In this second part of my article series on what does and what doesn’t make for a great fitness professional, I’m discussing common myths about what qualifies as a good personal trainer. Make sure you checkout the first part of this series where I debunk the common myths about how to spot a bad trainer.

There are a few common qualities that many believe make for a good personal trainer:

  • Using a formalized postural or movement evaluation procedure
  • Having a deep understanding of human anatomy and physiology
  • Using a specific type of training approach
  • Adding lots of letters behind your name

Let me explain why I think each of these qualities don’t necessarily make for a good trainer…

Using Formulized Postural Assessments and Movement Screening Procedures

The common saying, “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing,” is often used as a way to essentially say that that you’re a better trainer (i.e., you’re offering a higher level of service) if you’re using one of the many formalized evaluation procedures (i.e., assessment or screening) that are based on some preset standard of what is considered to be “normal” posture or movement. These evaluation procedures are used to allow the fitness professional to identify the areas that do not meet the standard so they can write a program to “fix” or “correct” those so-called weak or problematic areas.

In a previous post, I discussed why postural assessments, movement screens and the subsequent idea of corrective exercise are three of the 5 Overrated Training Methods By Personal Trainers. In an extensive article I co-authored with Jason Silvernail and Ben Cormack published in the NSCA PTQ Journal (Vol. 4 – Issue 1), The Corrective Exercise Trapwe showed that although it is often assumed that identifying so-called “dysfunctions” in posture, movement quality, or body function are reliably predictive of potential injury and performance, the preponderance of the scientific evidence casts a great amount of doubt on any claims about the strength and reliability of such relationships.

Anytime I’ve told other trainers or coaches that I’m not on the corrective exercise bandwagon because of a severe lack of good evidence, the usual response is to ask, “So what do you do instead to find a safe and individualized programming direction?” This question demonstrates how trainers and coaches commonly conflate using corrective exercise methods with individualizing exercise prescription. This is the primary reason in our article on The Corrective Exercise Trap we also show that just because you don’t perform a formalized evaluation procedure, it in no way means that you’re not individualizing exercise prescription. We do this by also providing practical, principle-based guidelines for exercise prescription a fitness professional can use immediately and universally to find a safe and individualized training program without getting caught up in trying to play the corrective exercise game; which is really about the particular evaluation procedure.

Now, this is a very nuanced topic, which is why the Corrective Exercise Trap is a more than 8,000-word research-based article published in an NSCA journal. To get into all the nuances of this topic is far beyond the scope of this post. My focus here is to establish that fitness professionals often subscribe to a false narrative that they need to use a highly questionable formulized evaluation procedure for corrective exercise in order to offer a high level of service.

In fact, much of the corrective exercise trap often ends up in fitness professionals making their training process more about using a highly questionable formalized evaluation procedure and less about using well-established guidelines for good personal training. As a result, not nearly enough actual strength and conditioning would get done to create the type of training effect needed to achieve the fitness, physique, or performance goals of the client or athlete. However, following the simple guidelines we provided in our article may be a more effective framework because it can provide a training direction that will not only yield the same type of therapeutic benefits, but also create the type of training effect needed to improve one’s health, fitness, physique, and/or performance.

Being a Walking, Talking Anatomy and Physiology Textbook

In my blog post Exercise Science I’ve Never Used as a Personal Trainer, I provided a long list of the aspects of exercise science I’d probably get a “D” or “F” in if you tested me on them today. In all my years of experience as a fitness professional and as a trainer to the trainers, I’ve simply not needed to discuss or apply them (at least in any sort of detailed manner).

I also said in that same article, “I often ask practicing fitness professionals to think about the things they learned during their schooling or when they took their personal training certification course(s), which they’ve now mostly or totally forgotten about. And, I also ask them to think about the things that they now know far more about than they did back when they were in school or were newly taking their personal trainer exam. What thinking about these things tells you is what is need-to-know information in order to do your job more effectively as a personal trainer, and what is simply nice-to-know information. The need-to-know stuff is what you’ve gotten much better at as a practicing personal trainer because you’ve gotten more practice at using it, and therefore have had to do much more thinking about the details of it. And, of course, the nice-to-know stuff is what you’ve forgotten about as a practicing personal trainer because you’ve rarely, if ever, had to apply it on the job. It all goes back to the old saying that if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Now, it’s important to note that I’m not saying that I’ve never used any aspect of exercise science in all of my experience as a personal trainer or as a fitness educator – I certainly have used various aspects of it. All I’m saying is that my experience has never required me to call upon any sort of detailed knowledge in order to do my job effectively as a personal trainer and educator.

