“A new philosophy, a way of life, is not given for nothing. It has to be paid dearly for and only acquired with much patience and great effort.”

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Introduction

Since entering the fitness industry as a personal trainer and yoga instructor a little over a  year ago, I came to understand that deception and fraud are common. I am not a proponent of making strong statements like that, but I think it is necessary in this case. People searching for such coaches often come with the best intentions, attempting to overcome serious challenges and reach new health goals they never thought were achievable: they spend a great deal of energy, time, and money to do so. I believe consumers deserve to know some of the truths about the fitness industry so more informed decisions and real progress can be made.

The Fitness Industry

In ideal cases, coaches are driven by a desire to help people get in shape, become more flexible, overcome injuries, feel more balanced, and the like.  But, in many studio and gym settings, coaches with the best intentions are pressured to train as many clients in the least amount of time as possible. Often, when first hired, a personal trainer may go for weeks without making any money while securing clients, even though they are putting in 30-40 hours a week. And if they do not hit certain financial goals set by the gym in a given time frame, they will be fired. What a way to start a career! This puts a great deal of pressure on trainers to convince clients of their services, even if the goals of the client and the abilities of the trainer are incompatible.

If a coach gets through this initial “hazing” period and secures a good load of clients and starts training, they are often encouraged to take on more and more clients for financial incentives. The more clients one trains, the more money they bring in for the gym, and in turn, the higher percentage of the profits they receive.

Now, not all gyms and studios are set up like this, but this high pressure environment is often the norm, no matter if the pay scale is a little different or if there is a base salary. Regardless, its a sales position and a numbers game: the more people you get in and train, the more you get paid.

An even more unfair situation some trainers are put in at several big box gyms is only getting paid $10-$15 per hour when sessions are being charged for $50-$150 per hour. This is because a third-party company is hired to find clients for these trainers, taking pressure of them, but also taking 80-90% of their profits.

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Education of Coaches

The last sentence leads me to my next point; there is not always a lot of incentive to become knowledgable in exercise science for trainers, yoga instructors, or health coaches. In this industry, you can theoretically have a high school diploma, become certified, only know the basics of anatomy/physiology, be an incredible sales person, and make $100,000+ per year. Crazy right?

I have become certified in personal training through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and yoga teaching through a Yoga Alliance certified school; let me tell you, its not that hard. ACSM is the “Gold Standard” in the personal training industry, along with NASM, but technically, a high school student could easily take their tests and past. Same goes for obtaining a yoga certification. At yoga school, we were never tested on anatomy/physiology – we had lectures, but our test was how well we could lead a yoga class. So technically, you could lead one really great class, guide everyone to feel very peaceful, but the next day, make an adjustment on someone and seriously injure them.

Further, continuing education credits (CECs) are mandatory for personal trainers and yoga teachers. But in personal training, there are so many nationally-accredited certifications that every three years, a person could theoretically just get recertified by another company in the basics (1). Or they can take online CECs and still not learn a great deal of new information. For yoga teachers, continuing education is based on the honor system (2).

 Now, it is logical to think that a coach who had no interest in learning anything new about fitness would drop out of the industry and no studio or gym would hire a coach who injured people or who was terrible. But, as I have explained, the incentive to get a really good education in this coaching field is often outweighed by the incentive to make a lot of money; as long as a coach is somewhat knowledgable, does not hurt anybody seriously, is extroverted, and can sell ice in the winter, they can last for many years in the industry.

Standard for Good Coaches

As a reasonable and moral human being, I believe that people seeking the help of a coach deserve someone who takes great care of themselves, is compassionate, honest, has a mastery over the anatomy and physiology of exercise, has an understanding of corrective exercise, and can design programs tailored to their exact needs. This standard varies based on the needs of the client, perhaps not all clients need to rehabilitate an injury for instance. As long as the client is reaching their goals within a set timeframe and can create new goals from there, I think the minimum standard has been met.

