Years back my gym hired a fat trainer, not one of those with a six pack. You know the type. Bald head, thick arms, and huge calves. Problem was that he hadn’t seen his calves in years because he couldn’t see past his gut. I couldn’t understand why anybody in their right mind would want to train with this guy. He wasn’t particularly attractive and definitely didn’t have six pack abs.
I would see him come into the gym with Nando’s chicken take out and quickly sneak in a few bites between clients. His floor demeanor was good but he constantly complained of being tired in the staff room. Maybe the weirdest part of the whole scenario was the purple drink that accompanied him wherever her went.
Why am I bringing this up now?
I started reading Dan John’s fantastic book Never Let Go last week. In it, he mentions the need to walk the walk if you want to coach. His point resonated with me. I’ve been so busy lately with the Personal Trainer Development Center, my first book , and this site that my workouts have suffered and I haven’t been happy with my physique of late.
I also got thinking back to the story above and wondered what everybody thought was good enough shape to be a personal trainer. Did they have to have six pack abs? So I posed the question to my Facebook family (if you’re not friends with me on Facebook please add me here). Apparently I struck a nerve as a long and sometimes heated debate followed:
I didn’t expect such a passionate response and from looking at my post it would seem that my decision was already made up. I was simply stating my point but the comments gave me new perspective.
Much of the debate was started with one comment:
I’ve got a six pack too — it’s just in with the rest of the groceries
I get frustrated with friends when they make a big deal out of me reaching for a piece of cake. I’m a trainer and also a human being. I drink beer, I love cheese, my awesome clients bring me snacks weekly (which I eat), and my workouts experience an ebb and flow. True, I’m healthier than most but don’t understand why I’m ridiculed when I occasionally give in to temptation.
Is this what the public looks for when choosing a personal trainer? Better yet, is this what defines a good personal trainer? Is it the six pack abs?
Things aren’t always as they seem
Remember the trainer above with his purple drink? Well that trainer ended up being in remission from cancer. He was a previous bodybuilder and had been personal training for 15 years. Admittedly he took some PED’s (performance enhancing drugs) in the past but nowhere near as many as Ryan Braun (YES!!! first time ever using a topical reference in a post! *5 min of fist pumping ensues*). He was the stereotypical model of fitness with a six pack before cancer struck randomly and with a vengeance.
The chemo was particularly harsh and he had to take strong drugs to deal with the side effects. The effect of the drugs was that it caused him to balloon out. Makes sense that he was always tired now doesn’t it? The purple drink? It so happened that the mysterious purple drink was an electrolyte mixture meant to help with his constant nausea.
It took me 3 months to learn what this man was going through. That whole time I harbored negative feelings towards him because he was successful. Clients loved him and begged to train while I struggled because he did a great job. The guy had 15 years experience, a great educational base, and a specialty in post-running stretching.
Why do people become trainers in the first place?
I want to also make not of another comment on my wall:
Many trainers enter the profession because of powerful changes they’ve made to overcome. They may never have six pack abs but walk the walk and talk the talk. More important, they have passion and with passion anything is possible. These have the power to influence and effect. Don’t rule them out. Albert Bandura’s expanded social cognitive theory shows the powerful effect that this type of modelling can have in developing clients self-efficient.
So Should personal trainers have 6 pack abs?
No. Abs don’t define fitness. Six pack abs define low bodyfat.
What are personal trainers responsibilities?
1. Vision to see the whole situation
Personal trainers are role models and shouldn’t be harboring negative feelings towards other professionals as I did with my co-worker above. Instead of being jealous of him I should have gone out of my way to learn from him. After all, he was at a huge disadvantage and kept raking in the dough. I should have gone out of my way to befriend him and learn some stretching or client retention techniques. Surely I could also have also picked up some of his work ethic. This guys body was fighting him every step of the way and he managed to overcome. Even if he didn’t have a six pack.
What physique should trainers have?
The answer doesn’t lie in physique or a six pack as I’ve demonstrated above. The answer lies in setting a good example. When looking for a trainer I beg that you look past the physique for a second and look for these traits:
1. Health and vitality – A trainer can’t look worn out. My co-worker above always had a big smile on his face and endless energy for his clients. It’s because he took care of himself before, during, and after the treatment even though it wasn’t easy.
I might not be the biggest trainer but I’m healthy and energetic. I sleep well and I eat well (except when my clients bring me chocolate). I exude energy. Most personal training clients are not looking to get six pack abs because they’re not willing to make the effort it takes to maintain such a low body fat. Instead, they want to be healthy and active for as long as possible. What good are 6 pack abs for the client if their life is miserable in all other respects?
2. Experience working with people like you - Let’s file this under physique. Do you want to be a bodybuilder? I’m not the right guy for you unless you want to compete in the under 150lbs category. Are you a post-menopausal women with 2 kids and 2 30-min slots per week to train in? Maybe you should train with an older female trainer. She probably won’t have six pack abs but you can be sure she knows what you’re dealing with. (Note: Neghar Fonooni did an amazing piece for the PTDC on how to cope with training for busy mothers. Check it out here)
Do you desire a specific physique? Well then find a trainer who has that physique. If you want to have six pack abs then find a trainer with them. If you want to be strong as hell. Find a dude who weighs 300lbs and lifts atlas stones
The point is that there isn’t an ideal physique for a personal trainer. We come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. There are good ones and there are bad ones irrelevant of physique. Genetics plays a huge part in how humans look. Maybe the next time you’re looking for a trainer look past the 6 pack and speak to the guy drinking the purple drink.
What do you think trainers should look like? have I changed your view? Do you disagree with me? Comment below and, as always, please share.