T Nation

New Trainer Needs Some Guidance

Hey everyone, ive been a member of this site for a few years now, and before that I got most my information from bb.com I also have a degree in kinesiology, and will be starting my master’s soon. I consider myself to have a good knowledge base, but lack experience. That is why I recently got a job at a commercial gym to get some experience.

Eventually I want to own my own business, so I can do things as I wish, and take the clients that I want, but I figure the easiest way to get experience would be through a commercial gym. I want to make sure that the experience I get is useful though, and that it doesn’t turn me into the typical “24 Hour fitness” personal trainer.

I also understand that while Im working for someone else, Ive gotta follow their rules, but these are some things that have been bugging me lately, and I want to see what you guys think. And I do have some freedom to create programs for my clients, so if theres anything i mention that you definately wouldn’t do, please let me know.


1.) They emphasis exercise variety as being one of the most important variables. In variety, i mean that you never do the same exact exercise two workouts in a row.

EX: This workout you might have a client do a db bench press, and next workout you’d have them do a standing tubing chest press.

I can see some reasons for this, mainly in tricking the client into thinking that creating a program is really complicated. But they take it to extremes.

EX: Their mentality is if you have two good exercises, and you combine them into one, then that must be a better variation. Like combining lunges and curls, or squats and rows.

Also, they try to emphasis working at different angles as being more functional. Like first you can do a standing db curl, but next time you can do a bent over db curl, or a db durl while bent over a swiss ball.

I think they are still stuck on the whole functional trend. It just seems to me that if this type of training were that great, I would have seen some mention of it on here.

2.) They do a lot of band work and I dont mean westside style. This kinda goes along with the first one, but as if free weights aren’t good enough, you gotta have people doing a band lunge press.

3.) BOSU balls. I’ll admit, ive used them from time to time, and mainly by turning them upside down to dow pushups on them. But Ive already seen them have many people doing squats standing on the rounded part. Isn’t it common knowledge that this just an accident waiting to happen?

4.) They pretty much have everyone doing sets of 15-20. Now it may be ok to start someone at 15, but after a few sessions, I would definately like to progress someone to sets of 5-8, while still including some workouts with higher reps.

5.) Their supplements. I understand its a business, but ive never heard of any of the supplements they are suggesting, and they dont put much emphasis on the ones ive heard of.

EX: everything they have is APEX, which seems to be a good company, and their main supplement seems to be pyruvate, which ive never heard much mention of. For body comp improvements they dont use fish oil, casein, creatine, or BCAA’s, and they DO set SOY protein.

6.) Their cardio seems to mainly be steady state, except for highly trained individuals. I dont know too much about this one, and I do know that the ACSM’s recomendation is similar to theirs. But wouldn’t it still be better to start a new person on intervals, but just keep their HR under a certain range?

7.) Lastly, it seems like they have an all around “more is better” or “different is better” mentality. It completely ignores the KISS principle. Here are some examples.

EX: Super-sets are good for body comp improvements and time efficiency. Well, if two exercises paired are good, why not pair three or four?

I AGREE THAT THIS MIGHT SEEM BETTER AT FIRST, BUT IN THE LONG RUN YOUR SELLING YOURSELF SHORT ON STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT, AND BASICALLY TURNING RESISTANCE TRAINING INTO CARDIO. SURE COMPLEXES CAN BE USED WHEN YOUR TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS, BUT WITH A PERSON NEW TO TRAINING DONT THEY NEED TO DEVELOP THE MOTOR PROGRAMS, AND INCREASE THEIR STRENGTH?

EX2: My thoughts on the whole different is better thing are this. There are a group of “big bang for your buck” exercises; squats, deadlift, presses, pulls, explosive lifts, etc… There is plenty of variation for these lifts by including different angles, stances, grips, DB’s vs. BB’s, set/rep variations, etc… Do we really need to complicate things further by adding bands, cables, bosu balls, stability balls, and worst of all balancing exercises to the mix. Theres a reason those core lifts have stood the test of time and are so well recognized by successful trainers, and thats because they are the most effective. I dunno just my opinion, maybe someone feels differently.


I know im young and naive, but I just want to make sure that this experience is a good one, and doesn’t set me back, or turn me off to the fitness industry. Im sure many of you trainers out there have dealt with the exact same situations. Please give me some advice.

