This week’s question is an important one:
@bgg2wl Hi Erika! Question- what should I look for in a trainer? There’s so many options in Chicago and I’m a lil’ overwhelmed.
— Bae West (@dimpledwitch) December 28, 2014
…and I’m so sad that I didn’t get to it sooner.
Training is a hard business. So many people out there are looking for so many different things, and it feels easier for a trainer to merely convince you that you’re looking for what they offer, instead of them explaining to you that they can offer what it is that you want.
There’s a massive difference there between the two: a quality trainer is going to listen to what it is you want, and will tell you how they can help you get closer to your goal. A trainer who is insecure in their craft will tell you that what you want is wrong, that you should want what it is they provide, and that you should only get it from them.
And, look – there are some clients out there who want what any legitimately intelligent trainer can see is “the wrong thing.” (The “I want a 38 inch bust and a 18 inch waist and a 42 inch booty” crowd comes to mind, here.) But a trainer secure in their knowledge and training ability will tell you, straight up: “I’m afraid I can’t help you get what you’re after, and I don’t know that anyone can.”
A quality trainer understands that their role is about teaching, not about holding you hostage to their knowledge. A trainer is your link to better physical health and improved fitness levels – they need to guide you in a way that guarantees you are confident and capable outside of your lessons and sessions with them. Their teachings need to be relevant to how you live, where you live, and what you need in order to do it competently.
A good trainer will not build their practice on taking advantage of people who are in the very vulnerable position of trusting someone else to educate them. It’s not about “Here, let me mold you into what I think you should be.” It’s about “What do you want to be? What are you shooting for? What are your goals? What are you looking to accomplish?” and then it’s about “Okay, so what’s going on in your life now? What steps can we take to get you from where you are now to where you’re going?”
If you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down, your major takeaway here is “A quality trainer listens to the client.” And you know when someone’s a shitty listener because they talk over you, they try to apply words to you that you didn’t say, they appear to become hostile when you ask questions about what they’re telling you – as if they’re offended by the notion that they said something that didn’t make sense – and you come away from the conversation wondering what the hell just happened.
An insecure trainer is the kind who thinks that their superior physique is enough to justify why you should sit down, shut up, and do the squat like they’ve told you. (“Knees never past your toes.”) They become hostile when you ask questions because they take it personally, assuming that you’re questioning their intelligence instead of realizing you’re trying to process what they’re teaching you and apply it to how you live. They try to force you to idealize their definition of fitness instead of helping you form your own – or they try to tell you that’s not possible – because they don’t understand how to teach you how to form your own. They often barely know how they formed their own.
I’ve had a handful of stellar trainers in New York City – someone determined to be a good trainer understands the value of good training; not just for calorie burning, but in terms of pedagogy as well – at different points in my training career and, I’ve got to admit, not once did they shame or embarrass me, not once did they make me feel bad about where I was, or the fact that I was so far away from my goal. I never felt like a burden to them, I never felt like I was in the presence of an Adonis who expected me to bow before his almighty pecs – although, one trainer in particular was so yummy that I might’ve done it shamelessly anyway had he asked – and I never felt like they were lording over me as if I were a subordinate. The trainer-client relationship never felt like anything other than a peer serving as a conduit to help me learn what I needed to go where I needed to go.
Trainers who aren’t about teaching – be it moves, form, function, or daily advice and insight – are often afraid that you’ll learn enough that you’ll no longer need them, and they’ll lose out on the money. Trainers who are about teaching understand that your evolution towards your fitter self will be the best advertising for their business that they could get… for free. A trainer who is apprehensive about answering questions, appears annoyed when you ask them – if you’re asking questions instead of training, they should know how to work the Q&A into your rest periods instead of letting you stall… and I know some of y’all love stalling – or shuts down entirely instead of providing info may not be the trainer for you.
Some people simply need someone to help them get their burn on, and get them out the door. They don’t need convo, they don’t need “mad question asking,” and they don’t need their trainer to provide them anything. And that makes total sense – your trainer still needs to listen, because they need to ensure that your training will actually produce the results you want. If you say you want broad shoulders, a small waist, and muscular thighs, creating a training program that’s going to give you a more boxy frame isn’t going to cut it. See? Listening.
Beyond being a great listener and being able to work outside the confines of shame, everything else is about being sure you know exactly what it is you need, and finding trainers that can give you just that. Word of mouth still serves as the best referral system you can have access to when it comes to finding the trainer for you and, a good trainer will also have a peer to recommend you to if they think you’re better suited for someone else.
There are technical things like “can provide an assessment” and “can work with your health care providers to provide better support where necessary” but, if you’re someone for whom these things are vital, you’ll realize you have an unsuitable trainer faster than you think.
One trainer might specialize in Animal Flow, another might specialize in power lifting, a third might specialize in body sculpting, another might specialize in post-pregnancy or menopausal women, someone else might specialize in youth training, or sports conditioning, or weight loss, or, or, or….. you get the picture. It’s important to go into the trainer-client relationship understanding what your ultimate goals are, what your goal tree looks like, and what you’re willing to do to get there. If you don’t want to be a power lifter, a power lifting trainer will look you in the face and tell you “then I’m not the trainer for you.” And that’s okay.
Know what you want, find a trainer who sees you as another human being desiring to learn, and who trains you like the future boss you’re destined to be. There are bajillion trainers everywhere, but when you look at them through the lens of what you need – yes, putting your needs first – the herd thins itself out… and you’ll have the trainer-client match made in heaven that you wanted!
What specific questions do you have about training for me? What were the characteristics you loved and hated most about trainers you’ve had? Let’s hear ’em!