What makes a great personal trainer?
Is it looks and having an amazing physique? Popularity? “Celebrity Trainer” status and a huge social media following? Being a high energy cheerleader or drill sergeant type?
Some of these might help, but just because someone looks great, knows how to workout, or yells a lot doesn’t mean they will be good at teaching others.
I’ve worked alongside trainers who looked amazing, had high-profile clients, and played the “hardcore” role well but were terrible professionals. On the other hand, I’ve been lucky enough to work with very smart and successful trainers didn’t fit the stereotype at all.
So what actually matters? What qualities does a good personal trainer have?
This isn’t a full list, but here are three of the most important qualities I feel every good personal trainer needs to be successful.
While many feel jealous of personal trainers’ ability to wear comfy sweats and workout clothes to work, there are still responsibilities and a job to do. Whether working in a big gym, private studio, or traveling to clients’ homes, all good personal trainers conduct themselves in a professional manner.
This means showing up to appointments on time, being prepared, coaching clients, respecting boundaries, handling other job responsibilities, and following up or through with any requests or questions.
If they are constantly late, regularly miss appointments, more focused on their workouts than the client, or spend most of the time on their phone instead of coaching and instructing, that’s a pretty good indication that they don’t take their job seriously and don’t care. Does that sound like the kind of person you’d want to work with?
I know I wouldn’t want to.
Good personal trainers also know to “stay in their lane”, meaning that they don’t give advice or opinions in areas other than fitness. A trainer isn’t a physical therapist, physician, psychiatrist, or anything else. When clients ask questions or need advice in other areas, a good personal trainer knows to step back and refer the client to the appropriate professional.
I would also add that “practicing what you preach” falls under professionalism. In order to coach others on how to live a healthy lifestyle, get fit, strong, build muscle, or any other fitness goal, a trainer needs to live that life. They don’t have to be a fitness model or the world’s strongest man or woman, but they need to understand the process and all that comes with it.
Fitness is confusing and intimidating for many. The ability to communicate and help people figure it out in a way that makes sense for them is an absolute must.
Do they speak to impress or confuse you with terms you’ve never heard, or do they speak about fitness and nutrition in a way that you can easily understand?
Are they able to instruct you on how to perform an exercise or manage your week better? Do they yell at your for making mistakes or for not doing what they said?
Coaching is a large part of personal training, and involves communicating to help someone understand and figure out the best approach for them.
Many believe personal trainers are supposed to be “hardcore” drill instructor types that yell and belittle people. I’ve actually had people come in asking for this treatment!
This looks good on television, but it isn’t helpful at all.
A good trainer won’t talk over someone’s head or belittle them. At the very least look for someone that listens to what you have to say and makes an effort to help you figure it out.
Whether they’re brand new to the industry or have been training people for 10+ years, are they still educating themselves? Do they look for opportunities to expand their knowledge base and improve the training experience for their clients?
Are they willing to admit they don’t have all the answers and continue learning and growing as a professional? Do they attend seminars, workshops to learn from others in the industry? Do they apply what they learn to help clients achieve better results?
The answer to all of the above should be YES.
As the saying goes, if you aren’t growing you’re dying. If a trainer isn’t growing and evolving they’re going to have a difficult time keeping up in this industry. The most successful trainers and coaches in the industry are always looking for opportunities to expand their knowledge to improve their approach or understanding to better serve their clients.
There’s no excuse for anyone that doesn’t do the same.
Of course there are other factors to consider when looking for a personal trainer. But when you find one that has these qualities, you’ve found yourself a rock star and will most likely be in good hands!
The deadlift is getting more and more popular everyday…
Between “booty workouts”, CrossFit, increased interest in powerlifting, and resistance training becoming more accepted, exercises like squats and deadlifts are no longer just for hardcore gym rats. And that’s a good thing!
While a world where everyone deadlifts sounds awesome, resistance training has so many benefits that everyone should participate in some way. Yes, you can benefit even if your goal isn’t getting bigger, stronger, or faster.
Regardless of age or gender, everyone should be able to and needs to know how to lift something from the floor. This is what the deadlift is all about. Personally, I believe our standards for fitness are long overdue for an update and the deadlift should be included. That’s a long conversation for another day though. If you’re going to include this exercise in your fitness program (and you should, in some way!), make sure you’re doing it right.
Below is a list of the most common mistakes I see when people are first learning to deadlift. There’s a video demonstrating “right” vs “wrong” technique, and some pointers to help you get it right.
Quick Tips to Fix Your Deadlift Technique
Starting by extending the knees first
For anyone that trains to be healthy, reduce injury and feel better during day to day activities, make sure you learn this if you get nothing else from your time in the gym!
Lifting something from the floor by extending the knees first puts you in a disadvantaged position. Because your legs are now straight, you have to lift with your lower back muscles. This usually leads to an injury or a whole lot of unnecessary soreness.
Instead of straightening your knees then lifting the bar, work on getting your hips and shoulders to rise at the same time. You could call this “standing with the bar”.
This is the main reason I teach everyone that comes to my gym how to deadlift. It isn’t always about lifting heavy weights (Bravo if you’re looking to do that!). Learning how to properly lift something from the floor to a standing position is the end goal. One way or another this is something you’ll need to do at some point. Better to be prepared than sorry I say.
Pulling with your arms
This tends to happen when using something other than a straight bar or if the resistance is light. Yes, your upper body is involved in the movement, but a common mistake is to finish the top half by pulling with the arms. Think of your hands as hooks, as they are there only to hold the bar. Instead, keep your lats engaged and finish the movement by bringing your hips to the bar, kettlebell, or whatever you’re using for resistance.