Just looking at your thought process, it seems like you know what you’re talking about, and that you have ground to stand on when critiqueing the commercial gym’s standards. So if all else fails, you’ve got the ability to think critically and will likely succeed at your goal to do well in this industry.

What follows may sound cynical, and it is only my opinion.

As a trainer for a commercial gym, you do not sell a better body to your client, but instead you sell a feeling of effort. There’s a world of difference between getting results and feeling like you should get results. People hire trainers at commercial gyms when they’re fat and out of shape, and commercial gyms make money by keeping them fat and out of shape so they keep coming back for more, thinking there’s something new out there that’s the secret to a better body. Much of this delusion is self-administered. But your profession is culpable of it too.

Many people will not do well if you show them how to do the hard exercises that work. Some will almost intentionally hurt themselves being dumbasses and then blame you for it. It makes sense for gyms to advise machines and band-lunges because their practically idiot-proof. Such is the effect of our litigous society.

There’s a bright spark of hope, however. What you might do is deliver a two-week trial run with your clients. Deliver them all a cookie-cutter program that’s safe (15-20 reps, machines, or whatever is typical). Tell them to do it with intensity. If they do, they graduate to the next level, and you can show them how to squat, deadlift, bench and row with the pros. If not, then they keep doing their machine-circuit training safely, never knowing the sweet dignity of persistent effort and worthwhile results.

The combination exercises are also featured on here, predominantly by Chad Waterbury (and Alwyn Cosgrove I think, although the article doesn’t come to mind). The idea is that there is more motion, more muscles being used, a higher caloric output, and more lactic acid generation.

The main criticism of this is that it’s pretty much impossible to use a load that’s heavy for AT LEAST one and probably BOTH of the muscle groups you’re trying to work.

The ‘work muscles from many different angles’ is also featured here, but predominantly in older articles where bodybuilding was still considered a man’s sport (IE Ian King and interviews with pros). The idea is that a high training age requires more intense and more varied stimulation to keep growing. So you end up with fifty different exercises for the same bodypart (well… overall). Things like incline, flat, decline bench, incline, flat, decline flyes, incline, flat, decline pec-deck… you get the picture.

The main criticism of this is that a) it only is necessary for bodybuilders and b) beginners uselessly try to emulate it.

Steady state cardio and high rep levels are so geriatric customers don’t hurt themselves.

Pyruvate combines with lactate and glycerine (or a bunch of other amino acids) to form glucose. Not really sure how supplementing with it works.

First of all, I’d like to commend you on your effort to see past the selling point and value adding your services.

I agree with most of your points but i disagree with point 7.

Supersets are a great way to train clients. It is time efficient and a great way to do it for a fat burning routine.
You can still make them stronger, just up the weights, drop the weights and vary the sets.

Most clients as a personal trainer come to you for fat loss and thats about it.
They’re de-conditioned and are not strong enough to lift even 1/4 of their bodyweight and they’re not really bothered how much they lift.

They just want to look good, period.

Athletes on the other hand will want to get stronger but they’ll look for a strength coach and not find a personal trainer.

Free weights are a challenged to teach proper form, but the benefits vs trouble ratio is overwhelming.

Set yourself apart and teach your clients how to use free weights and people will notice that you’re someone different already, esp in a commercial gym where 90% of the floor is machines…

When you have a chance, attend Perform better summits and regular go for top coaches seminars. Spend the money, learn and network…
Theres so many going on in the states that i’m rather envious, where i’m in…the scene is pretty much shit.
And i’m dying to go for Mike Boyle’s mentorship to learn more from him…

It’s very alarming that you think it’s a good idea to “trick” clients into thinking that training is complicated. You’re going to have to build relationships to have a successful business and this dishonesty is a sure-fire path to failure.

  1. have a good reason for switching up exercises (i.e. the body has gotten used to a specific program)

  2. Of course weights are good for everybody.

  3. BOSU balls are best for rehabbing, can’t think of any other reason to use them.

  4. Have a reason for doing a different number of reps, you should know what each range accomplishes.

  5. If you’ve never heard of a supplement do some homework.

  6. Most clients will not have heard of HIIT, explain why it’s so awesome.

  7. Yes the client will need to perform an exercise by itself before you can throw them into a complex, that’s just common sense.

