Personal Trainers, Fitness Instructors, Strength and Conditioning coaches, whatever title you hold, if you work in the health and fitness industry, you are your very own walking advertisement.
This past week, myself and my fellow coaches got into a heated, well we won’t say heated, let’s say a passionate discussion of whether it matters if a trainer or coach should be in shape themselves. If you follow my Instagram @brianbren you would have seen, we had quite some fun last week, getting a rise out of Big C with the body fat monitor; which had been wreaking havoc at FFS by consistently telling Craig he is 20%+ body fat on more than one occasion (Let me take this opportunity to just say, the analysis method chosen has been known to have a discrepancy of 5-8% and to Craig, we all know you’re not 20%+ body fat, don’t let the monitor upset you).
In the end this prompted me to ask Instagram:
“When picking a coach/trainer, does it matter to you if they themselves are in shape?”
The vote was a landslide with 86% of the votes coming in for Yes, they should practice what they preach.
Of course, I don’t believe this is simply a YES or NO debate, the answer is more complicated.
At first glance, it appears the market value of a personal trainer is highly dependent on how low their body fat is and how muscular they appear. I agree in one sense, as it was a common theme in the business components of all the courses I have done over the years, that “you are your own best marketing tool”
Instagram, YouTube, Magazine Covers are full of self-proclaimed fitness gurus these days. We have been lured in by marketing companies to associate health and fitness with theses scantily clad humans of Instagram providing fitness advice and also the fact that we make a lot of snap judgements with our purchases based on visual criteria or as I like to call it; the “Ooh piece of candy!” mind-set.
We make a lot of purchases based solely on visual representations. Again, this isn’t an issue per se, after all, maybe you genuinely don’t have the time, energy or interest to investigate whether the trainer you are considering went to college to understand how protein synthesis works or how ATP is created.
You just want them to push you to your limits and guide you on the right food choices to help you look, feel and perform better.
At this point, I think it’s important I disclose where I stand in the debate:
“When picking a coach/trainer, does it matter to me if they themselves are in shape?”
My answer: It depends. It’s so much more than you have to practice what you preach.
I follow plenty of celebrity trainers and fitness influencers on Instagram and YouTube, do I know about their qualifications? Nope, but that dude is “Jacked” “Shredded” “Ripped” “BIG AF”, He must know something (inb4 roids).
What I am getting at is that none of us are impervious to a sculpted physique, it is the canvas that portrays, hard work, dedication, discipline. It cannot be bought, borrowed or maintained without constant effort.
Why does this matter?
Too many fitness professionals these days are afraid to show off their own progress on Instagram for fear of becoming “that Trainer” but I think they are forgetting one important consideration here: The “6 pack trainers” have mastered one of the most important factors in coaching; connecting with their clients on a personal level.
Those complaining about coach X at gym X on Instagram, may indeed have a wealth of knowledge but if they can’t communicate it in simple terms, they are useless to their clients. Clients want to know their trainer understands their specific needs and empathizes with their struggles.
One thing that I often see or hear is, “It’s easy for you” or “Wish I could do that” etc.
By showing your personal progress, you are showing that it is possible, you are in essence, make yourself human.
Over the years, I have met and trained many people who just want to look better on the beach the following summer and they REALLY don’t care why they are doing what I have asked them to do in the gym as long as it gets them the result they want.
In this case, a trainer who can dissect the best scientific articles in the world but not communicate the message, will never get through to them, but by the simple act of making themselves more human and sharing their ups and downs in their #progressupdates they become real live humans, imagine the horror!
So, how do you choose the "right" trainer?
Be Open Minded and Aim to strike a balance between “6 pack filtered abs” and “Yeah, Science! Mr. White!”.
Don’t be fooled by the down-lighting; As I have already alluded to, that physique you envy can’t be attained or maintained without constant hard work and conscious healthy choices, that Instagram post where a coach looks all vascular, pumped and aesthetic - it doesn't last long!. Social Media is often a highlight reel of our lives (and there is nothing wrong with that), after all, before social media came along, I doubt you invited people over to look through the funeral albums. Be conscious that you are looking at the best angles, lighting and more than likely the very moment following 50 sit ups, push ups and curls.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: A coach who knows their stuff, won’t be defensive, they welcome being questioned. The better the coach, generally the more confident they are in their service. A good rule of thumb I find is, Ask a coach a question, if they try to bluff you; run. If they admit they don't know but will find out for you; you're on to a winner. These coaches know that can't know everything about everything but are always open minded and willing to learn.
Listen to their Body: Not in a creepy way of leaning on their chest to hear their heartbeat. Contrary to point one, do the opposite of what you have always been told and judge a book by its cover. Are they in good nick? Does the real life version of them look like the Instagram version? If yes, then they practice what they preach and when they tell you how good you are going to feel when you reach your goals; they are not lying, because they are the living embodiment.
Finally, I must acknowledge Rudd's for the clever title of this post, I had completed it before I knew what the title of it was going to be!
Brian is the Head of Membership Induction and Staff Development at Fitter Faster Stronger. A graduate of the BSc. in Exercise Management from University College Dublin and NCSA recognised Strength and Conditioning Coach. Brian is also a certified Level 1 PN Coach and Animal Flow Instructor.
Brian's philosophy is simple;
"The Mind is the Limit".
If you would like to learn more about Brian, you can check out his profile here:
Team FFS - Brian
or follow him on Instagram @brianbren