There are different types of personal trainers operating at the moment globally. Unless a trainer is working at a gym where hopefully it is required for them to be a holder of some kind of exercise science degree or at least be certified by an appreciable agency, anyone can claim the role solely based on experience and or physical appearance.
While I place a huge importance on the role of experience, it is simply just not enough when working with clients.
The thing is, people tend to gravitate towards the exquisite and built physiques when looking for personal training, thinking that that person can turn them to a copy or close enough of themselves. Falling into that trap is a mistake that could result in disappointment and even injury.
So someone walks into gym and sees someone wearing a shirt that says trainer. How does that person supposed to know the difference between him and me?
Being a professor for the past 5 years in a very reputable fitness school (A.F. Studies) in Athens Greece, I have the experience to be able to tell you that many trainers wannabe who come to school although built to the hilt don’t know basic science.
Preventing or at least reducing injury to an absolute minimum should be the first and paramount goal of any trainer.
So what separates an educated trainer from a charlatan?
1. Principles of biomechanics
Biomechanics is the study of forces and their effects on living systems. Important highlights:
Torque – Rotation of a joint around an axis due to a force acting on it.
Lever – a beam that rotates around a pivot point (fulcrum).
Learning how to manipulate torque and the 3 different types of levers, you can change the way an exercise is performed to make it easier or harder. You don’t need to always manipulate weight to progress or regress an exercise. Changing angles and the line of pull you can stress various points in the range of motion of an exercise. Finally it will help you perfect technique and minimize injury.
Most uneducated trainers will think torque and levers are some kind of new machine that just hit the market.
2. Basic Kinesiology/functional anatomy
Basically how the body moves. Requires knowledge of anatomy of the kinetic chain (muscular, nervous and skeletal systems).
Knowing how muscles accelerate decelerate and stabilize joint movement will help you with technique, safety, injury prevention and performance enhancement. Realizing that muscles work in synergies and force-couples to create 3d movement makes your program design functional.
Although people who have experience may know the names and locations of certain muscles, they think in isolation or what I call “block” motion and not functional anatomy and certainly have never heard of muscle imbalances.
3. Energy systems
The body needs energy to function. And by function I mean all the metabolic processes. Not just movement. According to how hard and how long you exercise your body taps into the main 3 energy systems to create the energy coin of the body – ATP.
These are the ATP-PC, anaerobic/aerobic glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation (aerobic glycolysis/krebbs cycle/electron transport chain).
Having a knowledge of each you’ll know how hard to push and for how long for cardiovascular and resistance exercise. To give an example: one of the three major factors affecting hypertrophy, called metabolic stress, is the buildup of metabolites (the two primary ones being lactic acid and inorganic phosphate). Moderate to higher reps will have a greater metabolic buildup due to the fact of the specific energy system (anaerobic glycolysis) used. You won’t get the same effect with lower reps and heavier weights (ATP-PC).
When most trainers that rely on experience prescribe resistance training programs that utilize moderate reps and shorter rest periods, they do so because of the “pump” or high intensity interval training cardiovascular programs without realizing the reason or the adaptations except for that it “works”.
Being CPR certified is not an option. It’s easy to understand that this is not just something that will prevent injury or enhance performance and functionality. We are talking life and death situation.
An experience expert is like a cook. He can replicate/execute a certain recipe often with great success, but he will never be a chef (unless he goes through a guided learning process). A chef creates the recipe according to the wants and needs.
As far as physical appearance goes, it does not always have anything to do with knowledge of exercise science or training principles. Without it no trainer will be able to be efficient and safe.
So experience doesn’t matter? Of course it does. An elite trainer combines extensive knowledge with years of experience.
What about appearance? If you are someone who’s job is to get people in shape you should at least be able to get yourself in shape. I don’t think that you need to exaggerate but a certain level of fitness showcases your ability to turn all that knowledge into something tangible. Do you need to be a bodybuilder? No. But being completely out of shapes reflects your lack of passion for what your supposedly stand for.