You and I know that compound lifts are great for strength building and fat loss. Your clients will probably need convincing. This is yet another reason to educate them and not keep them in the dark to “trick” them. Also some of these people you’ll have to throw a bone to them and let them do some curls in front of the mirror, to keep them happy.

Good luck.

[quote]Otep wrote:
The combination exercises are also featured on here, predominantly by Chad Waterbury (and Alwyn Cosgrove I think, although the article doesn’t come to mind). The idea is that there is more motion, more muscles being used, a higher caloric output, and more lactic acid generation.

The main criticism of this is that it’s pretty much impossible to use a load that’s heavy for AT LEAST one and probably BOTH of the muscle groups you’re trying to work.

The ‘work muscles from many different angles’ is also featured here, but predominantly in older articles where bodybuilding was still considered a man’s sport (IE Ian King and interviews with pros). The idea is that a high training age requires more intense and more varied stimulation to keep growing. So you end up with fifty different exercises for the same bodypart (well… overall). Things like incline, flat, decline bench, incline, flat, decline flyes, incline, flat, decline pec-deck… you get the picture.

The main criticism of this is that a) it only is necessary for bodybuilders and b) beginners uselessly try to emulate it.

Steady state cardio and high rep levels are so geriatric customers don’t hurt themselves.

Pyruvate combines with lactate and glycerine (or a bunch of other amino acids) to form glucose. Not really sure how supplementing with it works.[/quote]

This is DEFINITELY TRUE. Today’s society is obsessed with weight loss and if you seem confident in your methods, people will come to you. It’s a strange business.

Thanks for the input and support guys. Two things though;

Weib and Liam Brady, i think you misunderstood me.

Weib: What I meant to say, is that supersets ARE a great tool, especially for fat loss and muscle gain, but they have the mentality that if two exercises are good, then three or four must be better. But I DO think that almost everyone should superset nearly everything, except for a few lifts like squats and deadlifts, for safety reasons, and at various stages of training.

Liam Brady: The whole thing about tricking the clients is not what I believe. Thats the gym’s mentality. They feel that getting the clients results is not enough to create value, and that you must make them dependant on you. I dont want to be a hand holder. Im not in this for the money, and I’d much rather work with a client for 6 mos. to a year to the point where they dont need me anymore, than hold their hand for years and have them lost without me.

I hope that clears up those two confusions. But you everyone has been very helpful.

Im gonna go into this with a few things in mind.

1.) I do need money at the moment, so im gonna try to make my bosses happy.

2.) At the same time, I feel it is un-ethical to not offer the best training and supplementation advice to my knowledge. I will not recomend something for someone that I wouldn’t do myself.

3.) I dont want to be a hand holder. I want to teach people how to move, and how to work out properly, and give them as much knowledge as they desire so that their success is dependant on themselves and not only on me.


I like teaching people the things they need to build a good base. I think DB deadlifts, and goblet squats are a great place to start for a lot of people. Bw rows are great until pullups are available, and there are a ton of ways to do pushups and bench.

I have one last question. As a trainer, if I borrow specific exercise pairings, or even workouts from other trainers, should I tell my clients who created the program. I wont be trying to publish these in any way, but should I give credit to the creators. For example, I might want to start a client with something very similar to “the new rules of lifting” it may or may not be exact, but do I say “this program is from the book the new rules of lifting…” I dont really know what to do there. Or if I have a client doing Rippetoe’s starting strength, do I tell them its Rippetoe, or do I just do it?

Thanks for the help guys, im really looking forward to getting into this industry and getting my feet wet.

Oh, and Strength4life, I know the CW program your talking about with the combo lifts. Im pretty sure its REAL FAST FAT LOSS. Ive done the program and its tough. Definately something that should be used by someone thats already built up their strength and conditioning, and the exercise pairings are done in a way to still challenge strength levels.

Ex. DB RDL to split snatch + lunge (I loved this pairing so much I did it even when I went off the program)

Hybrid lifts are great options IMO, but should probably be used for short periods of time, by someone thats already built their strength up. If at this gym, clients never get under 12 reps, then why do they need to increase the work by combining lifts? What they really need is to lift heavier weights. Well thats my opinion.

