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“Are you trying to kill him?” a man’s voice shouted.
He sounded far away, but the gym wasn’t really that big. How should I know? I was in my own world. I glanced across to my left for a second. A second of altered focus is all I had, but in that moment I saw the image of the shouting man.
He was a big guy wearing a green tank top and black shorts. A big guy doesn’t really quite do him justice. He was the biggest guy I have ever seen in real life, easily the size of the hulk… Lou Ferrigno’s hulk and he was coming towards me.
He placed one hand on the bar on top of me and in one clean stroke, lifted it off my chest and racked it with a loud clang.
I had almost passed out. I had been lifting for a few years, but in that moment I felt like a helpless baby.
It was like any regular gym day: I met my trainer, we discussed the plan for the session and I warmed up. Warm up complete, it was time to get busy. I eased down on the bench and took the most weight I had ever lifted off the rack. The instant it was in the air, my arms started feeling like wobbly Jello, and a second later it was on my chest, threatening to crush the life out of me.
That day marked the beginning of the end of my old trainer and the eventual start of the on again, off again relationship with my new trainer and personal savior: the incredible hulk.
I have had 2 personal trainers and several workout partners in my life. I would say 3 trainers, but the 1st guy who trained me was more concerned with his own gains than mine. His major philosophy was drink whole eggs, lots of them, after each workout. Disgusting.
I have taken all that I have experienced, and teased out what I believe to be the definitive checklist for amazing trainers. I hope this helps you when it’s time to get yourself a coach.
Nobody NEEDS a coach. But if having one guarantees you reach your goals at least twice as fast, isn’t that worth considering?
1. They don’t hide behind credentials
During one of my self-training phases, I had started going to a 24 hour gym near my home.
It was brand new and rapidly opening branches across the city. It didn’t have the equipment I liked but I made it work.
One of these days, my wife (then-girlfriend) and I were in the gym, crushing it (he said matter-of-factly). Out of nowhere, this trainer walks up to me, clearly out of her mind agitated.
She shouted at me right there in front of my wife and the entire gym “Are you a personal trainer? Where did you get your certification from? Don’t you dare feel like you can give people advice if you aren’t certified!” I looked in the mirror and saw everyone in the gym staring at me. My wife’s face had gone red with embarrassment.
I have racked up a lot of experience over a few years of picking weight up and putting it down. One way of getting experience, which I used to use very frequently and definitely don’t recommend, was doing a lot of crazy stuff, making mistakes (sometimes injuring myself) and learning from them.
The thing I learned about personal trainers is that it doesn’t matter what credentials you have. You could go to school and study hard right now and have the top credentials and be certified. My first personal trainer had his certs for over 10 years, but he put me under a weight that almost crushed my windpipe and gave me a shoulder injury that took over a year to heal.
Again, it doesn’t matter what credentials you have. What matters is skill, experience and results.
2. They understand you as you are
Finding a trainer who is a lot like you can make things easier.
It’s almost like you can relax and just follow their advice because you know they’ve had the same struggles. It’s sometimes challenging to find a good fit with someone who doesn’t share your background.
When you’re wrestling with balancing work and life and not finding the time to eat, if your trainer has been in the athletic industry all his life, do you think he would understand what you’re going through?
I have seen first-hand, trainers who treat all their clients the same.
No matter their clients’ histories, preferences or mindset, the coach takes one stance: drill sergeant. That’s fine if they’re running a bootcamp (well, not really), but when it’s 1-on-1, you’re being setup for failure and guilt if your trainer can’t adapt to you.
This quality might be a rare one to find, so if you need a trainer but you’re not finding any that fit this requirement, you may have some extra work to do.
Don’t be afraid to train your coach on how to deal with you. “I would rather be spoken to this way”, “if I am falling behind, this kind of motivation works while that kind doesn’t”. You may have to motivate yourself for a while until they adjust.
3. They look like where you want to be
This is another one I see often, but I don’t think it’s as bad in America as it is here in Jamaica.
In all the different gyms I have been to, there is always some random guy who would visit me in the middle of my work out. Like the ghost of workouts past. You know this random trainer guy right? He just emerges from the shadows and starts to tell you why your form is bad, what exercise you should be doing instead and why he should train you.
You’ve never seen him work out so you can’t speak for his experience. And it’s hard to trust him because his belly is hanging out or his physique is soft. You two clearly have different goals.
What kind of physique do you want? Do you want to look totally ripped and vascular? Do you want to look athletic or do you just want to look big and imposing? If you look at your trainer and it feels like you are looking into a mirror of the future, you are on the right track.
Word of caution here, trainers who have the physique you want can lead you astray just as much as the next guy. If something they say doesn’t resonate with your gut feeling, speak up about it.
I have had my fair share of disappointing results by blindly trusting trainer’s orders… pay attention.
4. They keep you accountable
A good trainer should use all the tools he has at his disposal to see to it that you follow through on your goals. No matter how dirty the fight has to get.
My last trainer would leave me to my internal motivation to get me to come to the gym after a long day of work. I didn’t have the discipline then that I do now.
I wish he had kicked my ass instead. How much faster would I have reached my goals… then again, I wouldn’t have all this life experience to write this to you, so it all worked out in the end. Carry on.
Imagine a bad day. You’re going to have those every once in a while if you aren’t having them already. It’s inevitable.
You and your significant other got into a fight. Your boss was mean to you or you didn’t like his criticism of your work. You pulled an all-nighter the night before and had to rush to work in the morning so you’re extra tired at the end of the day.
You pick up the phone and call your trainer to cancel this session. I know what you WANT him to tell you, “You’ve had it rough, take the day, it’s all good”. But what do you think you NEED to hear? Everybody has something different but mine would go something like,
“I know about the stresses that you have to deal with on a daily basis, but when we spoke on day one, you told me what your dreams are. I really feel like if you let this day slip, you wouldn’t be taking the steps necessary to realize those dreams. Not to mention, working out is the best stress relief. I’ll see you at the gym in 20 minutes.”
Find a trainer that will move mountains for you to see that you make it, who wants your success just as much as you do and is willing to save you from yourself.
5. They are always trying to improve
I love to see trainers who are lifetime students of their craft.
Every once in a while, you see them with a book or bodybuilding magazine. Maybe they are doing a class or reading new research on nutrition or having discussions with other personal trainers.
The Hulk, my last trainer, did his own version of lifelong learning. He would always be the first person to open the gym and the last person to close it.
If you dared to come during his workout times, you would have to sit and wait because he is cutting his gym time for no one. If the building was collapsing, he would probably add that weight to his bench press.
Seeing him work was a thing of beauty.
He didn’t talk, he didn’t laugh, even during his rest periods he was super focused. Down to the tying of his shoelaces… every action was deliberate. And it showed in his results.
Year after year he would win first place in bodybuilding competitions locally and internationally, he has become a living legend here in Jamaica.
It’s all because he dedicates himself to learn what’s new to stay ahead of the competition and he continues to practice what he has already mastered to squeeze out that extra 1% of advantage.
You will know that having a trainer that disciplined and dedicated to his own growth will pull you forward to your own goals by just being in his slipstream.
I may not have a coach right now for my current physique goal. But I have a few that help me with other areas of my life. When you’re aiming for goals that are bigger than anything you’ve ever accomplished, it helps to have a coach to keep challenging you to move forward. They are that objective party who can check your blind spots and provide that unbiased accountability that you need.
Have any funny trainer stories? How about a story of a mentor who helped you through a tough situation? Tell me in the comments.
I’d love to hear what you think of this post. Please give me your honest feedback in the comments.
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