The science behind fitness and health is wild, crazy and ever changing. One minute a study supports a particular claim, then next it's the worst thing you could humanly do to or for yourself. Sometimes you'll even find the same questions looming around the industry with mixed reviews, perspectives and findings. In efforts to calm the madness, each week here at MensFitness.com we'll scour the Internet, tap into forums and ask our friends on Facebook and Twitter about what question in fitness we can get some firm answers to.
This week, we explain what to look for when searching for a strength coach or personal trainer.
Q: What should I look for in a strength coach or personal trainer?
A: For many, the general thought is that strength coaches, or personal trainers, are all the same. Their primary role should be to provide encouragement, motivation, and to give a client a good “push” that they wouldn’t be able to give themselves on their own. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Coaches have the potential to design effective, personalized programming using the correct balance of science and lifestyle anecdote.
To find a good trainer, it goes beyond mere credential. Granted, a background in exercise science, kinesiology, or human kinetics can be beneficial, but the amount of independent research the trainer does is what matters. It’s about being proactive, and making strides to deliver the best service to clients – and that takes time and hard work. You’ll be able to notice the differences between good trainers and fluffy ones if you pay attention to this checklist:
1. Take note of how often a trainer references a cosmetic advantage specific to an exercise (i.e. “This exercise will help shape the chest, while this one will help widen it”. Humans aren’t made of moulding clay, and this kind of talk reflects a lack of true theoretical knowledge.)
2. Look for strict ‘rep counters’ versus trainers constantly giving cues and feedback during sets of work. The latter group are more engaged, and vigilant with the client’s safety in mind.
3. Ask your prospective trainer about programming. Does he or she follow any protocols that would encourage a consistent, disciplined client to reach set goals?
4. Pay attention to “fads” and fitness trends. Does the trainer in question often implement the most popular and commercialized methods of training with clients? Good examples would be overuse of the BOSU ball, CrossFit training, or TRX Suspension training. All of these systems are usable for certain purposes and populations, but should be used with discretion, and not with anyone at all times.
5. Note whether the trainer addresses weak links in his or her clients. It’s a safe move for a coach to go through some form of screening process to determine a client’s muscular and skeletal balance. This can be done through muscle testing, specific exercises, and mobility drills. It would be unsafe to simply jump into full workouts right off the mark.
6. Above all, look for the equipment and methods that are most commonly used with that trainer. Does he or she stay away from key equipment like barbells and dumbbells, to replace them with machines, cables, and bands? Are major primal movement patterns like squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses avoided for instability training, or arm dominant or “core” dominant exercises?
At the present time, it’s relatively simple to achieve certification to be a “personal trainer”. In future, hopefully the overall criteria are adjusted so there’s less deviation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. There certainly are more things to add to the list, but the message is clear. Finding a good personal trainer goes beyond finding someone who can make you sweat, breathe heavy, and get sore the next day. Exercise is a science, and choosing the right “scientist” can make the difference between reaching your goals or getting owned by a plateau.
About the Trainer: Lee Boyce
Lee Boyce, CPT is a strength coach based in Toronto, ON. A former Kinesiology Major, Lee competed as a sprinter and long jumper at the National level. His work has been featured in many major magazines including Men's Health, Musclemag, TNATION, and also on national television. For more on Lee, check him out at leeboycetraining.com, @coachleeboyce and Facebook.