Welcome, you seem to be a shrp person and I feel I can speak for all of us when I say we will benefit from your input.

In terms of what you described, I can sympathasize. I started at a commercial gym too.

Some pointers I can offer in terms of building a great client base:
1.) Network, develop strong relations with nutrition stores, doctors, everyone you can think of.
2.) Offer to do free wellness presentations for some corperations in the area, it is a great way to generate intrest and when people hear you speak about something with knowledge they will inquire about retaining your services.
3.) Use the methods YOU know work. It is tough to sell a product (or program) you don’t believe in and people will value your honesty.
Those are a few pointers that helped me get a start. Best of luck and I will look forward to you input.

agreed, build up a network.
You cannot possibly specialize in everything, having a “in-house” doctor, physio…etc is a must.

They’ll refer you clients and you’d refer them clients, its a win win situation if you’re on good terms with all of them.

Also this will make your client feel valued that you’re actually are someone worth while paying for a service for as they feel like they’re being taken cared of…

I always like to see this kind of things as value adding.

Think of it this way, everyone and anyone can teach people how to lift and lose weight, etc. What makes you so special that people would choose you.

  • Ask yourself this question everyday so that you keep ahead of the pack and never be complacent about your standing…

“No one cares how much you know, unless they know how much you care.” - Mike Boyle

I can’t imagine it would be better long-term to go along with your bosses and what they’re pushing - a lot of this just doesn’t seem smart to me (but i’m a beginner, so what do I know).

One thing I REALLY don’t get is bosu balls - can someone explain to me the obsession with these things? I used one of them when I was rehabbing my torn achilles, and it worked great for that, but I don’t understand how that particular piece of equipment would help for anything other than injuries or total beginners.

The amount of variation in all of this also would bother me - it seems you would have a tough time really seeing progress if you’re constantly switching things up. It seems like it would be good to include variation since people’s bodies adapt - but every week? My trainer does it every month and even that is a little too fast for me sometimes (although she always sticks with the core heavy compounds so I get to see my #s go up where it matters most).

I like it when my trainer does supersets and drop sets - she also did it with squats, which wasn’t a problem as long as we did those first and then a safe exercise that didn’t require much stability afterward. Drop sets rock, especially since my trainer is amazing at motivating me to get that extra rep.

Bosu raise came with the bastardization of functional training and the whole instability era…

Bosu as Mike Boyle uses it, is to use it as in elevation for your supine single leg hip extension just to increase your ROM…other then that there’s not much exercise i see other strength coaches use the bosu with.

Ya im gonna avoid the Bosu like the plague. Also, they dont switch everything up every week, they switch things up every workout. They never have a client do the same exercises in two consecutive workouts. I can kinda understand this, but everything is pretty much TBT in the beginning, so i would definately try to have my clients have some consistency so that they can progress. Maybe I’ll have to make little changes to the exercise order and grips, to TRICK my bosses into thinking im doing everything new.

What about my last question about borrowing from other programs?

Just wanted to take a second to plug the Trainers Talking Shop thread, and invite everyone chiming in here to check it out:
http://www.T-Nation.com/tmagnum/readTopic.do?id=1214749

I think it would be seriously kickass (oh, and productive too) if we had a primary thread for the coaches and trainers on this forum to discuss the profession with peers.

[quote]dankid wrote:
I have one last question. As a trainer, if I borrow specific exercise pairings, or even workouts from other trainers, should I tell my clients who created the program. I wont be trying to publish these in any way, but should I give credit to the creators.[/quote]

It’s a verbal lesson, not a written book, so proper citaions aren’t exactly necessary. And it’s likely only between you and the client, so I’d say you should position yourself as the authority. However, it would probably help if you referenced it as a technique/exercise/method you learned through study, which isn’t entirely untrue.

I’d go for the first option. You read something, interpreted it, and then translated it into something beneficial for your client. It’s win-win.

But if you’ve photocopied the page out of NROL and you’ve got it on your proverbial clipboard during the session, I’d say that’s not kosher… unless you did it so the client had something to follow when they trained during unsupervised sessions (when you’re not around).

