At the risk of making a few enemies, there is something that needs to be said: The great majority of the fitness industry produces garbage results. There, I said it.
Okay, so most of you already knew that, but maybe my insider’s perspective will aid you in deciding where to get fit and who to ask for help. I’m sure I already sound like an arrogant ass who thinks everyone else is terrible and I’m amazing, but some of the following was gleaned from my own mistakes and you probably don’t live anywhere near my gym anyway.
First, let’s address the big corporate gyms, often referred to as “Globo Gyms” by those of us on the outside. These big corporations are first and foremost… well, big corporations. Their agenda is all about profits and that doesn’t necessarily coordinate with your agenda of getting fit. I’ll break it down for you. Their primary concern is EFT – or electronic funds transfer – which is the total amount of funds transferred automatically from your bank account to theirs each month. They have a couple of tried and true methods of getting you to agree to this arrangement. Filling their facilities with shiny expensive machines is where they start. They are betting on you walking in with no knowledge and gasping at their amazing display of seemingly easy to use equipment that is certain to finally get you fit. After your tour, the real dirty tricks start.
When I worked in management for one such place (oh the shame!), I was once told by a regional vice president that the fitness department (personal training) was a wash in most of their locations and didn’t really bring in much money. He went on to explain that when a new member had a good experience with a trainer, regardless of whether or not they bought training, the length of time before they canceled their membership was greatly increased. I made a mental note of his exact words, “the length of time before they canceled their membership…,” because it meant he was absolutely sure they would eventually quit and his only concern was about when it would finally happen. The message was clear – nobody gets enough results to stick around so we just try to milk them for whatever we can before they leave. At that particular (enormous) company, trainers receive 3 days of education before they are turned loose on the unsuspecting client who believes them to be experts. Pumping gas on Thursday and teaching you to squat on Monday.
The one good thing these gyms offer the world is starting place for trainers who are exceptionally driven to do good work. It can be hard to get started as a trainer and the corporate gym scene gives would-be good trainers a place to get their feet wet. Such a trainer will have to take his/her education in his own hands (which is always the case anywhere in my opinion) but at least he/she can make some money while they learn and build a client base that will probably follow them when they leave.
Next, let’s talk about the trainers themselves. I am of the opinion that if a person becomes a trainer solely because they love to workout, they will likely perpetuate the broken industry. Trainers need real passion for the science behind the results their clients seek or they probably won’t help many people. Unfortunately, they may still make a great living because almost anything they throw at a new client will work for a short while, and frustrated plateaued people will often hang on for a long time without making progress, clinging to the memory of those initial results. The trainer might not even understand their disservice because they can easily blame the client when things don’t work out. “They must be cheating on their diets,” they may say, and of course they would be right. Nobody will go hungry forever on a miserable starvation diet and hours of cardio. Especially not when it’s handed down apathetically by a trainer completely disinterested in nutrition.
If a trainer is only motivated by wanting to be in a gym environment all day, they will tend to spit mainstream fitness and nutrition platitudes at every question on a subject that doesn’t interest them. The answer probably isn’t more cardio, more starving, or more meal replacement shakes. The extreme is the “go heavy or go home” type who think all problems can be solved with more intensity. These trainers are all over the world at this exact moment beating the holy snot out of clients who are more likely plateaued due to bad nutrition, elevated cortisol, or even adrenal fatigue. It’s sad, really.
Please understand that fitness and nutrition are subjects in which more formal education does not always result in a more qualified professional. Nutrition especially tends to be badly broken at the academic level so more time in a classroom often means more brainwashing and bad science that must be overcome before a worthwhile service can be provided. But I’m generalizing here.
Last but not least, I need to address high-intensity interval training (HIIT) movement led chiefly by CrossFit. I own a CrossFit gym and use CrossFit methodology to some degree everyday, so please hear me out. When CrossFit first hit the scene the fitness world began to change in remarkable ways. Gathering clients in a group of like-minded individuals and putting them through workouts that are timed or scored is a brilliant way to get intensity out of people that wouldn’t otherwise perform as well if you begged, threatened, or offered them gold. But call a spade a spade. If you are more concerned with a time or score than the quality of your movements, you are competing in a sport, not working to advance your fitness and health.
It frustrates me every time I hear people debating over whether or not a repetition of a specific exercise “counted” or not. Your goal should never be to perform a movement just adequately enough for it to “count” in some sort of sloppy competition apparently designed for rapid fire crap. And please don’t make the mind-numbingly stupid claim that this is the only legitimate way to get fit.
So how are you suppose to find good training in a broken industry? The most important thing you can do is look for a trainer with a deep passion for their work. When someone loves what they do, it shows in ways they can’t hide. You will likely find such a person by referral. Ask everyone in your world if they know a good trainer, even the people who don’t exercise. You never know who has a roommate or cousin who won’t shut-up about their amazing trainer.
Once you have a name and an appointment to meet the person who uses it, you will need to listen intently for signs of passion. Does the trainer in question seem excited about the opportunity to train you? Do they appear to know what they are talking about and deliver the information in a way that says “I love this stuff”, or are they just trying to get into your wallet? Do they want to know about your goals? Do they thoroughly understand and recommend paleo nutrition?
When you are satisfied that you have found a passionate trainer, you will need to ask some tough questions. Begin with something like, “How will you get me back on track if I hit a plateau?” His/her answer should be about how they intend to determine the cause of your plateau, and not how they would immediately turn up the intensity of your workouts without a second thought. Next, you might want to ask how they feel about cardio and endurance training. If you aren’t specifically looking for help with a marathon (for some strange reason), you will want to find a trainer that won’t impose such harmful methods upon you.
If everything appears to be in order, you will need to test out this rare find without a massive commitment. A good trainer will put their money where their mouth is for a month and prove themselves to you. If they are adamant that you buy into a long term commitment without showing you what they can do, walk away. In my gym, people begin with a month of education in which the first workout and the last workout are exactly the same. We time them in both workouts to put the quality of our product on the line. In every assessment I say, “If you don’t improve, you would be crazy to give me any more of your money.”
As usual, I could rant for hours, but I think you have what you need. Just promise me you won’t settle for mediocre training. You deserve better and so does my industry. Please don’t reward bad trainers with your hard earned money.