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Fairytales from the gym: The Personal Trainer

One of the biggest areas of misconception I have encountered in the gym world is about me! Well, people like me. There's a lot of misunderstanding about who personal trainers are, or what they do, so today, I'm going to clear that up.

There are still lots of different breeds of Personal Trainer, which is great because there's lots of different types of people who need training. It's important that your trainer is a good fit for you. While much of this is relevant to many or most trainers, it comes from my perspective, my way of working and my background (as a UK Personal Trainer my scope, qualifications etc vary slightly from that of those in other areas. I'm also using the abbreviation "PT" for Personal Trainer, as is UK practice, hopefully that won't confuse readers from over the pond).

A Personal Trainer can write you a progressive programme.

Often when you start at a gym, you are given a programme to work with, and that's a brilliant starting point, but sessions with a personal trainer can take that further.

A really good fitness programme has the right level of what we call progressive overload. This basically means that it challenges you enough to give you optimal results - not easy so you are coasting, not so hard that you might get injured or suffer from too much post-workout soreness.

When you train with a PT your programme is adjusted session by session - they may even adjust it during your workout - so that you are being pushed just enough consistently.

When I work with PT clients I write them a brand new workout every week. Overall the programme progresses, but they aren't just increasing weights and volume on the same exercises, they are mixing it up learning new skills and keeping it fresh, while also being persistently challenged.

I don't just write the workouts for our one on one sessions. All my clients are given an appropriate number of independent workouts for inbetween times, you're never truly alone....

PT analysis: she can lift more weight ;)

A Personal Trainer can help you with more than just exercise.

This is the big one. Most of the fitness professionals you encounter at the gym are focussed just on exercise, it's outside the scope of their expertise  to take it further, but Personal Trainers are able to look at your lifestyle and fitness programme on a holistic level.

It's absolutely true that you can't outtrain a bad diet, I see so many people in the gym, regularly, plugging away at the cardio machines trying to lose weight. When I take them on as clients I not only show them a more efficient way to burn through those calories, but I also look at their nutrition and help them to make small, achievable but effective adjustments that help them start finally shifting some of that fat. Equally there's no point lifting all the weights if your diet isn't providing you with the appropriate nutrition to build new muscle. I can help with that.

You might feel like you are doing everything, your diet seems good, your exercise is good, but there are other factors that can still interfere with your ability to lose weight, gain muscle, or just to exercise as effectively as you would like. I consult with every client and consider a wide range of factors that might be stopping them from getting the results they are looking for, and I help them find the right adjustments to make all the difference.

When I start training a new client, I write them a unique introductory pack which lays out some of the ways that they can start working on various aspects of their lifestyle in order to get the most out of their training. I am also able to work regularly coaching dietary habits etc and helping them to build a healthy lifestyle, one easy step at a time.


People achieve more when they have someone to report to. It's just how we work. I check in with my clients between sessions, you can add me on My Fitness Pal and let me know how your diet is going. I'll be with you in the gym making sure you are completing those sets to the best of your ability.

Your Personal Trainer knows you.

Listening and interviewing skills are key for a good personal trainer. There might have been a time when it was OK for a trainer to make their own judgement about what they felt you needed, and then make you do it - but that's outdated and rightly so.

I spend a lot of time building relationships with my clients, listening to them, asking the right questions to help them understand as well as compiling information for my own use. When we set goals I listen, read between the lines, question - I'm making sure we get the answers you need, not the answers you think I want. It's about what's right for you, not what's "right".

I want to understand what motivates you, and what puts you off. That helps me build you a great programme and help you push through the challenging moments.

A PT can teach you a load of cool stuff to do in the gym

Is there a bit of the gym where you are afraid to stray? Are you wondering what that suspension trainer, kettlebell or medicine ball is for? Could you be getting more value out of your gym membership by actually using all the stuff in there while also having a fun, variable workout?