Same thing, I’d say something to the effect of “This next training program we’re going to start is based on a classic, basic strength program.” And then go on with it.

I’ve used this exaplantation technique before, for example, when teaching the reverse hyperextension. "This is an exercise that professional weightlifters use to make their backs strong enough to support 700 pounds. I’m pretty sure it can strengthen your back for golf, Mrs. Jones. :wink: "

Thanks chris that was very helpful. I think it would be a great idea to have a forum for trainers and professionals. Maybe TC will get one up sometime. Also, we need a separate section for nutrition.

Nothing wrong with borrowing programs and the key elements to make a program effective.

Infact theres nothing really new with training methods, ideas get past around, reused and thats how most things evolve to become your own and better.

However you’ll need to customize it to that person’s needs so that it gets the trainee results.

I quote this from CT’s newsletter -

Fact no.1: Beginners will progress
more easily than advanced athletes
(because of the law of trainability);
Fact no.2: Since progress is easier for a
beginner, simpler training methods will
be just as effective as more complex
ones;
Fact no.3: Since progress is harder for
an advanced athlete, he will require
more powerful training methods;
Fact no.4: After a while, any training
method looses its effectiveness;
Fact no.5: If you use the more powerful
training methods with beginners (who
don’t need them) you will prevent future progress when the athletes really need these methods since they will now be less effective.

Just a couple things I’ve learned from training at a commercial gym that have to do with your questions.

One thing you have to realize is most of the people you will get as clients have no idea what a real workout should be, or how to eat. It was something that was hard to grasp for me. You might get a 45 year old that never played sports or have never been active their ENTIRE lives. These people often have HORRIBLE posture and body awareness, and simple exercises can be impossible for them to grasp. With these clients you must take it really slow. If it takes 3 months to teach them how to keep a neutral spine, than take 3 months. I see a lot of trainers who are “bodybuilding” minded, and will have clients deadlift or squat with horrible form, even though they know it’s horrible form, hoping that some how they will get their form down. If they can’t keep form with just body weight, their not going to be able to do with with added resistance.

So while we all know that squats, deadlifts, etc are great exercises, simple bodyweight exercises and prehab exercises (like the shoulder work written about on here YTWL) are needed to prepare these sedentary people for more. And sometimes that may take time.

Also, most of these people will not care if the workout comes from Coach A or Coach B, or the benefits of antagonist training, or the reason behind this or that. A lot of trainers try to throw out their knowledge and explain to much in difficult terms, when all you need to do is keep it stupid simple.

Now I’m not telling you to give these clients less information and lesser workouts just to collect a paycheck. But keep them injury free and making steps forward and you’ve succeeded. You may bring something out in them, and they may be interested in learning more, they may discover they like working out as much as we all do and start wanting to know as much as they can, these are the people I enjoy coming to work to train.

But working at a commercial gym, 8 out of 10 people are going to cancel or no show a lot, eat shit, skip workouts, and show up and only want to work the “fat on the back of their arms” and “tone their inner thighs”

so true.

It takes alot of patience and to speak in their language just to teach them how to Deadlift.

[quote]superthrustjon wrote:
These people often have HORRIBLE posture and body awareness, and simple exercises can be impossible for them to grasp. With these clients you must take it really slow. If it takes 3 months to teach them how to keep a neutral spine, than take 3 months.[/quote]

I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t it’s so much that you have to take it really slow, but rather, you have to let the client know ahead of time that you’ll be spending the appropriate time “aligning the wheels before going full speed”, so to speak.

You’re obviously still going to have to deal with the “I pay for a workout, not a posture check-up” people, but that’s when those communication/teaching skills come into play.

Barring any severe physical disabilities, most people should be up and running close-to-normal within a few weeks after some dedicated activation, mobilization, and bodyweight instruction. From there, you can transition to a more “traditional” program while still including the corrective work.

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:
Barring any severe physical disabilities, most people should be up and running close-to-normal within a few weeks after some dedicated activation, mobilization, and bodyweight instruction. From there, you can transition to a more “traditional” program while still including the corrective work.[/quote]

You posted a pretty good bodyweight routine a while back for a younger kid, which I then took and used with my sister. It took her two weeks to get the proper form down well enough for a traditional program, and I can’t imagine it taking much longer for most adults.