer was texting right through a client’s set. Imagine if our dentist or doctor pulled out their phone and started texting while tending to our bodies? UGH!

• Eat meals before the session. I know sometimes we go back to back with clients and don’t want to miss a meal but to that I say, get better at scheduling or if you must eat a meal, do it while the client is warming up, but not in front of them.

• Always be checking and correcting form and alignment. One wrong move and our clients get injured.

• Speak in uplifting, inspiring ways to our clients. Don’t swear or berate our clients thinking that it’s a cool psychological way to motivate them.

• No matter what reason we became a personal trainer, make the client feel like they are the number one most important thing to us during that hour.

• Don’t engage with other Trainers or carry on cross talk with others during our clients’ sessions.

• Always remember how fortunate we are to be in this field making more money per hour than some lawyers, doctors and others who have spent many years in college to be in their chosen field.

Ok, so now that all that is off my chest I will wrap this article up by saying, I get that sometimes in any career we can hit a point of “burn out”, where what once was our passion begins to feel like an obligatory chore for any number of reasons.

It’s happens in every field, but especially in fields like ours, where we spend a lot of our days giving “energy” to others. Let’s face it, we are not only personal trainers, we also sometimes end up being our clients’ life coach, relationship counselor and body image therapist, etc. Note: I am not condoning or advocating being these things – just acknowledging that it happens.

My point here is that if you have hit a “burn out” stage, you must find a way to reignite why you felt excited about this field to begin with or maybe it’s time to move on.

Sometimes just studying a new facet of physical fitness, such as senior fitness or kids fitness or perhaps sports performance, or sports nutrition can be the ticket. Or maybe just taking a much-needed vacation to rejuvenate yourself can help. And sometimes, stepping away completely from the field may help.

That’s actually what I did about 8 years ago. I was feeling completely burnt out. So I left the industry to go into Real Estate Development in New York City. I know – completely out of left field. It only took about four months for me to realize I preferred inspiring people to get healthy and fit to dashing around NYC showing high-end property.

When I came back to the industry I was so refreshed and excited that a month later I actually created my signature workout Booty Slide® (a core workout using Slide Training) that went on to be made into a retail product and now sells in Wal-Mart and Kmart.

So time away can super beneficial not only to our clients but to our creativity and productivity. But I had to take that break to reclaim my passion for the industry.

And that’s where I will end for now. I hope this post has inspired us all to check in and take inventory of where we are in this field and always remind us we are a lucky bunch, with a lot of responsibility AND opportunity to transform our clients’ lives. May we always rise to the occasion and hold ourselves to a higher standard!

Remember Move More. Eat Better. Forgive Often. It’s a choice!

Rebecca Kordeki

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