Personal Trainer Education: Top 10 Mistakes New Trainers Make

Personal Trainer Education: Top 10 Mistakes New Trainers Make

This is it.


You’ve graduated and made it to the real world. 


Time to move beyond the textbooks, and put your skills into action. 


But, despite many new trainers’ enthusiasm, there are still a number of challenges that you will encounter in the working world.  


Above all, our goal at Focus Personal Training Institute (FPTI) is to provide you with principles, skills, and knowledge so you can succeed. We know you don’t want to become just a statistic; you want to be an expert, changing this industry from the inside out. This is exactly why personal trainer education is key.


You never change something by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller


Here are the most common mistakes made by new personal trainers:


1. Lack of (Continuing) Education


The human body is the single most complex organism on the face of this planet. While our current understanding of the system is quite good, it would be rather short-sighted to assume that a single lecture, class, or degree could provide us with all the resources we may want or need along our journey. This is where personal trainer education comes in.


To put things bluntly, there is never an end to education in this field, or even life. As John Dewey once famously noted: 


Education is not the preparation for life; education is life itself.”


Life is short – examine it deeply.


2. Not Recognizing The Dunning Kruger Effect


The Dunning Kruger effect is rather simple. It’s a cognitive bias rampant among individuals who are new to a particular field of study. 


Most folks overestimate their expertise, as they aren’t aware of their knowledge gaps until they fill those gaps. Consequently, your journey to expertise may end up looking something like this:

Dunning Kruger Effect

In other words, the key point in this discussion is the importance of recognizing where on this scale you fall. 


In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell notes that expertise in any field likely comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in the culmination of a particular skill.


How many hours do you have?


3. Failing to Read


If you haven’t noticed, my first three points in this piece are connected. Reading is the basis for continued personal trainer education, which allows for practical application on your journey towards expertise.


However, reading is quickly becoming a diminishing skill in the wake of social media, video content, and short attention spans. There is no substitute for hours spent reading, culminating knowledge, drawing connections, and expanding your knowledge.


Aim to read for at least an hour daily if you truly want to excel in your craft.


4. Giving Someone What They Need But Not What They Want


Generally speaking, the most successful form of training is one which emphasizes a combination of client ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. Needs are obtained through results, and wants are obtained through enjoyment


Adherence to training is built upon enjoyment, but results come from a successful execution of the basics – hard training, whole food nutrition, quality sleep, and a supportive community.


You will never motivate your clients by trying to force them into a new lifestyle. In short, give them some of what they like and some of what they need in order to get results.


5. Neglecting to Understand the Why


Humans are funny creatures. We’re intelligent, but we’re also stubborn, illogical, and irrational. As a result, sometimes we know the answer to our problem, but we just don’t like the options we’ve been given. 


This is the downside of health and fitness in our nation – a lack of personal autonomy. Often, it’s comfortable to rely on outside sources to solve our problems, because we don’t want to change what we do, how we live, or what we eat. 


Most importantly, you must understand what drives someone before you can give them the resources they need to actually change their life. Figure out their ‘why’, is never as simple as “weight loss,” or “muscle gain.” 


Dig deeper. 


6. Ignoring the Need for a Mentor

Originally, education was based on extensive mentorship along with classroom based learning. Mentors helped to provide a conceptual framework for real world decisions. 


They have spent months, years, and even decades perfecting their craft. So, don’t disregard their insight. Mentors play a crucial role in the passage of information and skills over time.


While textbooks can teach you quite a bit, hands-on experience with an expert can never be replicated within the confines of a printed page.

Personal trainer7. Lack of Planning in Personal Training


One of the largest and most inexcusable errors within the world of personal training is the creation of workouts without context. 


Programming is both an art and a science, as no two humans are alike. Certainly, while textbooks can provide an intellectual framework for on-the-fly training decisions, long term results only come through carefully planned and executed training cycles.


For instance, this is most evident in those individuals who come to the gym and complete the same workout day, after day. Stress builds the capacity to drive change. Therefore, use that to your advantage to predict how the body will react before negative adaptations occur. 


8. Poor Social Etiquette in Personal Training


As the old saying goes, “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Although I harped on the importance of formal education of the beginning of this piece, one of the strongest tools in your tool box is social awareness.


That is to say, most of your communication with clients will occur without words. 


Read their body language. 

Watch their facial expressions. 

Ask questions. 

Figure out what gets them out of bed every day. 


Use that awareness when their motivation dips, or when it’s time to adjust their program. Build relationships based upon what’s important to clients, not you.


9. Thinking That Exercise Will Solve Everyone’s Problems


It’s no secret. Our nation is facing a national healthcare crisis. Firstly, we’re moving less, eating more, sleeping less, and stressing more. In 1960 we spent roughly $27,000,000 (only 5% of national GDP) on healthcare related costs. Today, that number has drastically increased to almost four TRILLION dollars ($4,000,000,000,000 – 20% of our national GDP) as our nation’s health continues to deteriorate. 


While many in the fitness industry feel this is simply due to a lack of activity, that viewpoint may be short-sighted. For instance, some folks may not enjoy exercise, have access to a gym, or be medically cleared to exercise. Others may not understand how to use equipment, nor feel the need to change what they do.


Exercise is a big piece of the puzzle, but it’s limited. In addition, expand your education on nutritional biochemistry, sleep science, emotional regulation, and psychological connection. The delicate interplay between humans and their environment is key if you want to truly understand how to change someone’s life.

Recovery10. Disregarding the Need for Recovery in Personal Training


“Rise and grind.”


“No pain, no gain.”


Sound familiar?


Our culture is in love with fatigue. We’ve created a sociological mindset that rest is “for the weak”. While it may sound motivational to some, the entire concept is both logically and scientifically flawed. 


The body is not designed to go through endless phases of work. Generally, it tends to function in repetitive cycles where periods of hard work (either mentally, physically, or both) are met with an alternating phase of rest.


If you choose to forcibly or voluntarily skip the rest phase because it’s a “waste of time,” you will inevitably be forced to deal with the consequences sooner rather than later. 


As I mentioned in #7, rest is a key piece of the programming puzzle. You must factor in when rest is needed, and how it will be applied. However, this is more than just a simple day off. You must understand how components of active or passive rest enhance recovery.


While sleeping more and days off from the gym are the typical go-to rest modalities, they are just the start. 


Work to build your “recovery arsenal” with different options that suit your clients’ needs: 


  • Soft tissue work (active and passive)
  • Compression gear
  • Sauna usage
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Time in nature
  • Individualized supplementation
  • Nutritional biochemistry
  • Cellular hydration
  • Mindfulness
  • Socialization


And the list goes on…


Use Your Education to Be the Change


As you can see, we’ve now come full circle as all of these components are rather complex – they require additional study (see point #1 above), further reading (#3), mentoring (#6), and planning (#7) to understand how and why to use them. As you can see, personal trainer education is multi-faceted.


In a world full of mediocrity, silver bullet mentalities, and short term solutions, seek to be the change. This is your career, and this is your life. You only get one shot. Don’t look back on it in 50 years with regrets that you only gave 50% of your time, effort, and talents. 

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