Tips for Hiring Health Coaches, Personal Trainers, & Yoga Teachers

First, it is essential to take 30 minutes to an hour, find a calm and quiet place (best if its in nature), and reflect on why you want to hire a personal trainer. Write out what your challenges are, your goals, how much money you are willing to spend, if perhaps you just need a friend or family member to push you towards a healthy lifestyle… write out everything on your mind! Most coaches feed on people who don’t know what they really want; you may walk into a gym, be spotted by a confident trainer, and walk out with $7000 less and a training package that is not helpful to you whatsoever. Be vary wary; and if you have signed a contract already, depending on the state, you may have a few days to revoke it.

After you have really reflected on why you wish to hire a coach, and are sure it is the best fit for you, do a Google search of all the studios and gyms in your area. Depending on where you live, there may be five gyms, five personal training studios, five yoga studios, and three independent health coaches within a five mile radius… I’m serious, try it! Or, if a friend has a great coach, try them out as well. It is industry standard to provide a free consultation and workout; plus there are Living Social and Groupon deals all the time. Never pay full price up front! You can workout virtually for free for over a month if necessary. Remember, this coach you are to hire’s livelihood is based on signing you up; you have the upper hand. If its a bad fit, walk to the next block, there are likely two coaches eager to help you. Of course, be respectful, I’m a trainer and yoga teacher too lol, but don’t give in until you have exhausted all options or you are sure they are the right fit.

Before you walk in to speak with a coach, prepare some personal questions to ensure compatibility. First, ask them about their education and experience. Ask if they have a degree in exercise science, nutrition, or a related field. Ask what their certification is in; for personal trainers, NASM and ACSM are considered very good, although you will find others in the references (2) which are also acceptable. Ask if they have any specialty certifications like NASM Exercise Specialist or if they are a CHEK Holistic Health Coach. Ask what continuing education courses they have taken. By this point, you have probably frightened them, or at least made them more alert and honest. Next, review your goals with them. If you have an injury, make sure they know how to avoid aggravating it and perhaps even help you to correct it. Ask a few specific anatomy/physiology questions about the injury site. Ask if they have worked with anyone before with that injury, or at least if they are willing to do the research to help. Review all your goals and make sure the two of you are compatible.

After a good talk, it should be time for an assessment and perhaps even a workout. Remember, coaches are trained to sell you their services; they will make sure you are happy, and with all the endorphins flowing at the end of the workout, you will be super excited to give them $10,000 for a year of training. I’d say its best to walk out and really reflect on if you liked this coach, and perhaps you would like to try another coach before making a decision. Remember, they just took 1-2 hours of their time to be with you, and signing you up is a quick few hundred dollars or more in their pocket: you have the upper hand! They also aren’t going anywhere, and they are eager to sign you up, so take your time!

Finances are a touchy subject; typically, the better a coach is, the more they will charge. Its fair, they may have spent 10-20 years getting a bachelor’s degree, a masters, even a doctorate, flying all over the country to attend seminars and perfect their style; hundreds of thousands of dollars were likely spent in this process, and thousands of dollars are required each month to maintain equipment and to rent space.

This decision is up to you; your health is essentially your best investment. You cannot hike Mount Everest if you are 200 pounds overweight, or even properly play with your grandchildren if you sit all day and allow your muscles to atrophy. Although spending of hundreds or thousands of dollars on exercise or relaxation may seem tough, you may want to look at your expense list and consider how it can be tailored so that this coaching is more affordable.

Conclusion

Remember, this industry is extremely diverse, ranging from high school graduates with a basic certification to physical therapists and MDs with 20+ years of experience. What is most important to remember is that no matter who you hire, it is up to YOU to achieve YOUR goals. No person, no matter how knowledgeable they are, will achieve your goals for you. Do not hire a coach if you are not ready to be committed; it may be one of the hardest things you do in your life, but one of the most rewarding. If you hire a coach and are not ready, you will likely spend thousands of dollars and become increasingly upset that you are not seeing results. Great coaches will teach you all you need to know to be healthy, guide you through the process, and give you the gift of health autonomy.

Best of luck on your journey!

References

1) http://www.livestrong.com/article/436098-top-10-best-personal-trainer-certifications/

2) https://www.yogaalliance.org/Credentialing/ContinuingEducation

Picture References

Hope you enjoyed the clipart! Its from FCIT; I worked for them for about three years. Its Royalty free and I don’t have a lot of relevant photos lol 🙂

Related Podcast

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