10 Ugly Truths About Personal Trainers

What’s your idea of a “typical” personal trainer?

Do you conjure images of a sculpted, statuesque Greek god or goddess with chiseled abs?

Or an empty-headed muscle jock scoping out the girls in the gym while their client struggles to complete a set of bench press?

Or a drill sergeant screaming in your face a la Jillian Michaels?

What about the profession of personal training itself? Does the thought of working in the gym and “getting to work out all day” make you envious? Is the term synonymous with flexible hours, a healthy lifestyle and epic job satisfaction?

Well, you’re right. About some of it, anyway.

I’m sure all of these gym characters do exist in some way, shape or form. I’ve certainly observed quite a few of them throughout my fifteen-plus years as a full time PT.

And it is true that as a personal trainer, my job is pretty darn great. Every day I witness lives changed (or saved), goals accomplished, and barriers broken.

Still, in many ways I feel the profession of personal training, and the trainers themselves, are frequently misunderstood. Who we are and what we really do has been glamorized (or perhaps demonized) by popular media for the past few decades. Comedy shows and commercials frequently portray fitness professionals as self-obsessed airheads with amazing bodies that can barely form a complete sentence, let alone educate their clients about proper body mechanics or nutrition. And, like many professions, a bad experience with one trainer may cause disgruntled ex-clients to make assumptions about the profession as a whole.

For the sake of setting the record straight once and for all (and honestly to also find out if I was the only one who felt this way), I recently I asked some of my colleagues, all top trainers and masters at their craft, what “truths” about personal trainer they wished their clients knew. They had a lot to say.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 “ugly truths” about personal trainers.

And please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors I may have missed. I am after all a personal trainer, not an English major.pinterest-UGLYtruths

Ugly Truth #1:  We’re not always motivated

Believe it or not, we don’t jump out of bed every morning (for some as early as 3am) chomping at the bit to work out. In fact, after a long 14-plus hour day of training clients it’s really tough to muster the energy to complete even 20 minutes of cardio. “We dedicate our days to our clients, businesses and education” says Amanda McMullen, personal trainer and owner of The Bar Milton Strength and Conditioning in Milton, Florida. “ At the end of the day it can be hard to find the motivation for our own fitness programs”

The Bottom Line: We’ve created the habit…over time… of consistent exercise and healthy eating (most of the time). We are at the point that we know we feel better when we eat well and exercise, and it has become out new “home base.” We don’t necessarily LOVE it, but we try to get something in most days per week.  You will develop this habit  too if you just listen to us and stay the course.

 Ugly Truth #2:  We sometimes sacrifice our goals to help you meet yours 

Continuing with the theme from Truth #1, it’s also true that we sometimes put our own goals on hold to help you meet yours. “Sometimes we put so much into helping others we tend to neglect our own goals sometimes” shares Mike Marino of Body of Work Personal Training. “ We are just so darn invested in ( our clients’) success, it’s kind of like a parent who works to be sure their children have everything they need, and yet they personally need a new pair of eyeglasses. We invest a ton of time and energy into our clients because we really do care.”

The Bottom Line: We truly care about your success. A lot. We invest ourselves heart and soul into our clients. We really do understand that life happens. Sometimes kids get sick, work deadlines loom, and basements flood. These things happen to us too. But, just like you, we will drop everything to help the people that we care the most about, clients included. This is part of what makes personal training, well, personal.

 Ugly Truth #3: We don’t “eat clean” all the time

Not even close. Contrary to popular belief, we are not all “Food Nazis”. We enjoy the occasional slice of pizza ( or two). We love cheeseburgers, and also enjoy the occasional (GASP!) alcoholic beverage.“Sometimes we bury our sorrows in bad food too!” confesses Megan Casey of Dynasty Fitness.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve enjoyed my fair share of chips and salsa and/ or pints of ice cream..for dinner. But, these indulgences are few and far between. In fact, I’d say 95% of the trainers I know subscribe to some version of the “80/20 rule,” meaning we make healthy choices 80% of the time but allow that 20% for our favorite treats.

No, this doesn’t make us hypocrites. It makes us human.

We also wish that you would understand that our individual meal plans may look very different from yours. Everyone is different, which means our goals may be different. Our schedules are different, Our preferences are different. According to Kurt Weinreich of Prestige Fitness, “ A client may be focused on fat loss, but the trainer may be preparing for something completely different, such as an endurance event, power sport, or martial arts. These all required different nutritional protocols and the trainer should be able to explain this to the client in a considerate way.”

The bottom line: Commit to healthy eating 80-90% of the time. Be selective of when and where you choose to have “treats”. That’s what we do.

Oh, and we’ll keep eating according to our goals and you just focus on eating for yours, OK?

Ugly Truth #4: We’re not all created equal 

In the age of the “Instagram Expert”, personal trainer and acupuncturist Deb Ruka offers a bit of a  “Buyer Beware”: “Just because a trainer may look great doesn’t mean they are necessarily qualified to train someone. Unfortunately the industry is full of unqualified or inexperienced trainers.” We witness this phenomenon every day on the gym floor. “It’s hard to keep our mouths shut when we see other trainers doing stuff that is either senseless or that may hurt his or her client.”