It’s also important to clarify that I’m not using myself as an example in attempt to claim that I’m the standard for what makes a great fitness professional. I’m simply using myself – someone who has had success at multiple levels of the fitness and conditioning field – to demonstrate that the characteristics that are often asserted in articles and discussions about what makes for a good or a bad personal trainer are not the absolute standard they are sometimes made to be.

Using Certain Training Methods or Models

It’s no secret that there are many different training approaches fitness professionals take based on their chosen training philosophy (i.e. bias). Some trainers may follow a bodybuilding-type philosophy where others are more into powerlifting; others may do “3D functional training” while others may be more into kettlebells. The list goes on…

Here’s the thing – all forms of exercise have their benefits and their limitations. Certain training methods are best for certain goals, and no one method is best for all goals. For example: a conventional bodybuilding approach to resistance training is great for maximizing muscle growth, but if fat loss is your main goal, then you would use a different approach that is designed to maximize the metabolic impact of each workout as I detail in my book, Strength Training For Fat Loss.

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The principle of specificity, a foundational principle to effective exercise programming, dictates that your goal ultimately determines the exercises that need to be part of your training. If you want to become more explosive, use explosive exercises (like Olympic lifts, jumps or medicine ball throws). If you want to improve strength, incorporate some training with heavier loads. If you want to improve your rotational ability for a rotary-oriented sport, use a variety of rotational exercises at various speeds and loads. In other words, a good training program (i.e., a good trainer) isn’t determined by the exercises it incorporates or the training model it follows, but how it utilizes training principles.

Unfortunately, many trainers and coaches will look at a training program and say it’s “good” or “bad” simply because it does or does not use certain exercises or fit into the given training model they are biased toward; clearly demonstrating that they are putting training methods before training principles. Simply because a trainer uses a certain training method or model in no way indicates that they’re a great trainer. In fact, it may mean they’re not very good.

Ultimately what makes for a good fitness professional will not simply be determined by using a formulized assessment, an intricate knowledge of anatomy, a fanaticism about certain types of exercises, or because of some allegiance to a given training method. A good fitness professional provides their clients with the best training direction to take based on their goals, needs and abilities.

Be sure to keep an eye out for part three of this series; I’ll be discussing more in detail the qualities I believe are attributes of a strong personal trainer.

Nick’s Toronto One-Day Mentorship on June 2, 2017. Click HERE to register.

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Nick’s Upcoming Live Events

Teaching at The Fitness Summit on May 5, 2017, in Kansas City, MO

Teaching at SCW Florida MANIA on May 6-7, 2017 in Orlando, FL.

Teaching a private staff training at Canyon Ranch on May 13-14 in Lenox, MA.

Attending as a guest at Sorinex Summer Strong Expo on Ma7 19-21 in Lexington, SC.

Teaching at the Strong Summit on May 27-28, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a PreCon and conference class at the Annual CPTN Conference on June 2-3, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on July 15-16, 2017 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (Contact Dan: pilderwasser@terra.com.br)

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on August 26, 2017 in Sweden. (Contact Isa: isa@massiveperformance.se)

Teaching at the AFPT Fitness Convention on September 1-3, 2017 in Oslo, Norway.

Teaching at the Elite Fitness and Performance Summit on September 14-16, 2017 in Chicago, IL.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on September 23-24, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Contact Serkan: syimsel@hotmail.com)

Teaching a private two-day Personal Training mentorship program on September 28-29, 2017 in Dubai. (Info coming soon)

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on September 30, 2017 in Dubai. (Contact Ian: ian@shpdubai.com)

Teaching at that Nor-Cal Fitness Summit on October 13-15, 2017 in San Francisco, CA.

Teaching at the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference on December 1-2, 2017 in Aston, PA.