Don’t be a PT Failure


I am in the gym, sitting on the rowing machine half taking a swig of water half way through my planned 10km row. It’s core day. After this is over, I’ve planned twenty minutes on a stair climber, a further twenty fast walk on an incline treadmill followed by some general workout that hasn’t been arranged in my mind yet. I put down my water bottle, slide my foot back into the strap and then I see them walking my way. A personal trainer looking a little shall we say verklempt and a very, very large man in baggy shorts and a very large t-shirt. He looks equally unsettled.

They pass, the PT nods my way (I’m a regular) and I begin rowing. Being a judgmental prick at times, my first thought is “Well, he’ll be gone in a few days”. This is of course followed by the usual jackassery like “How did he get so frigging huge. I bet he heads to McD’s when he leaves. He is sweating already.” A few kilometers into my row and I kick myself for being a jerk. I look over at the guy, watch him struggle embarrassingly to do a few lunges and squats and punch myself in the side of the head. This guy is better than me for this moment in time just for being here. Even if he quits, he showed up. I make eye contact and give him that guy nod we give each other when we pass someone else on the street that we don’t really know, hoping he takes it for a modicum of positive reinforcement.

I keep rowing and thinking and not watching the guy as he tries his best to follow the PT. The trainer however looks like a kid of twelve all of a sudden left in charge of a three year old. He is obviously having his own struggles because (I am assuming) his eight hours of level one PT certification didn’t cover how to deal with the morbidly obese. He hands the guy a couple of five pound weights (first trying the tens) and instructs him on dumbbell curls, he then walks away to “go check messages” while the big fella does a few sets by himself, sweating up a storm, as he stares embarrassed out the window. I can see the PT at the desk looking forlornly at a fellow gym worker silently asking for help. The both look toward the dude in the shiny basketball shorts curling away as he looks out at pavement and (true) a hamburger joint across the way. After a while, he returns and they go do some stretches. This continues for the remainder of my row until both disappear into the depths of the dark group class room where I can only assume they continue doing not much of benefit. Flash forward a few days, the above is repeated and big guy is never seen by me again in the gym.

This is not a failure of the person who came to the gym to get fit. This is a failure of the personal trainer.

I came from a family of athletic people. Swimmers, runners, football players, dancers, track stars, hockey players. All the men in my family and many of the women were active. I played soccer from the time I was eleven until I was forty-five. My parents and my sister and I ran ten km races together. I took karate, ran track, played basketball and volleyball even though I am and have always been slightly below average in height. For me, even though I have occasionally gone more than a few years doing nothing (like many or most other errors in life, I blame my parents getting divorced when I was a junior in high school and the influence of my ex-wife) I have always found it easy to bounce back. I retired from soccer two years ago due to knee issues and running races (for now) and have easily migrated into bodybuilding and boxing training. For people like us, we bounce back because we are driven to be fit. For others, for a variety of socioeconomic and biological reasons, they have nowhere to bounce back to as they have never been fit, only possibly “fitter”. For people like us, we tend to be as described above, jackasses about toward these people. It is because of this I think the personal training and general fitness club people need to change how they deal with bringing people into the realm of “fit” because unless they are helping people like “us” they are lost. They need to use science.

Physics: objects at rest generally want to stay in a state of rest. This goes for people too. If someone showed up at your gym, Jebus H Cripes make it your job to keep them coming back. Don’t leave them alone, make them want to return. Be friendly but not cloyingly fake. Be nice, tell jokes, don’t tell inane anecdotes about you that have no bearing on their situation. Be positive and be their friend. It’s your job to recreate them and you are being paid to do this.

Biology (and Math): Eat 2X à Body needs 1X to be stable à = 1X extra that becomes waste or fat. I know it’s not that simple and there are variables based on a person’s metabolism and diet and fiber and other factors but this is the way you talk to them about their situation. Workout and eat clean protein, you won’t be as hungry for Cheetos ™ Drink lots of water and guess what, you will feel full. Lots of these kinds of tips should be in your head and what the hell on a handout for the people that come to you for help. When you see them, ask them what they had for breakfast, lunch, dinner whatever. Add up calories for them and tell them how much they actually need to maintain their current (albeit too large) selves without accounting for any workouts. Tell them how many calories their workout you are showing them will burn up (for lack of a better term). Everyone plays or has played video games. They can, I am sure, grasp the idea of doing things to get rewards and avoiding other things to lose said rewards. Again, this is your job, their success at becoming fit should actually be a goal of yours not just theirs.

Technology: Everyone has a phone (except the Amish and they are all fit from building barns and tolling fields). There are a bazillion free and non-free fitness apps out there that can help out. Become aware of them and fluent in their use. Make recommendations on the right ones for the people you are helping. My personal favorite being a nerd who loved gaming is Fitocracy. It turns working out into a video game/social network with points, levels and rewards (you should be using it too).

Psychology: Learn what motivates people and what un-motivates them.  Ask the person you are helping why they are there in the first place. Fear of an early death? Actual health concerns? General malaise? Maybe they met a sweet hot chick at the office and want to lean down so they can score with her at the Xmas do this winter? Maybe they just watched Fight Club (and who doesn’t watch it once a year at least?!) and have a desire to clock that jerk in the mail room. Whatever the reason, find out why they decided to come to you and how you can help. Last time (I promise), it’s your job. These people aren’t just a number, you shouldn’t look past them toward the hot mom that shows up looking for help who won’t need much more than a sly look and slightly inappropriate compliments to get them motivated.

These people need you and people like you and I need to stop being apathetic at best and jackasses at worst. That guy, the big guy that never showed again? He left because of bad personal training, advice or a lack of reinforcement but you know what? When he put on his shorts and walked out into the sea of people running treadmills, rowing and lifting weights, metaphorically he was the strongest guy in the place.