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Trainers Talking Shop

Calling T-Nation Personal Trainers!

I know that there’s a somewhat large presence of T-Nationers that make a living, either full time or part time, as personal trainers. Much maligned as “we” are in the public eye, the combination of Personal Trainer + T-Nation Member should = One kickass fitness professional.

I thought it would be a useful tool if we could use this thread to toss around ideas with each other on a professional level (such as exactly how you provide your services, in -home vs. commercial vs. your own gym) as well as brainstorming client situations when necessary (like how to get results for a client with a 70-hour work week?).

Granted, I personally feel that if you’re a professional trainer, you shouldn’t always need to consult with peers, but I don’t think it could hurt.

So…guess I’ll start…
I’m a Long Island, NY-based trainer. I have my own business doing in-home and online training, though right now I’m only doing it part-time while looking for full or part-time “day job” work (mainly for benefits and a predictable weekly income).

I read alot of Eric Ruth’s fitness marketing work, and I’m currently trying to implement some of his ideas.

And hey (conveniently enough), I’ve got a question for y’all…do you keep routine templates that you customize for multiple clients, or is every program you design brand new, fresh, and unique to the individual. I don’t see a problem with having templates, as long as you do customize it and tailor it to the client.

For example, I have one basic strength training routine that I specifically recommend to recreational martial artists, but I tweak it as needed depending on the client’s training experience, ability, and available schedule. Your thoughts?

Hey Minotaur,

I’ll jump on this thread. I just started in the personal training business this summer and I’m working out of a gym in Manhattan.

More than just a template, I suppose you could say I have certain principles which I generally follow for most clients. Unless the person is really intending on lifting 4x a week (most of my clients want to do 2 or 3), I’ll have them do a full body workout using mostly compound movements.

If they’re interested more in fat loss, I’ll shorten the rest and if it’s primarily strength I’ll give them longer rest periods. But most of the clients I get are so untrained anyway, that they can generally make strength gains even with minimal rest periods.

I’ll generally use a circuit of 3 different exercises to begin with. Much of the time it’s a body row on the smith machine, box squat, and pushup progression on the smith machine. When I talk about using the smith machine, I just mean as an implement to move around/hold on to.

I find that oftentimes, this gives me a good place to assess some of their basic needs and/or weaknesses. Knees falling in on the squat, inability to sit back, weaker pull than push, one arm pushing more than the other etc. all tell me pretty valuable things in regards to what needs to be specifically addressed.

Also, depending on how much rest they need between sets, I can often get a general (keyword being general) idea about their level of “conditioning.”

Often I find it hard to gauge how difficult a weight is on an exercise with a client because they don’t really know what it means when I say to only leave a few reps “in them.” And some clients I have to specifically tell to relax their face.

My one client makes these horrid faces that seems like he is straining against the weight of the world so I’ll ask him to stop a set thinking that he’s really pushing himself…only to find out that he had 10 more reps left. Thanks to whoever invented the Rate of Percieved Exertion scale.

-MAtt

[quote]Matgic wrote:
I find that oftentimes, this gives me a good place to assess some of their basic needs and/or weaknesses. Knees falling in on the squat, inability to sit back, weaker pull than push, one arm pushing more than the other etc. all tell me pretty valuable things in regards to what needs to be specifically addressed.[/quote]
Good call. This is the same reason why I usually start with more dumbbell work than barbell work. DB flat bench, DB military, and DB lunge onto a decline bench…to point out and address strength discrepancies.

You actually just reminded me that Charles Staley had an awesome series of warm-up stretches that could be used to check for flexibility issues in every major joint of the body. I’m pretty sure it was in “Physically Incorrect”, but I’ll have to double check. I used to use it frequently, but I fell away from it.

I’ve always had a good eye and feel for just how much to push the client. I’ve almost never had somone tell me that I was giving them too much weight too soon. I think it’s important to pay attention to the subtle body language.

Not necessarily the face and grunting/breathing, but the legs and feet (are they fidgeting?) and, for standing exercises, the low back and hips (if they’re dancing around with their hips, it’s too much.)

I had one co-worker who used the RPE scale to the extreme. As in, he would practically let the client dictate exactly what weight to use and how many sets to do. I never really liked the concept so much. I figure, strength training and cardio is supposed to be strenuous.

A person new to exercise, especially when working with a trainer, will more often than not, underestimate what they’re capable of, simply because they don’t know better. Being able to listen to your body is a learned skill, and those new to exercise just don’t know themselves well enough.

