There are some things as a personal trainer that make us cringe when hearing or seeing them. We can’t really help it. We know the right way exercises should be performed to ensure safety and also get the most out of the exercise. We know, or should know, what order exercises should be performed in. We know that an exercise that is great for one individual may be treacherous for another individual, until they have followed the progressions required to get them there. We know that quality of training drops as class size increases.
If we know all of this, then why are these things completely ignored when it comes to group training? Or do some trainers just not care about the safety of their clients? How about their long term goals? Last time I checked, tearing an ACL, spraining an ankle, tearing a rotator cuff among other injuries are not the best ways to reach your weight loss or strength goals. I always tell my clients getting injured is the quickest way to guarantee yourself to not reach your goals. It is easier to stay healthy than to recover from an injury and try to get back to where you were. Plus it’s a waste of time. You can’t squat or run on a hurt knee. You can’t do a push-up with a bum shoulder. Try deadlifting with a herniated disc.
Perhaps these trainers actually do care, but they’re just really, really bad trainers. Otherwise there’s no excuse. Either way, it’s a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
As a trainer myself, I take my job very seriously (while still having fun). I know that I have the tools to help my clients reach their goals. I also have a ton of pride in knowing that I’m doing the best job I can possibly do teaching exercises correctly and improving clients movements so that it carries over into their everyday life. Some clients are looking to just get out of pain and live a healthy life while others want to drop 20 pounds or pack on muscle. Regardless of their goal, it is my job to make sure that they perform exercises correctly and follow certain progressions to help them reach those goals.
The biggest rule for all trainers to follow, which I’ve heard from Mike Boyle and others many times, is to do no harm. Take a trainer from a professional sports team. If they push their athletes so hard that they are prone to injury or worse, get injured while training, that trainer will be out of a job in no time. See Russell Wilson’s Offseason Training program. It should be no different for all of the other trainers out there. I know if I had a trainer who continually hurt clients, that trainer would be gone yesterday.
To cover a few of the biggest mistakes in group training, here are my top 10 MISTAKES TRAINERS MAKE:
- Doing hundreds or even thousands of reps of the same exercise for the sake of being hard. This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Try lunging for a mile or doing a thousand burpees and let me know how your joints feel and how long it takes for you to tear an acl or rotator cuff. If you are lucky and don’t have pain right away, just know that you are tearing your body apart. Think of workouts like these the same way you would smoking cigarettes. Smoking was cool in the 80’s, a fad, kind of like extreme training with bad form and no thought process today, both being absolutely horrible for your body.
- Having classes that are over capacity: Owners seem to care more about money aka huge class size than they do quality of training. If you have one trainer to 20-30 clients, there is absolutely no way that you can guarantee quality of training. You might literally have 20 people doing exercises wrong, but you yell and tell them to keep going. Good job.
- No warm up: Performing some foam rolling and a dynamic warm up should be part of your warm up. This preps your muscles for the workout ahead and keeps your body healthy for following workouts. If your gym doesn’t do this, find a gym who does.
- No stretching after the workout. Tight muscles lead to injuries. Enough said.
- Form? What’s that? Trainers are more concerned about clients getting the weight from point A to point B with no regards to form. They allow clients to perform the exercise wrong over and over. This is only enforcing bad habits and eventually going to lead to injury. Training past technical failure guarantees bad form. When you can’t complete a rep with good form, other body parts compensate, usually low back, shoulders or knees. Clients actually appreciate when you take the time to teach them the right way to perform an exercise. If they think they have been doing it right for months and eventually find out otherwise, they are not going to be happy with their trainer. When a client gets hurt with bad form that has been encouraged, that is the trainer’s fault.
- They never factor in any recovery. Again, even the best athletes in the world have recovery days. That doesn’t mean you can’t workout, but it means you train smarter than you did when you were 18 so that you can continue to go hard in the gym year after year.
- No thought into order of exercises performed. Yes, order does matter. If you are doing 20 minutes of insane conditioning before lifting heavy weights, you are going to be too tired to perform the strength exercises correctly. Will it be hard? Yes. Is it stupid? Yes.
- No long term programming . If you workout the same way all year long, you are very likely to hit a plateau. For continued progression, there must be different training stages. Training should be periodized for anyone who is serious about reaching their goals. There should be blocks throughout the year that allow clients to continually reach their goals instead of getting stuck at plateaus because the intensity has been the same for 6 months.
- Focusing too much on heart rate monitors. Do heart rate monitors serve a good purpose? Absolutely, and I have nothing against using them. I encourage clients to use them or we will teach them how to track their own heart rate. However, when it becomes the focus of the workout, people become obsessed with keeping their heart rate high rather than performing the exercises correctly. If I want you to just keep your heart rate high the entire class, I will simply put you on a treadmill for an hour. Nevermind the strength training you need. Some of these places also pay no attention to which should be done first; see number 7. Try getting a female client the glutes she is after or a guy the chest he wants by running them on a treadmill or rower for an hour. Running on a treadmill is not going to give you the shape you are after, unless that shape is skinny fat. Is running on a treadmill for an hour hard? Probably so, but so is walking barefoot on hot coal. Neither are optimal for reaching your goals, and both are stupid. There should be science behind every workout. It should be well thought out, not thrown together in two minutes.
- Too much variety. Before you say “this guy sounds so boring,” I believe variety is a must in training and especially group training. Groups respond well to new challenges and exercises. However, if every single workout is so different that they never get a chance to improve upon previous workouts, they may not make any progress. The basic exercises are what work the most. It’s fine to throw in some fun stuff during the workout, but our number one goal as a trainer is to help clients reach their goals. They are paying us money to know what we are talking about and give them the best workout for their goals. Squats, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, planks, rows, overhead press, anti-rotation exercises and many more should make up the bulk of your resistance training program. Add in some conditioning and you are good to go. The key to meeting your goals is consistency. Consistently doing the same movements, getting better at them, then progressing with heavier weights or more advanced form of that exercise is what it’s all about.
I hope this article brings some light to what’s wrong with so many group training facilities today.
If you think that I am some scrooge that just hates on every place around that isn’t mine, that’s simply not true. I just want everyone to be performing a program that is going to allow them to meet their goals in the next six weeks, six months, and 20 years from now. I also want the public to know how to discern between the places that care more about the client rather than the dollar. You should be training at a place with your best interest in mind, not the other way around.
Consider the example of going to see your doctor. Do you want a doctor that ignores your signs and symptoms? A doctor that says whatever he needs to say to keep you coming back? Or would you rather have a doctor that may tell you something you don’t want to hear in order to save your life? Personally, I want the one who is going to speak the truth.
I have been inspired to write this due to so many stories of client’s friends getting hurt over and over. At what point do the trainers realize something needs to change? Our job is to help clients reach their goals and it is absolutely our job to make sure they do it without injury.