This is not going to be a diatribe bashing personal trainers.
Instead, I want to focus not on the people doing the job but the actual demands of the job itself.
Those demands — and the quirks of my personality and job preferences — are the reason I just shouldn’t be a personal trainer.
Please also note:
I am grateful — incredibly so — to the personal training industry, the gym for which I worked, and my clients for the chance to make a living while finishing a second Masters degree and taking some time away from my teaching career. Personal training gave me space and time. And I desparately needed both.
But being a good personal trainer has some requirements that I just couldn’t fulfill as part of a long-term career:
BEING A GOOD CHEERLEADER
I am SOOOOO not a cheerleader. Sure, I can be supportive, and helpful, and enthusiastic when needed.
But ask people who’ve worked with me — I am not loud, I am not flashy, I am not a rah-rah-pom-poms girl.
I am not the girl who likes to hear the sound of her own voice.
That is not to say that I am silent — when I need to, when I find it necessary, and when I can be effective, I speak up. I have strong opinions and a strong work ethic; I just don’t find it necessary to flaunt those things constantly.
As a personal trainer, however, people tend to expect a vocally supportive personality: a cheerleader, a talker, a constant supply of “Get it, girl!” and “You got this!” and “It’s all you!”
I don’t think I have ever said, “Get it, girl!” out loud.
In fact, the other day, one of my clients called me stoic.
That’s probably true 90% of the time.
I don’t think this means that my clients felt unsure of themselves — I think (I hope!) they knew that I would correct their form, comment on their good progress, or encourage them if I thought it was needed.
But I have never been superfluous about those things, and I think better trainers than I — trainers who are in it for life — have that genuine cheerleader ability.
BEING COMFORTABLE WITH THE SCHEDULE
This wasn’t as hard for me as I originally thought it might be, but I began to get frustrated by the schedule demanded of personal trainers over the last few months.
I usually worked a split shift on weekdays, from 9ish in the morning until 11 or noon, followed by a break until 3 or 4, followed by more work from 3 or 4 until 8 or 9 PM.
I worked every Saturday morning and every Sunday morning, taking my Fridays, instead of weekends, off.
You work, as a trainer, when your clients want to train. Mornings and evenings are where the most clients are.
Compare that to my old schedule as a teacher:
Monday through Friday only, at work by 7, release by 3. Very, very few evenings, no weekends, rare chaperoning duties.
I adjusted to the personal training schedule OK, but in the last few months, things happened in my personal life that made me wish I were at home in the evenings and on weekends. David went through some personal legal issues, we adopted a puppy who wasn’t house-trained, and I had a Masters degree thesis to develop.
I started longing for a predictable, typical work schedule.
After all, I thrive on routine — even when I diet. I do best when I have everything planned for the same times, same places, regularly, every day.
But it makes me feel secure, happy, and most of all, feeds my ability to succeed.
KEEPING UP MY PERSONAL PASSION FOR FITNESS
Good personal trainers walk the walk, right?
They live and breathe fitness, and they not only show their clients their passion, they epitomize that passion in their own workouts.
Look, I am never going to lose my passion for lifting.
Becoming a personal trainer didn’t stop me from continuing to train 5x a week.
But working in a gym did make me want to go elsewhere for my workouts. I didn’t want to workout in my own gym anymore.
Luckily I do train elsewhere and it was just cardio & conditioning that I was missing out on.
Something similar happened to my reading habits when I became an English teacher — I stopped reading for pleasure as voraciously as I had been. In fact, I noted last year, when I first started my leave of absence from teaching, that I was reading more profusely as a non-teacher than I had been as an actual teacher.
Work outs — whether it’s lifting or cardio or boot camp or yoga — are an important part of my ability to chill.
I work out because I love it, but it keeps me sane, too.
And I didn’t like how it felt to work out in my work place.
HAVING LIMITED TIME AND LIMITED SPACE WITH CLIENTS
This is a function of two things:
1. Working in a commercial gym
2. Working in a small commercial gym
I am not saying I worked for a bad gym — in fact, I liked my gym. I still do. I liked it when I was just a member too.
But working for a small commercial gym meant that personal training sessions were only 30 minutes and that space for training clients was at a premium.
In 30 minutes, when you see most clients just twice a week, there isn’t a lot of time to really work on the issues most people bring to the floor — proper warming up, proper form instruction, proper lift progressions, and proper recovery work all take time.
More than 30 minutes of time.
Fighting for floor space with regular gym members is also a constraint; there is no extra space for training clients.
There’s just the weight floor, including just one squat rack.
You get equipment when you can, and you modify when you can’t.
I literally had clients with whom I couldn’t plan to do chest on a Monday night if I wanted to bench press.
This isn’t to say that my clients didn’t get what they needed — in fact, I think I did a smashing job given my background, my clients’ needs, the time we had, and the assets available to us.
But in an ideal world, personal trainers would get 45 minutes to an hour for everyone, there’d be squat rack everywhere, and Monday wouldn’t be universal chest day.
Despite the ways in which personal training showed me that I shouldn’t be a personal trainer, I learned more than I expected from my clients.
I’ll share those lessons — and how I can continue to learn from them — in another post.
Those lessons from clients, by the way, are more important than learning any of the above.
And I wouldn’t trade my time as a trainer for anything else because of that.