How and Why I Became a Personal Trainer (and it's not completely flattering)

September 15, 2016

So if you read my about page you know the cliff notes version of my story. In that post, I talk about the path I took from depressed, obese, smoker to husband, father and small business owner. Today I want to talk to you about how and why I became a personal trainer... and I wrote it I realized... it's not completely flattering. 

 

The first time I considered training was at the gym I attended regularly. Specifically, the people in my gym started approaching me and asking me to train them. Me! It made sense, I guess. They saw my results. They saw the fat steadily melting away to be replaced by muscle. They saw the shape of my face change. My bearing and attitude had changed as well... from skulking and slouched to engaging and confident. They simply wanted what I had. I explained I wasn't a trainer. I had no certifications. They offered me money. Honestly, I said no not out of principle. I had no confidence I could do it for them. I would fail. I had no idea how to communicate or teach. I was also afraid they'd ban me from the gym for training without working there and I needed that place. Really, really needed it. So... not principled. Afraid, mostly. 

 

Flash forward six months and I was facing another crisis. Events beyond my control (and still too close for comfort to discuss) left me facing a fresh new slate of choices. One of them was, "how am I going to make money?" I had numerous jobs and half spent career starts but none of them captured my interest for long. Then I remembered people offering me money to train them. They had asked me to help coach them to change their lives like I had changed mine. I wanted money and I wanted a job I wouldn't dread waking up to go to. Also, frankly, I figured it wouldn't be too hard to get certified. I mean I had been in athletics for much of my early life and then managed to transform myself in middle age. A few weeks of study and presto changeo I'd be ready to make money! So... again... Not the most noble of motivations. Money. Pleasure. Ease. 

 

I asked around for the most credible certifying agency. The one with the test with the highest fail rate. The one I could walk into nearly every gym with and get hired because it showed I knew my stuff. NASM was the ticket. Let me tell you - the NASM test was not easy to pass. I had to learn, yes, but I also had to unlearn all I thought I knew that was wrong. I started to recognize how even though I had lost fat and gained muscle I had set myself up with a host of new problems. Chronic back problems with flexion, tendinitis, muscle imbalances hip dysfunction from that and so on. I learned how if I had taught my personal approach to others I would have at best cheated them and at worst injured them. That was a wake-up call. I could've been hurting people. 

 

I passed on the first try. Hey, I know I'm smart and more than a little obsessive so I studied the hell out of the material and aced it. But then it came time to work with people. They didn't do much preparation for that in my certification process. I took the first job I could land just to get started. My motivations still practical at best, still small and scared at worst. 

 

I started at a big box corporate gym with about 7,000 members. They marketed to clientele who were not familiar with exercise or gyms and many had never been a gym member. Ever. I wasn't prepared for the lack of experience or sever lack of fitness in most of my clientele. Diabetics, Arthritis, morbid obesity, sever back pain, knee pain, injuries from years past, surgeries, fear of exercise and being in a gym, and a thousand other new conditions I had never dealt with in reality. Book learning was good. Working with people...Wow, whole new ballgame. And that is when it happened. I was challenged. I had to learn again. How to regress and progress them through movements. How to build on what they could do and keep that momentum going. How to motivate. How to listen. Really, maybe the biggest thing was the listening. What were they saying and not saying. What did they really want? How were they really feeling? I had to learn so much. It was great! Even better, and this was the clincher, was the first time one of my clients pulled me aside and gave me one of the most sincere an wholehearted thank yous I have ever had. They explained to me, in detail, how they had failed so much before and how they had been afraid and how they had been in pain and weak and tired and now... not. Now they could do all sorts of things they had thought impossible and they were enjoying it. I had changed their lives, they said. That feeling. It's hard to describe. But at that moment I was in. Really in. Over the next two years I got that nearly every day. It was during that time that I started compiling my list of how I would run things if it was my gym and I set the rules. If I could train them as I wanted. Unfettered. I used my experiences with what motivated people and what kept them going. How to get them to the point where they could thank me for changing their life and I could say, "I didn't change your life. You did. I just coached you and it's been amazing" and mean it.

 

So here I am. Moved to a new state. Starting my own little training enterprise. Moving not out of fear, or greed, or ease. My purpose is to do what I can to help 1-5 people at a time to change lives for the better. To help people enjoy their lives to the fullest. To help them get out of pain, physical or emotional. To help them fulfill their potential. Me. Trying to be one of those people. You know. The mission people. Yeah, I guess I am.

 

Even so I still drink so much coffee that when I'm cremated I'll probably smell like French Roast. Get a few too many rum and Cokes in me and I'll want to wrestle you on the living room floor then refuse to go to bed (that might be fun for your wife and friends at 22 not so much at 42.) And I bet that Marcus Aurelius, Jean Val Jean and Roger Burton never had their wives chuckle and tell them, "Sometimes you're such a nerd" when they finished a ten minute speech on some book or movie or game.