Say hey trainers,

Another question for you, one which I never get tired of hearing opinions on.

As a trainer, how important do you feel it is that you have “in the trenches” competitive experience. I asked Thib a while back in his Locker Room, and he pointed out that Charles Poliquin never competed. Can’t really say that hurt his training success any.

I think I’ve pretty much decided that in the coming years, I want to compete at least once in each of the main strength athletics (highland, powerlifting, strongman, Oly lifting, and bodybuilding.) That’s obviously a mid-to long term goal. Though, I was supposed to be in a highland games last week, but it was cancelled. That would’ve been my first “real” strength competition.

I also want to get a few MMA matches under my belt, since I’ve been involved in martial arts for over a decade. Truth be told, I won “grand champion” in a sparring tourney when I was 15. Could I put that on my resume? :wink:

What I’m asking, simply put, is…if you’re a trainer, should you also compete?

[quote]Minotaur wrote:
Say hey trainers,

Another question for you, one which I never get tired of hearing opinions on.

As a trainer, how important do you feel it is that you have “in the trenches” competitive experience. I asked Thib a while back in his Locker Room, and he pointed out that Charles Poliquin never competed. Can’t really say that hurt his training success any.

[/quote]

Hey, Mino. It appears from CP that you don’t need to have competed BUT he’s a complete beast which is quite apparent from one look at the guy.

I’d say appearance is more important than competition but for myself, I thought competition was a missing element.

I entered a Highland Games and did very well my first time out. I tied for first in the Sheaf and second in the Caber. I also made the local newspaper (front page, above the fold) in one edition and two others inside. The cover picture was the best physique photo I’ve ever seen of myself.

I’ve had it laminated and framed and I think it adds a touch of credibility to my resume’.

No you don’t have to compete to be a trainer. Training is about knowledge, practical skills and applications, and people skills. You don’t have to compete to be the best at what you do.

A little about me. I am a DC based PT, I work for a commercial gym now but am in the middle of doing the loan paperwork and opening my own PT studio. I personally believe that there should be no templates, no structure, and no rules for every client. Each individual client is an individual, and should be dealt with as said individual. My only things are using basic, compound lifts (squat. dead, bench press, military press, row) with all people, male or female, old or young, regardless of fitness level. I personally shy away from “functional” training, and make sure all my exercises have real world applications.

Personally I don’t care if someone can bench 500 pounds if they can’t pull themselves up if they fall, or lack the stamina to play a game of basketball. I recently got hired by Miss Virginia, and you will all be seeing one of my clients on the Miss America stage very soon.

I also believe that all of us should take the time to pass on the fitness torch to the unenlightened and the younger. I personally volunteer to speak at local schools about fitness, and I take the time out of my personal life to educate those who ask me questions. Even those who ask all the stupid questions. I feel this is my way of giving back to the community that brought me into this profession. When I was first starting out, at 16, a bodybuilder took the time out of his life and training to show me proper exercises, proper form and safety. I return that favor, free of charge, wherever applicable. This isn’t a job, its a lifestyle. As personal trainers, we are the ambassadors of said lifestyle.

Hi Minotaur,

I am also a trainer, I work in Northampton Massachusetts.

In regards to your question about templates; I also use them, to an extent, but the situation will always dictate the program.

For instance, for begginners (unless there is some physical limitations of course) I will use a full body routine comprised of compound free weight exercises, possibly with a few isolation exercises thrown in to address weaknesses, imbalances, etc…

For more experienced lifters it starts to really matter what their goals are.

As to my opinion of the need to compete, no I don’t believe that it is necessary. Helpful perhaps, but not necessary. However, I do believe it is imperative that one has actually spent some serious time in the weight room themselves, and has experimented with numerous training paradigms.

I also don’t necessarily believe that a trainer’s appearance should be the primary mode of judging their effectiveness as a trainer. The results they get out of their clients should be number 1, followed by a number of other qualities, with physical appearance being well down the list. Well, at least that’s my opinion.

Of course, if you have a great physique on top of those other qualities, then you of course do have an added advantage.

Good training,

Sentoguy

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:

I also don’t necessarily believe that a trainer’s appearance should be the primary mode of judging their effectiveness as a trainer. The results they get out of their clients should be number 1, followed by a number of other qualities, with physical appearance being well down the list. Well, at least that’s my opinion.

Of course, if you have a great physique on top of those other qualities, then you of course do have an added advantage.

