Can you trust your personal trainer?



Can you trust personal trainers?

The answer is some but definitely not all. Most are misguided and pretty clueless. If you’re a trainer, you’re probably pretty pissed. .. Let me explain.

Fitness is huge business. Billions are spent each year by consumers in their quest for ripped abs, toned butt and thighs, and muscular chest and arms.  Tens of thousands of trainers are out there teaching exercise and each and every one of them are viewed as experts.  They teach TRX workouts, kettlebell workouts, Crossfit workouts, Bootcamp workouts, and traditional weight training workouts.

How do I know? Years ago I was one of them. I was readying everything I could online and all the magazines trying to learn the latest workout information. I wanted to be the best trainer available for my clients.  Like all trainers, I wanted to better my skills, better my knowledge, and better my income of course.

I went to seminars by Perform Better. I bought DVD’s from the top trainers in the country. After a few years of studying and receiving by BS degree in Kinesiology from PSU, I thought I finally earned enough.

I knew how to make muscles burn, how to make people sweat, how to design fun and effective workouts that got results. Dam good ones too.

I felt confident in my knowledge and awesome about being able to change lives. There is nothing better than having your clients tell you that you literally saved their life by getting them to change their lifestyle and drop 80 pounds of unhealthy fat.

The problem with all this awesomeness is that my approach to fitness was incomplete. I didn’t realize what was missing until 2 years into my studies for my Doctorate in physical therapy.  Yup, I decided I wanted to help people beyond the capacity of a personal trainer. I wanted to know more about how the body functioned beyond the scope of just what exercises worked what muscles.

Studying physical therapy directed my attention towards reading medical journals dealing with joint movement and pathology. That’s when my eyes were opened. I realized that many of the exercises commonly done in gyms were actually harmful for you. Those exercises give you a great burn and really work those muscles. However, they slowly and gradually destroy your joints. I realized that this knowledge was totally missing in the field of personal training. That was 13 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s still missing.

Personal trainers are just not taught the depth of biomechanics to understand the movement of the joints in the body.  Walk into any gym or personal training center and you will commonly see exercises like bench dips, wall slide squats, hack squats, upright rows, behind the back presses, standard side laterals, any abdominal machine, and my favorite, the inner and outer thigh machines.  Yup all of the exercises are pretty worthless for 99% of the population. Exercises like the upright rows and bench dips kill your shoulder joint. Wall slides and hack squats makes your knee joints rub excessively and cause accelerated degeneration. Repeated trunk flexion leads to disc herniations and degeneration. The inner and outer thigh machines are pretty much a waste of time. They burn no calories.

Now you might be think, “ I don’t do those exercises anyway. I train functionally and use TRX suspension trainers, bootcamp workouts, and kettlebells”. Well the bad news is that, they are even worse.  Here is a video I shot explaining one of the reasons:

Another reason some of the recent crossfit workouts and “functional” approaches to working out is bad involves skill. It’s easy to do broad jumps, one leg pistol squats, box jumps, and lateral hops wrong.  Even if the trainer is watching you one on one like a hawk, your hips may lack the stability and strength to perform these movements. No matter how hard you try, your body just can’t stabilize your hips, knees, and core. It’s not a lack of intelligence or skill. It’s just a mismatch of what the client is capable of versus the prescribed exercise.

For anyone who has trained like this, your might be thinking “well my trainer did test me to see if I have imbalances”. For if you’re a trainer, you might think “I did the FMS on my clients”. The problem is that finding imbalances does not tell you how skilled your client is. It’s like doing a Functional Movement Screen on a basketball player to determine how good they are at basketball.  Or doing it on a wrestler to see how well they wrestle. Each of those sports has their own tests.  In sports or in martial arts, you start off my doing very basic drills and repeat them hundreds of times before you progress. The goal is to learn movements and improve your skill. With training, the number one goal is to burn calories and overload the muscles. The skill aspect is at most secondary and typically nonexistent.

So it’s a problem with the system, not just the individual trainer. The clients want results in the mirror or on the scale. Trainer don’t have the luxury of slowly progressing the client with very easy workouts and letting their skill progression dictate the difficulty of the routine. They are under peer pressure to “kill the client”. Now, you might be thinking, “well I workout or train people like that any they are all fine”. The sad thing is that working out with “bad” exercises and routines can cause permanent long term damage to the joints that show up years later. The client may not hurt that day or even that year. But 10-20 years of that type of routine, their knees, shoulder, and back will age twice as fast.

I know because I see this in my clinic all the time. The TRX workouts, the kettlebell workouts, and the Crossfit workouts all produce much higher injury rates as compared with traditional weight training. I am not inherently saying that the TRX workouts, the kettlebell workouts, bootcamp workouts, and the Crossfit workouts are bad. I am saying that they are high level routines that are routinely applied to clients with low levels of workout skill.

This is such a bad problem, I have thought about and tried to solve for many years now. I have been working on and perfecting a method to test a client to see how skilled they are with their ability to exercise.  i.e. how well they can control their body parts and how many body parts can they control during an exercise. They same system can also rank any exercise based on a number of variables. When combined, the skill level of the client can be determined and match with the appropriate level of difficulty of an exercise.

It’s my goal to help trainers in the world revamp their approach to exercise and give them a toll they can use to objectively match their workouts with their clients with laser precision.