The bottom line: As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. The best of us have spent YEARS and THOUSANDS upon thousands of dollars studying to perfect our coaching skills.  Although the hot bodies of social media and magazine may be inspirational, please do your research and seek the advice of an ACTUAL professional before spending your hard earned cash.

Ugly Truth #5: We’re still learning 

The fitness industry is ever evolving. New research is presented every day, and as such even the most educated and experienced among us are still learning. Exercise prescription today looks very different from that of 30 years ago ( ballistic stretching, anyone?).

Humans are evolving too. “30 years ago postural deviations (and associated neck and back pain) appeared primarily in office workers” shared Mike Marino. Now, with the advent of cell phones and our primarily sedentary lifestyles, these issues are widespread.

The bottom line:  Because of the ever changing nature of humans, our lifestyles, And new cutting edge research, there is no one cookie cutter solution or prescription for fitness. Each individual is different and it may take some time for your trainer to learn your body and unique situation to develop a custom solution.

Ugly Truth #6: We don’t have “six pack abs” 

Well, most of us don’t anyway. Why? See truths #1,2 and 3. The best trainers understand what we wish our clients would also understand: achieving six pack abs is difficult, requires a lot of time, a significantly low level of bodyfat, and an ongoing, meticulous and never ending dedication to sound nutritional habits that support that level of leanness. While the majority of us may be very fit, not every trainer sports a chiseled midsection.

The bottom line: We don’t mean to imply that working to achieve a six pack is not a worthwhile goal. We simply want our clients to understand that they must commit for the long haul, and that this won’t happen overnight.

 Ugly Truth #7:We really DO know how to count. 

The joke amongst my personal training clients is that I must’ve missed the day in “trainer school” when they taught how to count to 10. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with my, or any other trainers’ mathematical ability (unless you ask me to do an algebra problem. In that case, we might be here a while). We use a number of repetitions as a guideline to gauge progress. You can do more than 10? Great! That’s progress. Next time we can increase the weight or target number of repetitions. Honestly, I don’t care if you finished your set at 10 pull ups or 13 ( oh no an ODD NUMBER!!). All I care about is progress.

The bottom line: Stop focusing on the number of reps and focus on completing each rep to the best of your ability. Give it all you’ve got. We’ll tell you when you’re done.

Ugly Truth #8: We secretly wish we could dress up for work too

Ok, most mornings I am eternally grateful that I get to throw on a ball cap and yoga pants and head out the door. I don’t have a double digit dry cleaning bill each month and I don’t have to wear high heels every day (thank GOD!!).

But, you know, sometimes there’s just something special about dressing up and looking and feeling your best. “ There’s just something about dressing up , wearing a tie when attending meetings outside of the gym” shares Bobby Zuniga, owner of Fitness Revolution in Lakewood, Colorado. “ I have more confidence, a different swagger in my step.”

Truth be told, there have been times when I’ve run into a client outside of the gym, say, at a restaurant, and it took them a bit to recognize me. Sigh.

The Bottom Line:  Yes, we do own “real clothes”, makeup, and a hair brush. I know I’m reaching here, but don’t be too jealous of our casual style and easy morning routine.  At least you don’t have to panic when you are invited to a special event, dinner, or generally anything that requires you to dress up.

 Ugly Truth #9: We wish you would just listen to us already (not Dr. Oz)

For the love of Pete, enough with all the fad diets and workouts already!! “ I get so bummed out when a client says ‘But I saw on Dr. Oz that…. or, ‘But I read in Shape magazine that (insert the fad of the day here” shares Michael Risner of Lifetime Fitness. “There is no miracle pill, no magic bullet, no one workout that will make you fit and healthy overnight.”

Deb Ruka agrees: “ As a client you chose me as a trainer because of my particular set of expertise. So, why would you argue with everything I say?”

The Bottom Line: There’s a reason we give you the same answer for every question, every single time you ask it. Because it’s the truth. Stop complicating things, and stop looking for a quick fix. Sound nutrition and consistent training is what works. Period.

 Ugly Truth #10: We wish you would focus on more than the scale 

Nothing hurts us more than a client that comes in disappointed that the number on scale hasn’t budged ( or, even worse, has increased), especially  when they are making progress in so many other areas. As trainers we know that the scale is incredibly deceptive, especially when resistance training is first introduced. That evil little machine should not be the end all, be all and certainly should NOT dictate your mood for the entire week, nor should it cause you to be sucked into the fat loss shame spiral vortex of doom. 

The Bottom Line: Ok, so the scale didn’t budge, but your clothes fit differently, right? There are so many other benchmarks for progress: increased energy, improved strength, body confidence, visible muscle definition, the ability to jog farther that you could yesterday, being able to carry ALL the groceries from the car in one trip, I could go on. Work with your trainer to establish non weight-related goals and then celebrate their achievement. You’ll be pleasantly of surprised of the weight loss you’ll experience as a “side effect.”

As trainers, we simply want you to know that, no matter where you are in your journey, we are so incredibly proud of you. We think you’re amazing. And brave. And sometimes incredibly frustrating. and we just want you to see it too. And we don’t want you to give up.

And that’s the truth.

A huge shout-out to all of my brothers and sisters in fitness who contributed to this article. 

If you’re ready to begin your fitness journey with a customized program designed by a seasoned professional, click here to learn more about online fitness coaching 

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