Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Starting Strength

Q: I'm a brand new personal trainer. I don't want to be an average fitness professional, but my background is geology; I studied at home for the NSCA-CPT and passed, and have been working in a pretty decent gym for a year now, while I was studying, but that's it for my background. What are the biggest things you've learned (to do or not to do) as a trainer?


A: Congratulations on the start of your new career, Giz!

Beginning a new profession can be fairly intimidating, especially a career as dynamic and detailed as health & fitness. The truth is, I continue to learn more and more every day. Rather than try and give you a giant list of do's and dont's, here are my top three areas to focus on as a new trainer:

1. Anatomy is the lyrics written to the music of kinesiology that we sing to our clients.

If you're still reading this post, that's good. If you were able to tolerate my horribly corny analogy, you should have the mental fortitude to dedicate the hours of study required in order to know your anatomy and kinesiology expertly. Studying anatomy can be pretty dry at times, and kinesiology can be fairly intimidating to the uninitiated, but these subjects are the basis of everything that we do as trainers. Without a firm grasp of these sciences, you're going to have a difficult time truly understanding anything else in your job description.

Always remember: the client exercises his/her muscles; the trainer understands the muscles.

You've got your ubulus muscle, which connects to the upper dorsimus. Its boring, but its part of my life.

2. Don't fall in love with only one "method"...be a swinger!

When I first began training clients, I generally used one approach with everyone, which had been taught to me during my first certification coursework. The truth is, it worked well enough and my clients got leaner and stronger. But that was really all that I knew. Programming for performance enhancement, weight loss, increased strength...it was basically all the same! As I developed and learned more about training, exercise and the science behind them, I started incorporating different methods and techniques into my "bag of tricks," while at the same time removing some of the things that I felt were no longer effective.

So while you search to find your own niche, discovering what works for you and within your particular skill-set, don't be afraid to venture out at times, observing others and incorporating different methods to make you a more well-rounded and more effective trainer! A few great places to start might be podcasts such as The FitCast or Mike Robertson's new podcast newsletter, In the Trenches Fitness, as well as excellent resources such as Mark Rippetoe's "Starting Strength" (you didn't think that I made up the title of this blog by myself, did you?) or the growing collection of free information at places like FLZine (where, if you search hard enough, you might even find an interview with yours truly!).

Leigh and I sit down for a little quality time at FLZine.com

3. Be good at what you do, but know your limits.

It can be pretty overwhelming when you're a new trainer, especially when you don't have a background in exercise science. At first, it might seem that you're woefully under-prepared or unfit for the job. But the truth is, you are prepared. Are you as good now as you might be in another 5 years with more experience and education? Of course not. But that doesn't mean that you aren't able to help your clients and make a positive impact on someone's life right now.


Even with 50 years of experience, you'll never know everything. No one does (except maybe William Kraemer,PhD). So focus your efforts on getting really good at a few things, but don't get caught up in trying to figure out everything, especially when it's a subject outside of your scope of practice as a personal trainer.

For instance, I'd like to think that I have a fairly decent grasp of the basics of nutrition. I've even dedicated a few blog posts to questions about eating healthy. However, I'm far from being an expert like my friends Cassandra Forsythe and Leigh Peele are, and I always turn to them when I need information about diets and nutrition. Conversely, both Leigh and Cass are excellent trainers as well as experts in nutrition; however, when they face an issue in training or rehab that they're unfamiliar with, I'll happily return the favor and try to help them with their training question (and if I don't know the answer, I just ask Bill Hartman!).

Sure, all three of us could dedicate ourselves to actively learning more about other fitness-related areas such as nutriton (for myself) or rehabilitation (for Cassandra and Leigh), but that wouldn't make much sense, either. We are all good at what we do because we chose to be good at those particular things. Too much "Career ADD" won't make you particularly good at anything, even if you feel like you're expected to know everything as a new trainer.

You're not!

Wait, where was I going again?

I hope that this gave you a good place to start in your new career. Best of luck!