Is Personal Training Too Personal?

While enlisting in the help of a trainer may be a great personal investment, doing so won’t necessarily solve your personal problems.

”Anything you avoid in life will come back, over and over again, until you’re willing to face it–to look deeply into its true nature.” – Adyashanti

”Anything you avoid in life will come back, over and over again, until you’re willing to face it–to look deeply into its true nature.” – Adyashanti

I’ve been a personal trainer for some 18 years and while fitness trends have changed and every client has a different goal, one thing I can tell you is that fitness training can be very personal. Maybe that’s why they call the process of working with an exercise professional “personal training.”

Whether people are looking to lose weight, gain weight, or get in shape for their next life event, those endeavors are all (at least in part) emotional journeys. Unfortunately, many hire a coach and seek out these intentions without really addressing the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ in their goals. Case in point, the typical ambition of losing weight.

I was once asked in an interview my success rate as a trainer for helping people lose weight, as in, a lot of weight. I had to ponder the question for a moment. The question was then posed again, this time more specifically: “Have you ever worked with someone who has lost 75 or 100 pounds and kept it off?”

After thinking long and hard, I had to admit that my answer was no. While I have helped hundreds, if not thousands of people over the years in reaching their goals (like getting faster, stronger, and healthier), truthfully my success rate for helping really heavy people lose weight and keep it off is slim to none.

The interview got me thinking about my experience as an on-camera trainer for the television series “I Used To Be Fat” which aired on MTV. The program was a documentary style reality show that focused on the epidemic of childhood obesity, specifically for teenage kids. A handful of young adults were chosen from around the country to work with trainers in an effort to help them lose weight. The young man I was paired with was coordinated, skilled, and strong. With an athletic foundation and willingness to hit the gym hard, my ‘kid’ lost 40 pounds in 50 days.

In the typical and dramatic reality TV fashion, we trained for hours on end every day. I had this young man burning tons of calories while heavily restricting his caloric intake. As a weight loss strategy, it worked brilliantly as it always does. But the deeply personal considerations of food addiction, food toxicity, and past emotional trauma were never broached. The underlying causes of obesity were never addressed and the novelties of diet and exercise ultimately wore off. As the program became unsustainable, inevitably, the weight returned. To many fighting the battle of the bulge, it’s a familiar story.

The Problem with Personal Training

When I started a career as a trainer in 2001, the majority of my clients were looking to get faster, stronger, or more physically functional. Back then, a typical client would approach me and say something like, “I have a race coming up this summer and I want to get in better shape.” In such a scenario I would think to myself, “Great! You’re in the right place!”

Somewhere along the line a focus on fitness also became synonymous with looking a certain way. Granted, training for the aesthetic is nothing new. Bodybuilding and getting toned up for that beach vacation have been fitness mainstays for decades. But in recent years, changing the shape of our bodies has seemingly been synonymous with exercise. Weight loss and/or weight management has become the primary if not the sole focus for many in their approach to fitness.

As the obesity epidemic became a national crisis and The Biggest Loser a cultural phenomenon, many got the message that hiring a trainer and/or joining a gym was step number one in losing weight and changing their body. But there are inherent problems with the focus on the physical form through fitness. First, ask a bodybuilder and most will tell you that how you look is largely a function of how, when, and what you eat (and less an issue of how and when you train). Secondly, a major part of how, when, and what you eat is a function of your genetic and emotional construct. These variables aren’t really addressed in the gym.

Fitness Doesn’t Equal Slimness

While fitness can equal functionally capable and physically proficient body, it does not necessarily equal a slim, toned, or shredded body. Losing weight may simply be a question of calories—keeping it off is a question of deeply personal issues, both scientific and emotional. In short, success in the arena of weight management requires a personal approach that addresses a mixture of physiology, nutrition, environment, and in large part, psychology.

This fact presents an obvious disconnect in the common approach to the fitness goals of weight loss and achieving the body you’ve always desired. In the same way you wouldn’t go to a math teacher to learn English, you shouldn’t necessarily go to a trainer to address issues that are deeply intimate and intrinsic. Likely, your trainer is not a miracle worker, shrink, healer, nor the any of the following:

  • Your trainer is not a doctor.
  • Your trainer is not a registered dietician.
  • Your trainer is not a psychologist.
  • Your trainer is not a physical or emotional therapist.
  • Your trainer is not a weight loss specialist.
  • Your trainer is not a “health” coach, whatever that means.

Hiring a trainer might not help you from being fat, but that said, a good trainer can help you get really fit. Optimally and hopefully, all trainers have studied (or at least passed a test on) exercise physiology, anatomy, exercise science, and biomechanics. The best coaches are also learned in behavioral science and the art of communication. That means your trainer should be adept at teaching, coaching, and communicating to you ways in which your body can move more economically and efficiently. Simply put, the right trainer will help you to:

  • Increase flexibility
  • Build endurance
  • Maximize strength
  • Optimize physical functionality
  • Develop a physical skill set/craft such as Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, etc.
  • Improve health

You will notice that missing from the list are issues of a personal nature, like getting the body you’ve always coveted.

Weight Loss Isn’t a Magical Process

Joining a gym, starting an exercise regimen, and hiring a trainer are noble pursuits and there are many valid reasons to do so. However, while enlisting in the help of a trainer may be a great personal investment, doing so won’t necessarily solve your personal problems. Hiring a trainer might help you get faster or stronger, but likely won’t magically melt inches off your waistline, cure your issues with food cravings, or help save your marriage for that matter. When it comes to the “personal” part of your goals and desires, ultimately, you are your own best personal trainer.