People often ask what the benefits of a coach or personal trainer are. For some people, it seems, they believe they can cut corners and just do it all themselves, and in some cases that might be true. If you have a high level of knowledge, are highly motivated and don’t struggle with autonomy then great do what you need to do. But most people aren’t like that. The number of times people ask me for free advice (please stop doing that this is my livelihood) tells me that they don’t have the knowledge or autonomy to govern their own health journey.
It’s especially difficult in the fitness world because there is so much misleading information out there in the media that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, confused or misled. What I have noticed is that people who seemingly refuse to pay for a coach, but often ask for free advice are also the kinds of people who never stick to a plan and never achieve their goals – if they have even clearly defined what their goals are. So, this blog will give you some clarity on what the benefits of hiring a coach can be.
One of the reason some people seem nervous about hiring a coach or trainer is because they have seen shows like Biggest Loser and think that all trainers are nasty drill sergeants who shout abuse at fat people and force them to do hundreds of burpees, while destroying their self-esteem and giving them an eating disorder - or worsening an existing one. Or, they have seen Joe Wicks making overweight, sedentary adults leap around their front rooms until they get injured.
Or, they have seen the nineteen-year-old personal trainer, straight out of college, at their local commercial gym, injuring clients with poor exercise selection and bad technique cues. I mean, we all have to start somewhere, but commercial gyms often don’t provide the mentorship to their trainers that they should. Because most commercial gyms are more interested in making a profit and having the PTs clean the running machines.
It is often cited that around 80% of personal trainers quit the industry within their first year, because they aren’t making enough money. The UK has the highest number of personal trainers with something like 26,000 across the nation so it’s a highly competitive field (1).
When I did my personal trainer diploma, I had to complete six modules over 18-months. These days you can buy an accreditation off Shopify for about twenty-five quid! Or you do a weekend workshop that teaches you nothing about being a good or safe coach, and then you’re free to go and injure people in the local gym.
Interestingly, the average age of personal trainers is 39 (1), which shows that the successful ones have been doing it for a while, and likely know what they’re doing. So don’t hire the youngest, fittest or prettiest trainer you can find, hire the most experienced.
The commercial gym environment doesn’t lend itself to personal training. The model is usually a piss take, with customers paying the gym and the gym paying the trainer a percentage of that fee as bonus on top of their minimum wage salary. The trainers are usually expected to also do group classes and most of their vocational qualifications will be for things like spin bikes, boxercise, aerobics, etc. Not in exercise physiology, nutrition, movement assessment, strength and conditioning, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a good first job, somewhere to cut your teeth and gain some experience in dealing with people, but it’s not really teaching you how to be a good coach.
Incidentally, if you are a trainer and you do want to learn how to be a better coach and learn all about evidence-based nutrition then look no further than the BTN.Academy (CLICK HERE).
A 2016 study on workplace training and leadership (2) demonstrated that personal coaching is much more effective than self-coaching. Being left to your own devices leads to an increase in procrastination.
Individual coaching was characterized by systematic support of the client by setting appropriate goals, reflecting on the progress toward achieving the goals, and developing a bespoke approach to achievement of said goals.
The group coaching aimed to provide a similar experience to the individual training but was of a far more generic nature, due to the lack of individual feedback on offer.
Individual coaching was offered in the form of written instructions.
As you might have guessed individual coaching scored highest for goal attainment, satisfaction, sense of perceived autonomy and intrinsic motivation. But the group-led coaching resulted in higher content-related knowledge, perhaps because of the community support aspect?
Individual training scored significantly lower on all counts and higher in procrastination than either individual or group training, as one might expect. The individuals in this group did still improve, just not as fast or as fully as their counterparts.
There are different types of coach/trainers depending on what you want to achieve. We all have our own specialities. I, for example, am a kettlebell coach and my main specialities are injury rehab and sports conditioning – getting runners or triathletes stronger to avoid injuries and perform better.
Other coaches specialise in power lifting, bodybuilding, female fitness, martial arts conditioning, weight loss and so on. So, if you want to lose weight but you’re approaching a trainer who specialises in Brazilian Ju Jitsu, you might be in for a shock. So do a little market research before you contact anyone.
