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What (most) trainers don't tell you

I know it's a clickbaity title, and I promise I tried to avoid sounding like I was going to call the entire fitness industry out on alleged lies and false promises. Far from it: as I often tell my clients about mistakes and corrections, I only know something because I have consistently gotten it wrong myself. This is a post about me more than anyone else - but the truth is, it's about being human, so it probably applies to a few more fitness professionals out there.

In my post about why (or whether) a personal trainer or coach is worth having, I based my defence of our existence on our humanity.

In this post about what makes us flawed, I base my apologies on our humanity.

Still with me? Here we go.

I only show you what I am good at

I tell my clients this all the time. Honestly, it started as a flippant statement to reassure someone that their first attempt wasn't supposed to look like my demo. But it might be one of the truest things I've ever said, that I've never heard another trainer or coach say.

This isn't a conscious choice to show off my skills and make you feel inadequate. It's the result of weeks, months, years, of unconscious bias: we tend to enjoy the things we are naturally somewhat good at, which makes us practise them more often, and get even better at them. I made a promise to myself and my first ever client that I would never give out anything I wouldn't do myself - and what am I willing to do? Things I am naturally better at. So, unfortunately, you are usually stuck doing the things I am good at, not necessarily the things you are good at.

Of course, being aware of this bias means I can keep an eye on myself and those tendencies - if something just isn't working for you, rather than trying to make you feel the movement the way I feel it, I know that it's sometimes better to move on.

I had a different journey to you

I would love to think I'm a good enough teacher and coach that irrespective of my personal journey, I can see where you are, see the goal, identify the steps between the two, and lead you to where you're going.

Realistically, it's a lot easier to teach something I have had to learn myself from scratch. Maybe that's just my learning style, maybe it's a universal truth, but that's the whole point: my learning style affects my teaching style, and the way I learnt something will influence how I teach it.

If I was naturally suited to something, I might just not understand what it's like to overcome obstacles you may have. I might know the third, fourth and fifth steps, but not the first or second.

Breathing is the example that comes up most often: many people struggle to breathe smoothly and evenly when exercising. For reasons I can't explain, I don't recall ever having had that problem. It doesn't mean I can't offer advice that may be useful to someone who struggles not to hold their breath during exercise, but there might be a crucial step between where you are, and where my first step was.

That's why I'll always be honest when I know I maybe just had an easier starting point, in the hope of empowering you to find your way rather than forcing you to tread in my footsteps - that is, after all, at the heart of my approach.

I forget that I couldn't do something at first

Following on from the above, it's very common for us to forget where we started. I like to think a deeply personal and collaborative approach negates some of this: my teaching is more "this is how I started, try it", rather than "this is the first step", so if that first step doesn't seem approachable, you're not failing at the process and I'm not necessarily failing at teaching it.

Everything is easier when you know what you're doing

It sounds obvious, but when you know the destination, the first step of the journey and any deviations thereafter are a lot easier to navigate. And it's not as easy as being shown the whole movement before having it broken down into smaller steps; a series of small steps is not the same as one fluid movement linking those steps. So if you're having to think about each step, it's going to feel very different to what I'm experiencing.

Personal trainers don't get taught how to teach

Admittedly, there is a wide variety in personal training and coaching qualifications, so this may not apply to everyone. But in general, although we might get taught how to teach one or two complex movements (elbows go here, hips do this, these bits are in line with those bits) I am not aware of many trainers being taught how to teach in the way a school teacher might.

Some of us are visual learners, some people like lots of cues and direction, some people like to be left to figure it out. Some people need external cues, some are happy with internal cues. Some people prefer to have the trainer mirror them facing them, some people prefer to have the trainer facing away from them and doing the same thing. Most likely, we all need a bit of a mix of these things. Even more likely, we don't actually know what type of learner we are.

I teach how I like to be taught. I try to use a variety of approaches if I see something isn't working, but I don't know what I don't know. Wait, that needs a whole section all of its own:

I don't know what I don't know

I might not know I am doing something totally wrong for your learning style, because I've never thought to think about how I teach. OK, I'm clearly somewhat aware of that now, but what about all the things I'm not aware of enough to even mention?

So please, please tell me if you need something different from me. If I am upset by it, that's quite likely my ego putting itself ahead of your needs, and you deserve a better (or just different) trainer.

This is my life

Literally, getting these movement right is my life and my livelihood. In any given session, you are seeing the end result of thousands of hours of both helpful and unhelpful training practices; the ones I keep are the ones I have done regularly for long enough to know they are worth passing on, and so by definition I have gotten very (relatively) good at them. See the above point.

Sometimes, I take a chance on a training session I'm not sure about, just in case I discover something that might be perfect for one of my clients. Sometimes I talk myself into the exercise I don't really want to do, because I think it's important I remain as physically versatile as possible in order to be able to demonstrate things you might need (I got better at push-ups very quickly when I realised I had to be able to pause the movement at any point and talk through it).

I also happen to love moving my body, which is why I do what I do.

What I'm saying is: on average, at the time of writing I probably exercise 1.5-2 hours a day; that's not what most of you are doing. So when I tell you the sessions I give you worked for me, that's not a lie, but remember I've been doing a lot more of them, for a lot longer. And so, as I have exclaimed to more that one client lamenting that I make something look much better than they did, "I should bloody well hope I can do it better than you!".

Noticed any other quirks? Maybe you're a teacher or coach and have identified with some of these? Let me know in the comments!



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