In a block of PT sessions I can programme a mixture of exercises, coaching you through good, safe form on all the equipment. This is your chance to break free from the resistance machines and get into that free weights area, confident and lifting like a pro.

More of a cardio fan? Let me show you some different ways to use your cardio time to get better results and have a more interesting and challenging workout.

Coaching through the exercises

There's a bit of a joke about how a Personal Trainer counts your reps for you. It's even more of a joke for anyone who trains with me that I am the WORST rep counter.

It's not that I lack the ability to count to 10, it's because while you're working, I'm analysing your posture, checking you are moving safely and effectively, gauging whether you are working hard enough and deciding exactly what and when I need to say something to cue you into moving better.

In short, by being there I'm not just making sure you do the work, I'm making sure you wring the absolute most value out of your work.

And I'm more interested that you do the right number of reps for you in that moment, than the "correct" amount of reps from your programme.

A PT can help you correct postural issues

Rounded shoulders? Duck butt? Knocking knees? Sometimes our exercise history, imbalances and changes in weight can adversely affect our posture leading to discomfort, inefficient movement and even injury. We can programme your exercise to gently balance out your posture, releasing tight muscles and strengthening weak ones to get you walking tall and proud.

A PT can work with you, even if you aren't "average"

"Specialist populations" include those who are older, younger, pregnant, obese or by some other means fall outside the "average healthy adult" which most exercise classes and programmes are aimed at. We are able to adapt exercises to keep you safe and work with your particular needs. If you find yourself in one of these categories and feel you need some help understanding how you can exercise safely, it's a really good idea to book some sessions with a Personal Trainer.

Some Personal Trainers have extra training to work with specific populations, for instance I am qualified as a pre and post natal exercise specialist (as well as being a pre and post natal yoga instructor) which means I am able to give top quality support to pregnant women and those recovering from pregnancy (however long ago that might have been).

Everyone can have a trainer

Trying to get off the couch and be a bit more active? Your PT can help you make the transition safely and sustainably?

Cardio fan who is too scared to hit the free weights? Your PT can show you how.

Experienced gym goer getting decent results? Your trainer could give you the edge.

Too busy to workout enough? You could learn how to get great results by using intense effective workouts that take less of your time.

Serious athlete training for your next competition? You'll need someone to make sure your training is balanced and effective.

Personal Trainer? You definitely need a trainer because you know exactly how to "cheat" the system and you almost definitely aren't training optimally unless someone else is on your back!

We know where to send you if we can't help

There's a lot of help we can give you, but we are also able to recognise when you need something beyond our domain. A good PT knows when to refer you out to a doctor, physiotherapist, dietitian, massage therapist or specialist PT, and we will have those contacts on hand for you.

Breaking the myth - what we don't do

I have deliberately focused so far on what I CAN do, but because it is a pervasive myth, I need to address what I definitely don't do.

I promise that as a Personal Trainer I will never

  • Judge you
  • Scold you
  • Make you work harder than you are capable
  • Ask you to make any changes you are not ready, willing and able to succeed at.

Maintaining a healthy weight and consistent fitness levels requires a set of skills. Skills that crash diets, 30 day challenges and other "get results fast" programmes don't teach you.

I don't expect new clients to have those skills when they approach me for the first time. I've been in that place and I didn't have the skills either. I'm not going to shame you or think less of you because you haven't got where you want to be yet. I'm here to help you on that road. My clients don't expect me to be an expert in their professional field, and I don't expect them to equal my knowledge, practices and fitness levels from the outset.

Equally I'm not going to berate you if you "mess up". We all mess up occasionally, that's part of the price of trying. If that happens, more than anything I'm delighted and curious - what happened? What didn't work for you this time? What might we try next time? Can we work together to make a gameplan to troubleshoot the issue we just found out about? Could this be an opportunity to learn or try something totally new? If you find something really hard, then maybe that is the big thing that is holding you back - that's great news!


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