Good training,

Sentoguy[/quote]

Yup, good catch! RESULTS… #1

I feel like an idiot for missing that one. Maybe I was stuck in the “presentation” part of it.

This is a great thread here guys - some really good info getting thrown around.

As far as competing goes…

I think it matters a bit when you are working with higher level athletes. I believe that without some experience at a competitive level (doesn’t necessarily have to be current), you will have a hard time relating to the athlete and what he or she is going through.

Now is it necessary? Of course not and there are a ton of exceptions, but I can’t imagine any situation where experience in competitive sport would do anything but help you as a coach.

Obviously when training beginners or recreational athletes then it isn’t really necessary.

Great posts.


AC
www.alwyncosgrove.com

Derek, that’s excellent about your Highland Games experience. And yeah, I can imagine…front page of the newspaper = big impact on potential clients.

[quote]TrainerinDC wrote:
…I personally believe that there should be no templates, no structure, and no rules for every client…My only things are using basic, compound lifts (squat. dead, bench press, military press, row) with all people…[/quote]
Sounds like you’re talking about having your own training philosophy versus having a training template. I totally agree with that.

Reminds me of a funny story…I once had a co-worker tell me that doing a squat/front raise hybrid was “just like you’d do to pick up a small child. Would you bend at the waist? No way. You squat down, then raise them up straight.” Talk about taking “functional training” a bit too literally? Sheesh.

That’s awesome, best of luck to you guys.

To the point that Sento brought up, about appearance, I’m not sure. People tend to be superficial and prejudgemental. If a trainer is 5’6", 300 pounds with 30-something% bodyfat (like a former co-worker of mine), I think it would affect his credibility. Yes, if he can still produce results, that can speak in his favor, but initially, he’s going to have a hard time getting people to look beyond that.

Of course, I like to think that this works in reverse also. Where (some) people may be less apt to want to hire a musclehead-looking trainer who looks like he can’t scratch his own back. Though, from what I’ve seen, these are the types that usually train a lot of high school and college guys.

To Alwyn, first, thank you for taking the time to comment here.

[quote]Alwyn Cosgrove wrote:
…I can’t imagine any situation where experience in competitive sport would do anything but help you as a coach.[/quote]
Just to throw this out there…what about if you have a poor performance? If I enter a local bodybuilding competition, let’s say, and place 10th out of a field of 10 guys, is mentioning that experience going to earn credibility in clients? With some, certainly. Obviously just “putting yourself out there” is commendable to anyone.

But I think some athletes would be unnerved by a trainer who tried and “failed” (though that’s a harsh term). They may begin to think “Well, if this guy can’t even do it for himself, how’s he going to help me?”

[quote]Alwyn Cosgrove wrote:
…I can’t imagine any situation where experience in competitive sport would do anything but help you as a coach.

Minotaur wrote:

To Alwyn, first, thank you for taking the time to comment here.

Just to throw this out there…what about if you have a poor performance? If I enter a local bodybuilding competition, let’s say, and place 10th out of a field of 10 guys, is mentioning that experience going to earn credibility in clients? With some, certainly. Obviously just “putting yourself out there” is commendable to anyone.

But I think some athletes would be unnerved by a trainer who tried and “failed” (though that’s a harsh term). They may begin to think “Well, if this guy can’t even do it for himself, how’s he going to help me?”[/quote]

I see what you’re saying.
I still don’t think though that competition experience would hurt you. Especially if you learned from it.

Would you have a better reputation if you’d never competed at all then? I don’t think so.

Also - I don’t think that if you are already a trainer, that you need to enter a competition - just that you need to understand what an athlete goes through. If you have never competed yourself at some level, I think you’ll have a hard time getting that understanding. Obviously you can still get it.

And I did say “higher level athletes”. These guys understand that not everyone can “make it” to the level they are at - but they have hired you for what you can bring to the table. The fact that you understand what it is like mentally and physically to compete often helps.
But Poliquin has worked a lot with the NHL and was never a hockey player at any level himself.

Most great sports coaches were never great players. Most bodybuilding coaches work with athletes that have already achieved far more than they ever did.

So in training - I think the results you get with clients is the most important thing. But I think competition experience as a coach is worth more than. or as much as competition results.


AC
www.alwyncosgrove.com

I understand AC’s point perfectly. He isn’t saying you have to be Derek Jeter to work with baseball players, but it is helpful to have been an athelete and competed in something, to understand the mentality and the mindset.