You can have one to one personal training, semi-personal training (usually you and a partner) small group training or group/class training. Which will work best for you? If you’re the kind of person who’s shy or nervous you will definitely benefit more from one-to-one but that usually costs more. If you’re a cheap arse (kidding)… if cash flow is a problem group training is a good alternative, but it very much depends on what’s being offered. However, group training does have a social element that some people find more enjoyable. Just be aware that the more specific your goals, the more specific your training needs to be, and you won’t get a bespoke experience from a group training class or Bootcamp.
There’s also online coaching. I offer this service as well as in-person PT. I have clients who train with me over Zoom. The upside to this is that you don’t have to leave your home and you don’t have to be in the same town as me. The downside is that you are limited by the equipment you own and the fact that I am limited in the amount of technical feedback or correction I can offer you, so weigh up your options.
Online coaching lends itself more to nutrition-based coaching. If you are someone who wants/needs to lose weight this can be done remotely because it’s less about exercise and more about lifestyle and habit change, which can be done conversationally. If you are an experienced exercise enthusiast who wants more bespoke training plans (maybe for sporting or body composition goals) and external accountability this also works remotely in much the same way as weight loss coaching.
Some online coaches offer online group coaching where you have an online community of people all in the same boat, this can be more cost effective for you and more time efficient for the coach. But, again, it’s less bespoke.
I guess, it depends on whether you’re Cobra Kai kind of person (large Dojo authoritive group leader) or a Miyagi Do kind of person who appreciates the individual and gentler approach of an old master like Mr Miyagi. Or even the Master Yoda/Padwan Skywalker kind of relationship… Yeah, there had to be a Star Wars reference in here somewhere, right?
My coaching philosophy is outlined clearly in my book Sleep Lift Eat (CLICK HERE).
I’m a pretty laidback kind of personality and this comes over in my coaching. Don’t get me wrong, I can give a client a good telling off when it’s needed, but I like to hang back and watch, let the client do their thing and offer feedback or encouragement. All that OTT American style extrovert shouting, and bullshit is more about the individual coach’s ego and personal levels of narcissism than it is about motivating the client. It’s needless exhibitionism in my opinion.
As I mentioned most of my clients are active people who either came tom me to rehab a sporting injury or to gain strength and conditioning for a sport. But there’s a fair few who just wanted to get fit/fitter. Most of them hang around for the banter and find the coach/client relationship an invaluable part of their fitness journey. Plus, they have someone who takes care of their exercise programming, nutrition counselling, someone to be accountable to, someone who offers emotional support and, most importantly, they just enjoy coming in and training with me.
I like to keep things simple, simple but effective workouts that look at the big things rather than fixating on the minutiae. Simple works for me, but it also works for the client, simple things are easy to understand and less likely to cause a sense of overwhelm which leads to procrastination. Consistency matters more than micro-managing everything.
I mentioned nutrition coaching. This could be sports nutrition; it could be part of the overall healthy lifestyle, or it could be to help with weight loss. Some of my clients have become so confused or overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice in the media that they are often surprised and, sometimes, a little disappointed when I tell them all they need to do is eat a certain number of Calories and certain amount of protein within a normal daily intake of three to four meals per day (in most cases) and then just be consistent - obviously I teach them how to do this in the easiest most implementable way possible - It’s the constant chopping and changing from one restrictive diet to the next that has left them disillusioned and further from their goals now, then when first they started trying to affect their health outcomes.
With weight loss it’s often more about removing all the barriers to change that are preventing the individual from making health seeking behaviours a habitual part of their lifestyle. The diet advice is secondary to the habit change and lifestyle counselling.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is a mindset as much as anything. But it’s much easier to get into that mindset and to create the change needed with the support of a compassionate and empathic coach.
But, of course, if you just want some training plans and you don’t want to pay for the bespoke experience you could always just click this link and become a TM Fitness Athlete on Patreon. Sign up to my newsletter for weekly updates and evidence-based information delivered directly to your email inbox every Sunday morning: HERE
2. Losch S, Traut-Mattausch E, Mühlberger MD, Jonas E. Comparing the Effectiveness of Individual Coaching, Self-Coaching, and Group Training: How Leadership Makes the Difference. Front Psychol. 2016;7:629. Published 2016 May 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00629