What are we really doing?
Personal training is undergoing a huge shift. Paul Swainson gives his take on the future of health and fitness
Back in 2002 the first job I ever applied for in the fitness industry had the grand title of ‘Lifestyle Consultant’. Upon further investigation it transpired the role was in fact that of a gym instructor with swimming pool attendant duties. 13 years on and it is now increasingly common to see a variety of titles adopted by and given to health and fitness professionals.
Where once the term ‘Fitness Instructor’ or ‘Personal Trainer’ sufficed, now we have ‘Health Coach’, ‘Wellness Consultant’, ‘Health Trainer’ and ‘Fitness Consultant’ amongst others, moving all the way through to ‘Wellbeing Practitioner’, ‘Holistic Lifestyle Coach’ and even the slightly sinister-sounding ‘Change Agent’.
Some cynics may argue that these are just pretentious titles and that they are euphemisms for ‘glorified personal trainer’. It was hard enough for the public to differentiate between the types of fit pro when there were just two or three job titles in existence. Some of the more precious amongst us have I’m sure been mildly put out having been on the receiving end of this confusion (“Instructor? How dare you, I’m a Personal Trainer I’ll have you know!”) but given these myriad new variations, which in themselves don’t give any indication of level of qualification or sit within an obvious ‘hierarchy’, it’s no wonder people struggle to see the difference.
However, that’s not the main point of this article.
The changing face of personal training
Many if not all of the people holding these roles are indeed qualified personal trainers, but have felt the need to distinguish themselves from being ‘just’ a PT. What this actually shows is that personal training is not what it once was; things have moved on. Going back 20 years, the stereotypical view of a personal trainer was a muscle-bound young man shouting at someone whilst they sweated away on a treadmill, before helping them crank out those extra few reps on the bench press. More recently we’ve accepted that people need more than encouragement and tuition through a single workout and the concept of carefully designed exercise programmes and tailored prescription is well-established.
That’s not to say that some of the historical characteristics of PT aren’t valid and beneficial, indeed most still have their place, but there’s still much more to it.
Few trainers worth their salt would argue that anyone can achieve their goal, whatever it is, through training alone. While the debates rage on the internet about the exact contributions that nutrition and exercise make, in most cases both will need to be at the very least looked at to ensure they are facilitating progress, and will very likely need to be worked on. Add to that the other factors that impact on health and fitness, such as sleep and stress, and you can see that teaching perfect technique for a squat or press up is just one element of successful personal training.
In blogs for REPs over the last few months I have suggested that the best way for PTs to help their clients is therefore not with an exercise plan, however sophisticated, but overall lifestyle change. Personal training is fast becoming about coaching clients to adopt whatever behaviours are necessary to move them closer to their goals; to make them look, feel and perform better. So what we’re seeing now is a shift towards a more holistic approach, often coined in terms such as ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’.
What does the future hold?
I believe all professionals working in the health and fitness industry can and should be contributing towards this aim and therefore while fitness is clearly still important, as much emphasis on the health and lifestyle aspects of our role would serve both us and the public much better.
If perceptions of PT amongst the public don’t alter in line with this shift, perhaps the title ‘personal trainer’ will eventually become obsolete, as the old-school PT role on its own simply isn’t enough for most. Indeed this is one of the key reasons why many newly-qualified trainers often struggle to establish their careers and why in turn the industry needs to ensure we are preparing future professionals for the realities of the role by equipping them with a higher level of skill and knowledge in nutrition, behaviour change and lifestyle management.
The need for ongoing education and development is a well-drilled message but now more than ever we need to take responsibility at all levels to make sure that trainers, gym members, clients and the public alike all appreciate the level of expertise and support that can and should be provided, and the significant impact it could have.
That first job I applied for had the right idea in its title if not its reality. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time. Incidentally I didn’t get it…