By the way, AC, I saw you being quoted in I believe it was mens fitness recently. My coworker said he never pays attention to those guys who get quoted in the magazines. I told him that you were the real deal, and your advice should carry at least a little weight. =)

I do get what Trainer and AC are saying. It ties into walking the walk, (as opposed to just talking the talk, and wow I do feel somewhat cheesy for using that expression).

Whether you’re dealing with folks brand new to exercise, or athletes shooting for MVP status, yes, I think having a better insight as to what they’re going through will be totally beneficial.

It’s easier to relate how difficult it is to start drinking a gallon of water a day, when that’s what you do. It’s easier to monitor the back-off week before a big performance, when you’ve had to peak on time. Makes sense.

To totally switch gears here, for the folks that provide in-home training…do you require clients to purchase their own equipment at any time, do you bring what you need each session, or do you only work with what’s available?

I read about this one lady in NYC who only used what was available. “I’d have clients pressing soupcans, and using the toilet to squat off.” Creative though that may be, I think it’s far from ideal.

For the longest time, I brought what I planned to use (since the clients rarely had anything useful of their own). Usually it would be a pair of powerblocks and hand pads, maybe a swiss ball (instead of a bench). For a while I’d bring 2 kettlebells of different weight (you know, back in 2001 when they were the next big thing) I’ve never absolutely required that they get their own gear, but I never dissuaded them either.

I think I’ve decided to make a specific push to have the clients purchase at least minimal equipment within, what…1 or 2 months of consistent training? Yes, it will be another cost for them, but I used to work for an equipment retailer and I’m sure I can work something out with them. Having their own equipment should A. - make it easier (in theory) for them to do some training when I’m not around. And B. - make it easier on me by minimizing the stuff I need to transport.

How’s this concept sound to the crew?

…walking in on the conversation a bit late…but I pretty much concur with everything above…and then…

[quote]Minotaur wrote:
for the folks that provide in-home training…do you require clients to purchase their own equipment at any time, do you bring what you need each session, or do you only work with what’s available…

I think I’ve decided to make a specific push to have the clients purchase at least minimal equipment within, what…1 or 2 months or consistent training? Yes, it will be another cost for them, but I used to work for an equipment retailer and I’m sure I can work something out with them. Having their own equipment should A. - make it easier (in theory) for them to do some training when I’m not around. And B. - make it easier on me by minimizing the stuff I need to transport.

How’s this concept sound to the crew?[/quote]

My very first client was an “In-Office” client, and for where he was at and what he wanted to accomplish it worked well enough. All I needed to bring was a travel bench, a Swiss ball and a few fixed dumbbells. Later on we worked up to a set of plate loading dumbbells.

Personally, I’m of the mind that after about eight weeks of consistent training the client will need to either shift into a gym or invest in some equipment. It’s just not practical to haul around the gear needed.

On the other hand, I’ve just recently taken interest in the kettlebell thing which could open up new in-home/office options…if there’s a market for it…we’ll see.

Hey, on that note, here’s a recent favorite observation.
My client demographic thus far is 35-45 years, half have weight training experience and half have none but have an athletic background, none have seriously exercised in 20 + years.

So I start them out on the fundamentals with mostly dumbbells and watch to see if they need more instruction or more coaching…and the funniest thing is that their previous athleticism comes out right away…just as if it were in storage the whole time.

I work full time at a studio. I also do mobile work which is basically in parks. I have swiss balls for benching and about 70kgs of weights in Adj. DBs, which is far more than 90% of my clients need. I enjoy the park work, but it is easier in the studio due to the extra equipment available.

I have a basic template for beginners. Pushing, pulling and legs. So in the studio that could be bench press, seated row and leg press. At the park it could be shoulder press, bent over rows and lunges. That’s the core of my training. It depends on the trainee for reps/sets. I sprinkle in some boxing work, sprints and abdominal work, or arms, shoulders or whatever I feel like on the day. But if they do it once, they do it at least 6 times. By far, most clients want twice a week training. I discourage once a week for a few reasons.

A basic workout is:
day 1. Boxing & running to warm up. Horizontal push, horizontal pull, lunges. Ab work. Stretching.

day 2. Calisthenics and agility work to warm up. Vertical push, vertical pull, squats. Ab work. Stretching.

