The purpose of this article is to pull back the curtain on some of the issues to be on the lookout for when working with a personal trainer. As a personal trainers and a strength and conditioning coach with 10 years of experience, I have encountered many personal trainers, and I have learned many of the things to watch for.
There is one phrase that needs close attention, and that is “scope of practice.” Scope of practice is a phrase generally used in the medical field that dictates the boundaries within which doctors and therapists can work. This is applicable to any personal trainer as well, because there are a few boundaries that a trainer should not cross.
The first practice is massage. In most states massage therapists need to be licensed. The title licensed is key, here. The definition of licensure is as follows:
Licensure “is the state’s grant of legal authority, pursuant to the state’s police powers, to practice a profession within a designated scope of practice. Under the licensure system, states define, by statute, the tasks and function or scope of practice of a profession and provide that these tasks may be legally performed only by those who are licensed. As such, licensure prohibits anyone from practicing the profession who is not licensed, regardless of whether or not the individual has been certified by a private organization.”
Certifications, on the other hand, are a voluntary process provided by a PRIVATE organization that states the obtainer has completed preset coursework and a possible exam. This is a very important distinction, as to be licensed means that there is stringent government oversight that dictates the practitioners’ ability to perform their trade.
The reason why massage therapists need to be licensed is because giving a massage is an extremely invasive procedure. There is an enormous amount of manipulation of the muscles and body, and there is a certain risk factor with massages, as well.
With the way that muscles are manipulated, it is highly possible for an inexperienced person to cause significant injury to the client. This is why Licensed Massage Therapists spend hundreds of hours studying human anatomy, angles of pinnation, muscle actions, and physiology to understand exactly how to manipulate the body safely.
A lot of personal trainers– especially the inexperienced– want to give clients “extra service and attention.” Personal trainers will sometimes have a false sense of confidence that they know more than they actually do. This is when inexperienced trainers will break scope of practice, and massage clients to “release trigger points” and alleviate pain. The problem with this is that they underestimate the risk they are putting their clients in.
This is the exact reason that experienced trainers teach their clients to use self-myofascial release. Self-myofascial release consists of things like foam rolling, where a client can work on releasing trigger points, and loosening tight muscles, without ever needing a trainer to put hands on them.
Stretching is another place where trainers can get a little too invasive. A side effect of resistance training is the tightening of muscles. So, stretching is absolutely necessary for maintaining loose muscles and protecting range of motion. Again, with an inexperienced trainer this can lead to injury.
Stretching is definitely within a trainer’s scope of practice, BUT it needs to be done responsibly. Overstretching a muscle or stretching a muscle in the wrong direction can lead to muscle or tendon tears. Not following proper protocols for stretching can also lead to injury. Stretching should always be done after a workout; never before. This will protect the client during the workout.
Stretching should ALWAYS be done with muscles that are warmed up. Muscles function almost identically to rubber bands. If you have ever tried to pull a rubber band that is extremely cold, you notice that it is brittle and snaps. Muscles work the same way; if they are cold and the trainer tries to stretch them, there is a risk of them snapping.
This is extremely important when using advanced stretching techniques like PNF stretching, where the muscle is stretched, contracted, and stretched again to create a greater stretch and range of motion. This advanced stretching can easily lead to injury.
It is also key to have great tactile awareness. Your personal trainer in basically where ever you look in Connecticut needs to be experienced enough to know exactly how far to stretch the muscle without going too far.
A knowledge of anatomy and muscle action is also imperative. Muscles move in certain patterns based on their angle of pinnation. If you try to stretch a muscle against the pattern, you are putting the client at risk, or will no longer be hitting the right muscle.
Knowing muscle action is also very important for stretching. Whether a joint is flexed or extended will determine whether certain muscles are contracted or relaxed. It is very easy to teach a client how to stretch themselves properly, which will allow them to control how far and how much pressure is applied. This is a far safer method when supervised by an experienced personal trainer.
Don’t forget about the comfort factor for a client. A personal training relationship should be a safe and comfortable one. A personal trainer like where I am located or where ever you are looking should NEVER make a client feel uncomfortable with conversation or “too much” touching. Touching should really be kept to a minimum. The only time a client should ever be touched is to make quick positional adjustments, or in an effort to assist with stretching. This touching should be as minimally invasive as possible, and there should always be consent from the client.
In my 10 years as a very successful personal trainer, I have never had to touch a client for more than a brief position adjustment, to emphasize where the focus of the work should be, or to assist with light stretching, when asked to do so. I have never had an issue with clients being unable to learn how to stretch themselves, or to use self-myofascial release. As personal as this industry is, there is such a thing as too personal!
Finally, the biggest sign of an inexperienced or insecure trainer is over-compensation. I’ve found the loudest trainer in the room tends to be the one that needs to overcompensate for their lack of knowledge and confidence. These are also the trainers who tend to be the ones to learn a new “skill,” and that is all they do until they learn the next one. These trainers have the need to show how much they know by using “parlor trick” exercises or “new” methods, but they do so without any rhyme or reason. The best trainer is the one who can quietly get a client the results they desire for their specific goals, without shouting about it, and without boring the client with information they, honestly, usually don’t care about.
The majority of clients don’t necessarily care about the how; they just want to reach their goals. It is up to the trainer to have all the tools necessary to help the client achieve those goals. The best trainers I’ve ever met know a lot about a lot… But you may never know because they don’t have the need to prove that they are better than any other trainer. Their sole purpose is to help their clients reach their goals. A good trainer never overdoes new tricks that they learn. Instead, they cherry pick from their bag of knowledge to find the best methods for the right clients!