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What's the point of a personal trainer?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

When I had my first website made in 2013, my first blog post was something along the lines of “How do you choose a personal trainer” (spoiler alert: my advice, several times over, was to look for a personal connection - because it doesn’t matter how great your trainer is, if you don’t get along as humans).

Since I’ve already spoilered that one, and since I’ve spent several years working with a variety of individuals, going right back to basics and asking the most obvious question - why would somebody pay someone like me, when there is so much free content and cheap apps available these days - seemed far more important.

It’s clear that people aren’t paying me purely for knowledge or information. Even if they were, I’ve been telling people pretty much since I started that while I may know a little more than them about the human body and exercise in general, I will never, ever know as much about your body as you do. You’re in it 24/7/365! That’s why I insist we work as a team.

Where I come in handy is as a filter for that information; you tell me your goals, expectations, preferences, and circumstances, and I plug that into the search engine in my brain and give you only the relevant results. Of course, it’s far from a perfect system - you are limited by what I know (or what I know to look up), and by what you’re willing or able to tell me - but personally I feel that “analysis paralysis” is a greater impediment to getting things done than lack of information.

Probably the biggest reason clients come to me for training is for accountability. Nothing to do with my experience or my abilities, but just because I am someone they would have to find a worthy excuse to cancel on each week. And I completely get it - I’m capable of getting up earlier than normal on a weekend day to join a live yoga class, but I never get myself up in time to do a full pre-recorded yoga video before starting my day, despite having no doubts that I would get a lot from making that a habit.

I say accountability is the biggest reason clients come to me - but that might not be entirely accurate. I am sure it’s the main reason clients seek out a personal trainer, but there is something else that I consider much more valuable, though I am not sure if everyone is aware that this is a benefit they get from seeing a personal trainer or coach: it’s the promise of having an hour a week (or more, or less) where somebody is entirely devoted to you and your wellbeing.

Dog listening
It was hard to find a good photo for "listening" or "caring" - but who doesn't like a photo of a cute dog?

Personal trainers make the decisions for you, based not only on what you tell us, but also on what signals we might pick up on; I know that after a stressful day I might think I need a vigorous session, but maybe I would be better served by a more gentle and nourishing session. Maybe I actually desperately just need to lie down and have a massage, but I’ve told myself to “just get on with it” and that I’m imagining the pain, and I need someone watching me move to say “Nope, with that shoulder that tight, we need to just get you on the massage table”.

Ultimately, as humans, we need social interaction and connection with other humans. Many of us might be around people all day (when not in a COVID-19-related lockdown!) but how many of those people asked “How are you today?” and actually paused to listen? Most of us know where we can go to find workouts of any kind, but how often do we start scrolling to find the perfect one, and either give up or get distracted?

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic, which means we are motivated to do something for the sake of doing it, because we enjoy it; and extrinsic, which means we find motivation in external rewards such as praise. While it seems obvious that having a PT can provide you with that extrinsic motivation, by giving you positive feedback (or by having a cancellation policy that dissuades you from cancelling), it may be less obvious that a trainer or coach can also provide intrinsic motivation, by making the sessions enjoyable either because of the activities they give you, or because you enjoy their company, or just because it gives you a session a week to focus on you and your needs.

Either way, I am most certainly biased, but I would say that’s a fair bit of bang for your buck - even without talking about qualifications, expertise, and measurable results!


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