Personal Trainer or Glorified Baby-Sitter?

Doug enters the gym to meet his personal trainer Steve for their twice weekly session. Doug has been training with Steve for over two months. He comes early to get warmed up and to be ready for when Steve arrives. Steve is typically a few minutes late to each session because he travels across to get to the gym. Doug doesn’t mind, he knows Steve tried to be on-time. About fifteen minutes into his hour long session, Doug begins to wonder if he has the wrong time or the wrong day. He asks the nineteen year old receptionist who is blowing a bubble with her gum and twirling her hair if Steve has phoned, but she doesn’t know because he’s an independent contractor. She’s quick to brush Doug off as she answers her cell phone.

After waiting another five minutes Steve finally arrives, coffee in-hand and chastises Doug for not starting his workout. Doug likes Steve so he ignores the comment. Steve gets Doug to do a circuit program stating that Doug doesn’t really need a full hour for circuit training because it’s high intensity and really thirty minutes is good enough. Doug wonders why he’s paying for an hour if thirty minutes is enough but he trusts Steve and doesn’t say anything.

Doug notes how popular Steve has become because his cell phone keeps ringing and from the conversations he’s having he seems to be booking a lot of new clients. Doug doesn’t mind Steve taking calls during his session. After all, he feels lucky that Steve is training him. After about twenty minutes into the circuit and three phone calls later, Steve tells Doug that he has to leave a few minutes early to get to an important client who has just bought a package of fifty. He comments that he doesn’t want to be late to their first session.  He tells Doug to finish the circuit and prances off to talk to the receptionist who is applying her lip gloss. He waves to Doug from the door and says, “See you next week” and heads out to meet his next client. This was their first session of the week and Doug wonders if they will have their second session that week because of his comment.

Demotivated and angry Doug makes an attempt to finish the circuit but calls it quits. Just as he’s heading for the change room he notices another trainer, Brenda working with his wife’s friend Tammy. They’re doing a medicine ball partner training exercise and Doug thinks to himself. “That looks like fun. I wonder why Steve doesn’t do that with me”. Then he overhears Brenda mention that she’s going to spend five minutes stretching Tammy to really get into her tight spots. Irritated Doug mumbles under his breath, “Maybe I should hire Brenda.” Doug considers asking for Brenda’s card but would feel bad about leaving Steve. Besides it would be awkward hiring Brenda while Steve still trained other clients there.

On his way home Doug starts to think that maybe he won’t renew his sessions with Steve and just take a break. He knows the routine because it hasn’t changed much since they started and he feels confident to be on his own. Maybe after some time has passed he can ask Brenda to train him. Maybe she trains somewhere else so he doesn’t have to run into Steve. 

So what do you think? Is this story real? I guess that depends how long you’ve been in the personal training industry and how much you’ve seen. It would seem incredible that a story like this would be true and it isn’t. Well not entirely anyway. But that doesn’t mean there’s no truth to the story. Let me ask you these questions.

1)      Have you ever seen a trainer coffee in-hand training a client?

2)      Have you ever seen a trainer taking calls or texting while with a client?

3)      Do you know any trainers that can’t seem to make it to their appointments on time or finish early?

4)      Have you ever seen a trainer idly standing by while their clients do the exercises?

5)      Have you ever seen a trainer leaning or sitting down while a client is exercising?

6)      Have you ever seen a trainer allow a client to execute an exercise and not correct their form or technique?

I could go on but if you answered yes to any of these questions then I have to ask, are personal trainers becoming glorified baby-sitters? Where they stand over clients dis-engaged, dis-interested and looking bored? I hope not but honestly I can’t say that this isn’t happening in our industry. Trainers who behave in this manner will have short lived careers and bring down the professionalism. Not to mention dangerously perpetuating the negative stereotypes associated with personal trainers.  

Perhaps you think since you don’t participate in any of these behaviours there’s no impact to you. Well, first let me say congratulations. I’m glad you have higher standards, but what about others who don’t? What message do you think this sends to the public looking to hire trainers? Do you realize how much harder it makes it for all of us to do our jobs? If the perception from the public starts to become that trainers are just overpaid baby-sitters then this will affect everyone in the industry. It will be more difficult to attract clients or get them to see the value in paying $60, $70 or $80 an hour.

What can we do about this? It’s not a fictitious problem. It’s real and must be addressed. Since it’s impossible to make anyone behave the way you want you must first start with yourself. If you do any of the things highlighted above make the commitment to stop right now. Show respect for your client, yourself as a fitness professional and the industry by eliminating bad training habits such as these. When you model good habits and behaviour your clients’ will notice. They will refer more people and other trainers will start to notice and wonder what you are doing differently.

If you already have great habits but you see other trainers acting in a less professional manner this can be tricky to deal with. First, do not approach a trainer during a session to chastise them about drinking coffee. This will only embarrass them, their client and leave a bad impression of you. Approaching the trainer after their session can be dicey if you don’t have a good relationship with that trainer. They may view your feedback as overly critical, none-of-your-business or worse, meddlesome.

If you work in an organization you can provide feedback to your supervisor or manager about some of the things you see going. Because you may feel like you are rating someone out, you can offer the feedback anonymously. The names are less important. The ability for the supervisor or manager to address the issue in a team meeting is more important than singling people out. Granted this is a tough situation because we want to do what’s best for the client and not point fingers at our colleagues. However, new trainers might think these behaviours are acceptable because they see veteran trainers modeling it. They may think, “Hey this must be normal so it’s okay.” Or if they have a client like Doug they may assume because he doesn’t say anything that he’s okay with it.

If we hold ourselves and each other accountable for upholding professional standards the value for hiring a personal trainer increases. Let’s not allow the perception of gloried baby-sitter to enter the conscious mind of consumers for if we do we may find ourselves out of a job.