“So that’s like…a personal trainer, right?” [Part 1]

Despite being one of the biggest facebook/twitter/social media creeps on the planet, there’s nothing quite like coming home after being away for so long and getting to catch up with family and friends.  Its what makes the holidays so awesome, and I always enjoy the opportunity to just kick back and take time off.

That being said, there is always that moment in the conversation where someone comes up to you and goes, “so, how is school going? What are you there for again? What are you planning to do after?”…and I just shake my head.  There is no way anybody outside of the fitness industry can understand the hierarchy of certain positions, nor do they appreciate the differences in skill set needed for certain professions.  I don’t expect them to, either – but when everyone responds with, “Oh, so you want to be like… a personal trainer, right?” I get all hulked out and want to scream ITS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

SO, for my completely biased (but completely true) account of the fitness industry, you’ve come to the right place.

In the field of kinesiology/exercise physiology, strength & conditioning, etc, the term “personal trainer” is kind of like saying to a teacher, “oh, so you’re basically a babysitter.”  You don’t need a degree to babysit.  You don’t even really need a certification – maybe just something that says you know CPR in case the kid chokes on a hotdog.  Even then, that’s not always required.  Teenagers can babysit for extra cash because it is convenient and requires very low levels of competency.  They think, “hey, I like kids, and I can pretty much just hang out and get paid for it! Sweet!” Same thing goes for personal trainers. A lot of them are just like, “I love the gym and I’m always there, I might as well get paid for it!” – and it’s easy to do.  There are a million certifications out there – most just requiring a membership fee, a few [easy] exam questions, and bam – certified. (Fun Fact: to make a point, a well known coach signed up online for PT certification course and was able to get his dog certified as a trainer. THAT’S why the term is such a joke).

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t some awesome trainers out there, because there are, but how do you really know the difference between competent and cyber dog status? Here are some KEY tips to look for when seeking out a personal trainer:

  1. Look for some type of exercise degree. Does this guarantee they know something about programming? No. BUT, it does convey some kind of competency in terms of body mechanics, metabolism, anatomy, kinesiology and just generally how the body should work. It also shows they have more of an interest in the field than a mere 2-day certification course. Kinesiology, exercise physiology, sports science, and even athletic training are just a few examples.
  2. If they offer to write up a diet plan for you, RUN. Unless they are a registered dietician, this is not only beyond the scope of their skill set, but it is ILLEGAL. Yes, you can SUE a personal trainer for writing you a step-by-step dietary eating plan.  This includes prescribing supplements.  They can suggest a supplement to you, but they absolutely cannot write you a recommendation of “x grams/per day, 5 x a day” for example.  If they don’t know this, and they’re providing this service, they don’t know what they’re doing.
  3. Look at their certifications closely.  NASM, ACSM, NSCA and NCSF are some of the gold-standard certifications.  Does this guarantee they are competent beyond the scope of these certifications? No. But some training is better than others, and in this case, these are the ones you want to see.  Also, do a little research on your own to find out what kind of certification YOU think is best for YOUR goals.
  4. Do you feel comfortable? This might seem like a ridiculous thing to ask, but if you’re constantly being forced into signing contracts, or you’re being pushed into services you’re really not feeling, stop! You have the power, and you should find a trainer that is willing to sit down and talk with you about YOUR goals – not shove a pre-meditated sales pitch at you in order to get you to spend more money.  Unfortunately, it is a business, and a lot of trainers are just chasing paper.  In some jobs, that’s okay, but you have to remember that this is your BODY you’re talking about – you only get one, and you want to make sure you take care of it.  After all, that’s why you’re seeking the services of a qualified professional, right?

Those are just 4 of the most important tips I can think of when judging if a trainer knows their stuff. There are a million more and I’d be happy to divulge – just leave a comment if you’re interested.  But the real point of this post is to differentiate between strength & conditioning coaches, personal trainers, and physical therapists. There is such a gray area even WITHIN the field that I understand why people outside of it don’t understand. (I still judge you though). In part 2 of these posts, I’m going to cover this in more detail. Stay tuned! 😉


About sten06

Master's in Kinesiology: Strength & Conditioning BSed in Exercise physiology -NSCA CSCS -NASM CPT, PES -Varsity Lacrosse Coach Saving the world one workout at a time ;)

Posted on December 15, 2011, in Fitness, Strength & Conditioning, Training and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for commenting on my blog! I’ve just had a read of your old posts, and you’ve got some good stuff on here 🙂 I did NOT know that PTs can’t give you diet plans. Wow. I have a coach who programs my diet, but I guess that’s different. I’m halfway through becoming certified – my studies have covered diet, and how to write training programs, but there is another large nutrition section I have to do – which I assumed would be writing diet plans. Maybe it’s different outside of the US?

    • thanks for reading! yes, most likely it is different outside of the US – to be honest, we are REALLYYYY behind everyone else when it comes to health & fitness, and we have some very bizarre regulations when it comes to nutrition. here, a lot of our PT training programs include sections on diet, supplementation and ergogenic aids as well, and then if you take exercise physiology classes they go more in depth, in terms of how to calculate energy expenditure and how to determine someones caloric requirements. coaches and trainers are absolutely allowed to make recommendations, but you can’t actually be a licensed dietitian unless you have a graduate degree and you pass a certain board exam. this gives you the right to sit down with someone 1 on 1 and write a unique, individual program of eating just like you would for training. i think its because a lot of our PT licensing programs are below standard, so if you have a lot of these people who take 1-day seminars out there programming food as well, its just a disaster.

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