Hyperextending or “leaning back”
Save your lumbar spine! The exercise stops when you are tall, so there’s not really any benefit to this. Again, finish by bringing your hips to meet the bar. Imagine there is a wall behind you, and stop when your upper back touches it.
Rolling shoulders back to finish
Once you set yourself to lift the bar, the position of your body shouldn’t change other than raising and lowering the bar from the floor. You can avoid this shoulder roll and shrug by “turning on” your lats before you start. Imagine putting your shoulders into your back pocket. If you have trouble or don’t know how to do this, read this.
Starting too close or too far from the bar
Start too far from the bar and you’ll be in a less than ideal position to safely perform the lift and find yourself off balance. Start too close and you can say goodbye to the skin on your shins! Best position is with the bar roughly over the middle of your foot but not touching your shins.
Squatting or letting the bar ride your thighs
A deadlift is not a squat. The main difference between the exercises, other than the position of the bar, is the hip hinge involved with the deadlift. This hinge gives the bar a straight path to the floor and makes the movement hip dominant. To fix this, push your hips back as you descend instead of “sitting” first. Improving abdominal strength, hip and ankle mobility will help too.
Whether it’s a bar loaded with 400 pounds, a sleeping child, a box, or groceries, learning to do it right will keep you strong and healthy for a long time to come. Use these tips to perfect your technique and enjoy the benefits of improved strength.
Tired of Crunches? Use These Exercises to Strengthen Your Core!
Abdominal, or “core” training as it’s more commonly called these days, is more than crunches and planks. In fact, you’re missing out big time if you’re only doing these exercises!
When talking about abdominal muscles, most people immediately think of the “6 pack” (rectus abdominis) and the obliques. That’s it, right?
Yes, these are major abdominal muscles, but there are several more. If you want to talk “core training, then you also have to include the glutes and other trunk muscles that you can’t see in the mirror.
“But how? How do I train these muscles and give them the attention they need?”
Do more than crunches and straight planks!
Before I jump into the exercises, let me say this: abdominal training IS NOT complicated. You do not need much equipment, or impressive looking exercises that look good on social media but do little more than give you a nice “burn” in your stomach. Remember, your goal with these exercises is to improve strength and stability that transfers to other exercises and activities you enjoy.
It is also worth mentioning that abdominal exercises DO NOT make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. If your goal is to see these muscles, better nutrition needs to be your priority. One more time, for the people in the back:
Ab exercises don’t make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. Focus on better nutrition and fat loss if you want to see these muscles.
Okay, onto the exercises!
Chops are a great exercise to work your obliques. You can do them kneeling to focus just on the abdominals, or do them standing to get the glutes involved. Do them starting low and finishing high, or the opposite. I’d recommend doing one from each direction. One way or another, just do them, and do them right! Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.
Your obliques are responsible for rotational movements, like the chop above. Did you know that they are also meant to resist rotation? They are, and that’s what this exercise is all about. Make sure your weight is even between your feet, and start with your hands about chest level at the center of your body. Push your arms straight forward, pause, and return to the start. Make sure you aren’t “stirring a pot” when doing this exercise. You can also hold for time, making this exercise kind of like a standing side plank. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 for the press, and 2-3 sets of 30 seconds for the hold.
This exercise is very simple, but when done right it is very effective and challenging! Just like the obliques can resist rotation, your abs/rectus abdominis can resist extension (arching your back). The goal of this exercise is to move your arm and leg without arching your back or losing tension in your abs. This exercises tends to be a little frustrating at first, so be slow and deliberate with your movements. Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.
Another simple but effective exercise. This is similar to the dead bug, but from a different position. Again, the goal is to move your arm and leg without arching your back, but this time there is the added challenge of balance. Try 2-3 sets of 15 each side to start.
This is not a complete list of different core exercises, but it’s a good place to start. Add some to your program today for more variety and stronger abs!
For many, the feeling of soreness after a workout can provide a sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you really pushed yourself. While the feeling may be enjoyable, soreness is not an indicator of progress or the effectiveness of a workout.
What is soreness?
Soreness comes from damage to muscle tissue caused by stress and overload. To put it another way, do more than your body is currently used to and you’ll end up sore. A long walk after a few weeks without exercise can cause muscle soreness, but few would call that a good workout.
This may sound bad, but it can be a good thing! Overloading the body is important for making progress, and at some point you have to push beyond your current ability level. The other side to this overload picture is adaptation, which is what happens when the body “catches up” and gets used to what you are asking of it.
For a better understanding of this “overload and adaptation” thing, let’s take a look at something called General Adaptation Syndrome.
General Adaptation Syndrome, a 3 stage set of physiological processes, was discovered by scientist and physician Hans Selye in 1926. This set of processes prepare the body for danger and increase the chances of survival.
Selye identified 3 predictable stages that the body uses as a response to stress:
- Alarm Stage. A burst of energy is provided. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, preparing for the “fight or flight” response.
- Resistance Stage. The body attempts to resist or adapt.
- Exhaustion Stage. The body fails to adapt to the stressful stimulus and will gradually deteriorate over time
What does all of this mean?
If you are constantly chasing soreness in your workouts, you are not allowing your body time to adapt. As stated above, if the body does not adapt it will deteriorate over time. At best, this will limit your progress in the gym. At worst, you’ll end up sick, injured and unable to train.
Here are better ways to measure the effectiveness of your workouts:
- More weight for an exercise
- Less rest needed between sets or to complete a session
- More sets of an exercise
- More reps performed at a given weight for an exercise
- For athletes, a noticeable transfer of power, speed, or endurance to your sport.
- For the rest of us, an easier time with everyday tasks (stairs, carrying bags, yard work, etc)
Remember, soreness isn’t the goal. Progress is. Train hard AND train smart!