5 lessons from prac

5 lessons from prac

I am happy to announce that I am officially qualified as a level two gym instructor, which means I can teach group exercise classes and work on the gym floor! Now I just have to wait another six weeks or so and I will be a fully qualified personal trainer. Ahhh…what a long, drawn-out process!

As my final study requirement for level two, I had to complete 20 hours of practical experience shadowing trainers at a gym. The experience really just confirmed that I’m making the right decision by becoming a PT. Some of the highlights included:

1. I trained my first proper, paying client!
During my first hour of prac, a trainer asked me to write a program for someone. According to the requirements of my prac, I’m not supposed to do any programming or training myself – I must simply observe. However, the gym I was training at was very confident in my abilities and had me involved throughout the whole process.

I got to work out with a number of clients, demonstrate various exercises, conduct fitness assessments and write several programs. The highlight, however, was when I was able to train a client for a full hour unsupervised! I only had two minutes to write her program (!) but I gave her a pretty stellar workout. She was a complete beginner so I taught her the most important thing: how to squat!

2. I confirmed my view that many trainers have no clue what they’re doing
One of the trainers I was shadowing taught his client how to deadlift for the first time. As most of you know, deadlifts are a serious lift and proper form is non-negotiable. The trainer demonstrated a deadlift starting with the bar off the floor – that is, he never showed the client how to properly lift the bar off the floor and therefore did not demonstrate a deadlift at all!

I shuddered when the client pulled the bar up with an incredibly rounded back. The only teaching point the trainer gave was “drive through the hips”. Remember that, for a complete beginner, that would make little sense. The client actually asked whether he needed to keep the bar close to his body or let it hang way out in front, and the trainer said it didn’t matter!! I think I bit my lip so hard it bled… The trainer then got the client to do assisted pull ups with an assist weight heavier than his actual body weight. Sigh.

After that session, the trainer and I went back to the office to do some programming. He said he appreciated quiet mornings because it allowed him to write programs. According to him: “If you want to create a really good program for someone, you need about 10 minutes.” Yikes. I wrote a program last night for someone serious and it took me two hours! Of course, I expect to become faster with time, but I don’t think anything high quality can be written in only 10 minutes.

3. Most people are really unfit
Reminding myself of this fact was probably the most important lesson I took from the experience. Despite my dreams of training hardcore bodybuilders, most of my clients are going to be completely new to exercising and incapable of doing most things initially. On my first day, I watched three clients back-to-back quit mid-way through their sessions – and the trainers let them!

One girl was so spent after her warm-up, she refused to do the actual conditioning section of her workout. Surprisingly, the trainer didn’t try to push her to continue at all. I’m not going to push my clients to the point of sickness, but I’m certainly not going to let them give up that easily when they experience the normal burning working out brings!

I was able to assist with a number of fitness assessments, which was another eye-opening experience. Some people could not even complete the nine minute cardiovascular test, and most people couldn’t get past the first of 10 levels to test core strength.

4. There can be a lot of prejudice among trainers
One of the first things the trainers asked me is what my workout style is. They quietly screwed their face up when I told them I do a five-day bodybuilding-style split, because it’s not “functional” training. The female trainer I worked with said she only does circuit-style workouts and Olympic lifts. That sounded awesome –  until I saw her actually work out. Her workout was deadlifts with 5kg plates on an EZ bar, bodyweight lunges and bodyweight step-ups. I normally wouldn’t judge a woman for at least trying to lift weights, but when she seemed so obviously critical of what I was doing it was hard not to!

Let's ditch the baby weights, ladies!

Another cracker quote from the male trainer I worked with: “I mainly stick to cardio and group classes. I don’t like lifting weights because it’s hard work and I hate the soreness I feel the next day!” Eek.

5. I’ve never felt more confident about my training abilities!
I often worry about how good of a trainer I’m going to be. The past two years as a journalist have taught me how to talk to all kinds of people relatively easily so, while I’m not as shy as I used to be, I still worry that I’m going to run out of ways to fill an hour. The other thing I worry about is being able to train beginners without getting frustrated.

The trainers I worked with told me that I clearly know what I am doing (although I wouldn’t trust their opinions that much, to be honest). A couple of the clients I assisted with told me I’m going to be great, and the woman I trained one-on-one told me that I’m far better than her regular trainer! I just hope the UK industry is kind to me…

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