For advanced trainees I get to go crazy with drop sets, super sets, giant sets, whatever. For these guys I mainly work on what they want to improve with my only caveats that they must do some leg work in each session. These guys all train away from me as well so I write them up a 3 or 4 split program, the 2 hardest ones are with me, the other 2 are partly for recovery, partly maintenance and those they do on their own.

I’m in the process of setting up my own studio as I don’t want to work with the other trainers at my current studio. There are 3. I have only ever seen one of them work out. None look like they work out. 1 is obese. 1 smokes and is overweight. All talk complete shit to their clients, give them dangerous exercises to do with very poor form and basically drivel on about the benefits of exercise whilst training in a way guaranteed to cause injury. I want to separate myself from them as I don’t want to be associated with this level of trainer. There’s an old saying “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you work with turkeys” and it applies to me here.

I only have 1 rule, i don’t train anyone in exercises that I myself haven’t done. If I ask them to do it, it’s because I’ve done it too.

Great thread Minotaur

I’ve been in the fitness industry for a couple years and just made the move into personal training. I saw the programs being written up and knew I could do better than Bosu Step ups.

Anyways, I’ve been trying to come up with a basic program to asses strength levels and postural imbalances. I like the body weight exes. i.e. pushups, squats, to see movement patterns and help with form initially. Reading the Neanderthal No More series has been a great help.

I work at a commercial gym so visibilty is easy enough and that is one of the biggest thing for promoting oneself.

I look forward to seeing this thread develop and contributing myself.

not to beat a dead horse, but one of the things to consider with regard to your competition question is this: how many of your clients do you think are really going to pursue strongman events, bodybuilding and/or powerlifting competitions?

if that’s your clientele base, then i think it would be relatively important to compete and have personal experience in those specific events.

point being (and i could be totally wrong here) i don’t think that’s anywhere on the typical clients radar - at least not most clients at commercial gyms, typical studios, or at-home appointments. chances are your clients #1 goal is to lose weight (to which you’ll have to educate them on the differences between weight loss and fat loss and spend a great deal of time monitoring and tweaking their diet) and are more than likely going to strive to compete in a 5k or triathlon and the like.

if you personally compete in a strongman competition, that’s great. but i doubt it will have much carryover to your everyday clientele.

[quote]Tomfu wrote:
not to beat a dead horse, but one of the things to consider with regard to your competition question is this: how many of your clients do you think are really going to pursue strongman events, bodybuilding and/or powerlifting competitions?[/quote]

This was a big eye opener for me too.
And not just competition; I mean setting high 1RM’s as well. Not everyone wants to go diesel…go figure?

I really had to learn to not to put my expectations on the client.

[quote]Angrygoat wrote:
Tomfu wrote:
not to beat a dead horse, but one of the things to consider with regard to your competition question is this: how many of your clients do you think are really going to pursue strongman events, bodybuilding and/or powerlifting competitions?

This was a big eye opener for me too.
And not just competition; I mean setting high 1RM’s as well. Not everyone wants to go diesel…go figure?

I really had to learn to not to put my expectations on the client.[/quote]

That’s true enough. I had a co-worker once tell me “I have all of my clients to functional training, whether they want to or not.” He was big on J.C. Santana’s functional stuff at the time. Lots of resistance bands, orange cones, Bosu’s, fitter board…for everyone. Just unbelievable.

But, there are aspects of strength sports that can definitely benefit the average Mrs. Jones client, and I agree with what Sxio said above, that I wouldn’t feel comfortable having clients do any exercise or activity that I haven’t done first.

Derek posted a picture in another thread of an overweight 40-something-year old woman doing farmer’s walks. That was incredible. Just the same, I might want to have an overweight accountant do reverse hypers (a "powerlifter’s movement) or I’d have a 30-year old mom simulate an atlas stone load as cardio.

Every exercise that has ever, ever, ever, ever been “invented” is a tool in your toolbox. I don’t think it’s fair to the client to only choose from a specific few options, just because they don’t have competitive aspirations. Use whatever’s appropriate, when it’s appropriate.

[quote]Minotaur wrote:
But, there are aspects of strength sports that can definitely benefit the average Mrs. Jones client…[/quote]

Two of the neatest things in the world…or in the business anyway…

  1. Watching little-bitty women deadlift their body weight + for the first time.

  2. Teaching middle-age women the dumbbell snatch [that’s my personal little “sneak-in-the-OL-aux-lifts-as-cardio” trick; “without the dishonor of I-robics,” (lots of time with the Pavel dvd’s lately)].