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What Happened to Personal Training?

What Happened to Personal Training?

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Let me preface this post by saying sorry for taking a brief hiatus the last few months from my blog posts, but I’m hoping you won’t mind.  This post isn’t about any particular component of the health and fitness world, but rather about my recent career reflection over the past few months.  This reflection hasn’t pulled any attention from my clients and loved ones, if anything, it’s helped me better understand my own role and purpose in each of those relationships.  The combination of a few “TED Talks”, books completely unrelated to (at least, directly) my career path, and a thorough evaluation of my own “replaceability” in the field of Personal Training has forced me to delve into some fairly deep introspective philosophical discourse.  Discourse about the incredible opportunities I’m presented with every single day to impact lives and create potentially generational ripples through the vast “wellness pool”, so to speak.  In addition to the opportunities to serve people, the chance I get to research, learn, and grow as I see fit, professionally, is perhaps one of the greatest gifts.  Personal Training, like any other field, is constantly evolving, or at least it should be if the people who comprise it expect to compete in the ever-changing health and fitness landscape.

Impossible to Automate, For Now

Thinking about what sets us apart, as Personal Trainers, from simply looking up YouTube videos or reading a book is an enlightening process and one that has helped me identify which parts of my job are vulnerable to automation.  The future of health care is one that will require professionals automationworking in it to become increasingly versatile and able to combine elements of several fields into one.  Think, the simpler and more mundane the task, the easier it is for a computer or a series of algorithms to do the job.  Being able to conceptualize an individual workout based on a combination of abilities, goals, and limitations, is hard enough, but add to that the fact that someone may have had a bad day at work, didn’t get enough sleep due to a restless child or got stuck in rush hour traffic, and you’re talking about completely redesigning a workout on the fly.  That’s part of the challenge, but within the challenge, lies a unique opportunity to transcend the stereotypical view of a Personal Trainer.  Yes, you can go to a typical big box gym and get a standard workout or fitness regimen comprised of mass-prescribed, machine-based exercises, but what happened to the “Personal” Trainer?

Personal Training or Glorified Number Counting?

Counting repetitions or tracking time during a plank, one could argue, are both very easily executed by a computer.  It’s a human’s innate ability to take in many variables during a set of squats and create a novel solution as to why a person may be improperly executing the exercise that creates separation from things that a computer can do.  Was the poor form brought on by fatigue?  Was it even proper form to begin with?  What impact is the client’s breathing or shoe selection having on his or her ability to gain the desired level of range-of-motion in the hip joint?  All of these things should constantly be taken into account but are often neglected due to, in my opinion, a diminishing level of standards in the Personal Training industry as a whole.  There are plenty of great Personal Trainers out there, many of whom I have the pleasure to call friends and colleagues, and the primary thing that sets them apart is the attention to detail and willingness to listen and adapt to their clients’ needs.  There is no perfect “method” or “technique” for every person, just like there are no perfect “diets”.  What does exist, is a basic outline of how the body should move, and what foods the body should  take in to be a healthy one.  Fine tuning each of these things takes a lot of knowledge, yes, but more so the correct way to convey that knowledge to a client so he or she can understand and implement the movement or diet modification.

Additionally, incentives are a powerful tool when it comes to changing a particular behavior.  Strategically creating and implementing them is another novel task that we humans are currently better to execute than computers.  Usually, when you think of incentives, you immediately jump to monetary or material incentives, but broadening a client’s typical view of such things can be enlightening for both you and them.  How many people do you know personally that are in some sort of pain or have been for a big portion of their life?  It’s peculiar that when we are in pain, we seek first to treat the symptoms, and not address the underlying cause.  In some cases it can be pertinent to medicate first, but how many times has someone used pain as an incentive?  Generally speaking, pain has a negative connotation, but presenting the lack thereof as an incentive can be, at least to most people, an extremely powerful motivator for behavior change.  I don’t know of an algorithm out there that can simultaneously take in information about how someone is feeling, modify an exercise, and package it with the incentive of a decrease in potential pain, all while providing a warm and personable interaction to put the client at ease.

Keep Things Personal

Honestly, it seems like a poor business decision to just count repetitions, given that eventually a certain level of automation will replace that relatively easy task.  If you’re reading this as a client or potential consumer of someone’s Personal Training service, make sure there is a high level of exactly that, service.  If you’re a Personal Trainer reading this post, or anyone in a service industry for that matter, reevaluate the novelty of the job you perform on a daily basis.  Constantly searching for better or more efficient ways to do things creates good change, and if the thought of that creates some insecurities, maybe it’s a sign?  I got a little too comfortable over the last few months with my business, and after watching a “TED Talk” and doing some research about which industries were immune or vulnerable to complete automation got me thinking.  Instead of focusing on how long the number counting, cookie cutter routine prescribing Personal Trainer could last, maybe honing the personal and novel aspects of one’s job could lead to some fantastic evolution.  Evolution for the field of Personal Training, as well as our perception among other professionals in the Healthcare industry.  No field is immune to evolution, evolve or get replaced.


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Yours in Wellness,


Prevention over Treatment

2 thoughts on “What Happened to Personal Training?

  1. Sam, great blog. Love the introspection. If left to my own devices, I would never exercise properly, long enough or to the extent I do with my personal trainer, Rebecca. She adds an important dimension to my exercise routine as you outlined in your blog.

    1. Thank you very much for the response, Jackie! Rebecca is undoubtedly one of the best out there!

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