Note: The following article of mine was originally published (a few years ago) in Personal Fitness Professional (PFP) magazine and edited by Lindsay Vastola.
There are lots of personal trainer continuing education courses out there, and you have limited time and funds to invest. In order to help you to choose the educational direction that will best benefit you, here are five questions to ask yourself before investing your hard earned money and valuable time in any personal trainer continuing education course:
1. How will it benefit my clients?
It’s important that as fitness professionals we not forget whose session it is when we’re training. It’s not our (the trainer’s) session; it’s theirs – the client’s session. I say this because the paying client is number one, therefore, our number one priority when it comes to not only designing training sessions, but also when pursuing fitness education, is to learn better and more effective ways to help clients achieve their goals. The objective is not for us to spend most of our educational time and money learning about the training concepts and techniques that we think are cool or aligned with our own training goals.
In other words, make sure the fitness education you’re pursuing is actually something that will benefit your clients and help them achieve their goals. And, spend the money remaining to pursue the educational ventures in which you are personally interested.
2. Does this information change my training practices?
Even if a certain educational venture does indeed align with your clients’ goals, it won’t be worth the investment if you don’t come away with practical information that you can immediately apply.
This doesn’t always mean that you’ll be adding new training techniques and applications. It can also mean that you’ve learned why and how you can eliminate certain concepts and techniques from your training as you may discovered that they may not be as valuable as you thought. And, it can also mean that it helps you refine the techniques you’re currently using.
The point here is: An educational experience doesn’t offer you much value if you come knowing how to regurgitate lots of cool jargon and technical information about physiology, biomechanics, the latest research etc. but lack any additional practical applications from it. In other words, if a given educational venture is unlikely to impact what you’re currently doing or challenge your currently beliefs and practices, it may not be as worthwhile as other ventures that put all that technical information into practice by delivering big on the practical side. This is an aspect of training and programming that I’m very proud to say my book: Building Muscle and Performance delivers BIG on!
Remember: A great trainer is not defined by how many books he’s read, how many courses he’s attended, how much current industry jargon he uses or how many expert quotes he can regurgitate. In our world, if your clients like you, enjoy the workouts and are getting the results they’ve requested without getting hurt, and you’re able to find effective exercises they can do while working around any amount of their medical or physical limitations, then you’re the best kind of trainer!
3. Do I need to add this into my training?
Even if something will change the way you train, you must consider whether that change is something that will help you offer a better service, or if it just something that’s different.
It’s a misconception that improving one’s education always means enlarging one’s toolbox. Education is also about learning how to better use the tools that are already in our toolbox. When we do that, we often find that the new shiny tools that are currently being sold to us may not be as useful as the basic, staple tools that we’ve already have.
You want to ask yourself if you’ll get better results by adding this new thing into your training; if that answer is “yes,” you have to then ask yourself if there’s some way for you to get those same results using the concepts and techniques you already know.
4. Does the teacher do what I do?
More than ever it seems that fitness professionals are gravitating towards strength coaches who work in the collegiate and professional setting and rehabilitation specialists. Although we all can benefit from learning from other practitioners in the each of the various allied health fields, we must do so while maintaining the perspective of our own field of practice: the professional fitness training field.
The fact is both college strength coaches and physical therapists come from a very different perspective than someone who works in a personal training setting. In that, personal training is a customer service business, whereas strength coaching and physical therapy are not.
Personal trainers have “customers” who come and go on their own volition, whereas strength coaches have “athletes” who must be there if they want to stay on the team. Rehabilitation specialists have “patients” who also have to be there in order to rehab from an injury, surgery or pain issue. In both the strength coach and physical therapy arena the practitioner points to the end-goal and then takes the patient or athlete through the most direct path to get there. On the other hand, in the personal training arena, the client is the one who points to where the end-goal is, and the trainer’s job is to lead them on the most direct path to that goal.
Of course there are always special situations, but, in general, in the strength coaching and physical therapy game, the athletes or patients preferences mean little to nothing. But in the personal training realm, as I said above, the client rules!
With this non-negotiable reality in mind, it important that fitness professionals focus their education on the techniques and applications that have been developed and utilized by other fitness professionals to be used in the personal training setting. When fitness professionals do engage in educational ventures taught by people in other allied health professions (like physical therapists and strength coaches), which they certainly should; we must understand that some of the techniques, concepts, thought processes and communication strategies may not apply directly to the personal training setting. The things that do apply to the fitness field may need to be heavily modified in order to fit the personal training setting.
5. Are these techniques and concepts based on good evidence?
What should strike you in the area of fitness education is a history of false dawns. We are always being told that “this is it,” “now we’ve found this powerful method.” All of these once “this is it” methods sounded amazing when they were being taught to us, and they also created lots of passionate practitioners who claimed they had great success using these ideas. Yet, somehow those practices just seem to all peter-out and people lost interest… only to become yet again caught up with the current “this is it” thing – ensuring that history keeps repeating itself.
The reality that we must learn from this is that just because something is currently a “hot topic,” sounds convincing, and has lots of passionate practitioners sharing their anecdotes, in no way speaks to the validity of the claims made about any given training concepts or techniques. Not to mention, the simple fact that many of the beliefs and perspectives about a given training topic are mutually conflicting. Every fitness professional knows how much conflicting information there is, which makes it impossible for all of these convincing claims made in favor of each to be correct. In that, if the claims by made by one approach are objectively true, then all other mutually conflicting claims by default have to therefore be objectively false.
Put simply, the best, most reliable way to get to avoid this cycle of false dawns and see through the confusion created by conflicting claims and convincing (subjective) stories and anecdotes is to look at the current scientific evidence (i.e., fact check). Heck, not only does the undeniable reality I’ve highlighted above display why you should be fact-checking people (like me) who teach fitness continuing education courses and write articles, but it also demonstrates the importance of becoming more reflective about the beliefs you yourself hold by being willing to fact-check yourself.
Before investing in a continuing education course, spend some time reading the articles, blogs and videos put out by those whose continuing education courses interest you. Then fact-check their claims, which will empower you with the ability to see those who provide information that consistently aligns with the current body of scientific evidence. You will differentiate those on the other end of the teaching spectrum who consistently speak about their personal anecdotes as if they’re well-evidenced and seem to often make claims that are not aligned with the current body of evidence.
The fact-checking process requires some intellectual work, but it’s the type of work that must be done if you’re interested in getting the best education for your investment. Once you’ve been engaged in the fact-checking process, you’ll begin to see that there are certain people teaching who are providing more accurate (and more intellectually honest) information than others. From this point you can begin to assign confidence values of reliability. This will guide you towards the fitness educators whose continuing education courses offer the highest value based on the accuracy and applicability of the information they provide.
The focus of this article is the educational ventures that teach you the practical sides of training, not the business sides of the game. In addition to the business side of things, which is always about how to make more money as a trainer – everything I’ve covered above also comes down to: “will this educational venture help me make more money.” In that, if the training techniques and concepts you take from a given education course help you to help your clients more effectively reach their goals, you’ll have more happy customers who happily refer you plenty of new customers.
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