Thump thump thump COME ON, GIRLS!
Imagine this: You've entered your gym, and you can already hear the sound of a group fitness class thumping away down the hall. A quick look outside the door and you see posters saying "Get Ready for Your Beach Body!" and "Drop 3 Dress Sizes!". The girls emerge from the class sweaty and tired. Some are smiling, and some are defeated as if the instructor pushed too hard beyond their limits. Over time, attendance wanes, and fewer people trickle out. Was it that they weren't 100% committed to their "beach body," or was it something much deeper?
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You then make your way into the main gym, and you see people work out with their personal trainers. However, you soon notice it's anything but "personal." Instead, you see trainers on their phones, some even with their feet kicked up on the equipment giving haphazard grunts to their clients in response to their efforts. According to research conducted by Girls Gone Strong, over 97% of their community polled has fired a personal trainer. Also, 16% of these women even left the gym to avoid seeing their trainer again.
There are several reasons why women fire their trainers or instructors, and they aren't all related to not getting results. Causes can range from getting pushed too hard or the clients feeling judged or misunderstood. And this is a pity since personal trainers are positioned to change their clients' lives for the better. They don't just program exercises. They have the opportunity to encourage their clients to make the necessary lifestyle changes to be stronger, healthier, consistent, more energetic, injury-free, and, yes, lose weight. They also influence how clients see themselves, help them feel worthy of change, and heavily impact their body image.
A gym can be a vulnerable place for some or a safe haven for others. It's essential that gyms understand this and strategically hire their trainers, but it's also essential to shop around to find the best trainer that suits your needs. In short, choosing the right trainer is critical to your overall well-being. So how do you even begin?
Education & Additional Credentials
Most people aren't actively involved in choosing their trainers. They accept the one assigned to them or, based on minimal information, choose one based on their aesthetic. However, just because someone has a fantastic physique doesn't make them a good trainer. Simply because they have seen personal success leads to them believing their way is the gospel truth. This kind of myopic thinking results in cookie-cutter exercise plans that don't account for unique abilities, mobility, or goals. I can't tell you the times I have heard from clients, "I didn't want to do Olympic lifts or eat egg whites, but that's what they kept pushing me to do." Pushed enough in the wrong direction, the client will inevitably quit their trainer.
Thankfully, washboard abs are not a requirement to be a trainer, and you shouldn't hire someone based on their aesthetics alone. Instead, your trainer should constantly be looking to expand their knowledge to help their clients. When hiring a personal trainer, look for a trainer who has a certification in Personal Training from a reputable source, and check out their additional credentials as well. Other credentials will tell you that they are dedicated to personal growth and helping their clients.
Trial Sessions & Referrals.
Now that you know your trainer has adequate credentials, the question has to be asked: how many people "like me" have you helped, and how did you help them? Ask for referrals or testimonials to prove their ability to work across different demographics. Also, ask for a trial session to watch and see how they manage a session. Do they conduct proper physical assessments and learn more about how your body works? Do they demonstrate and communicate clearly and correct form? Do they actively seek feedback from you? These observations should tell you if you feel comfortable with how they will treat you during your sessions.
Do they step outside their box?
For trainers, it's very tempting to step outside of their credentials and help clients beyond the scope of their education. For example, in an article in "Personal Training Quarterly" entitled "the Scope of Practise for Personal Trainers," personal trainers are certified to train and provide generalized lifestyle advice to the general population. However, special populations such as injury rehabilitation, pre, and post-natal women, or creating meal plans are considered out of the scope. Understandably, trainers want to help their clients. However, a sign of a trainer with your best interests at heart is their ability to step back and refer you to an expert in the subject matter where you require help.
Body Inclusive Language
And finally, let's talk about those posters in front of the group class. Terms like "beach body ready" and empty promises of losing "3 dresses sizes" or "10 pounds in 10 days" are misleading and harmful phrases that should be shoved into the garbage, just like those posters. These kinds of messages only highlight society's warped desire to make all women look the same and validate someone's worth based on appearances alone. They also ignore the fact that you can be healthy at any size. These messages alienate women struggling to lose weight or aiming for a goal other than weight loss.
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A good trainer or fitness instructor will know that women come in different packages with different goals - not everyone wants to be skinny, not every skinny girl "needs to eat," and maybe, just maybe, some girls love the idea of being strong. As the American Council of Exercise says, trainers have a role in identifying negative body images and have the opportunity to help improve a client's self-image via their coaching. Therefore, before hiring your personal trainer or joining a fitness class, look for a trainer with a thorough assessment process where they spend ample time identifying your goals.
Jen Thomas is a woman's weight loss coach based out of Chennai