There is an over-saturation of personal trainers. This is understandable – as rates of inactivity and chronic disease continue to rise it only makes sense that people are looking towards the fitness industry as a lucrative marketplace to make a living. But with so many of their peers around them doing the same work, how do trainers separate themselves from the pack?

Over the years “guru”-type figures have gained large audiences by being overconfident in the small amount of kinesiology-related knowledge that they have. The trend has gotten worse in recent years, as social media has made it incredibly easy for anybody with high charisma and low body fat to gain followers and clients, oftentimes pushing advice that is ineffective at best (“30 day crunch challenge”) and dangerous at worst (“drop 20 pounds in one week”). Unfortunately, the combination of overconfidence and under- knowledge can only lead to disaster. Overconfidence is associated with an inability to suppress the ego and gain new knowledge; it should be seen as a red flag in an industry that should be client-centred as opposed to trainer-centred. In addition, low levels of practical knowledge is equally disastrous. Just as a mechanic with only one tool will inevitably wreck your car, a personal trainer with knowledge in only one training modality will inevitably wreck your health. Oh, you’re giving heavy barbell bench press to the guy who has limited shoulder range of motion? I hope he has a good physiotherapist…

In a culture where it is increasingly not okay to show weakness, the phrase “I don’t know” is avoided by the majority of trainers and educators. Oddly enough, it is that exact phrase that may give you a hint that you are talking to someone who has lots of knowledge and lots of practical experience. Case in point: Emma McCrudden, my mentor in the world of sports dietetics, has helped hundreds of Olympic athletes improve their health and performance. And more than anyone I’ve met, Emma will say

“I don’t know, but I can find out for you” when encountered with a nutrition-related question. This represents humility, honesty, and most importantly an unwavering commitment to not try and fit square pegs into round holes (or give meat to vegans, haha). Assessing a trainer’s willingness to say “I don’t know, but…” may be a great litmus test for people out there who are looking to find a quality personal trainer. Similarly, the phrase “it depends” is also representative of good practice. While “gurus” give inflexible cookie-cutter advice for all fitness-related problems, quality trainers understand that the solution to any problem depends on the context – including who they’re working with, what their training history is, and what their goals are. Because “it depends” is such a good predictor of good coaching, below I’ve presented you, the personal trainer-less reader, with a few examples of how to sniff out bullshit exercise professionals.

1) “My muscles are really sore, should I take ibuprofen?”

a. Guru response: “Absolutely, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen have been shown to reduce inflammation and get rid of muscle soreness.”

b. Quality response: “It depends. If your goal is to build muscle, your body requires a certain level of post-exercise inflammation. Taking ibuprofen might dampen this response and ruin your hard work in the Richmond Gym. Also, do you have stomach or kidney problems? Ibuprofen may be contraindicated for people with a compromised GI tract. But if the soreness is really messing with your quality of life then yes, ibuprofen might be a good idea for you.”

2) “I heard that high-intensity interval training is the most effective type of cardio, is that true?”

a. Guru response: “HIIT has been shown to improve your cardiovascular fitness in less time than traditional low-intensity endurance training. You absolutely should prioritize HIIT over other forms of cardio.”

b. Quality response: “It depends. If you are hypertensive, HIIT may cause what’s called concentric cardiac hypertrophy, or a thickening of your heart’s walls when really what you need is the eccentric hypertrophy, or a stretching of your heart’s walls that can only be achieved through sustained low-intensity cardio. Also, if you want to participate in that marathon later this year, you should not base all your training around HIIT, as it only improves your aerobic capacity up to a certain point. But hey, if you’re very limited on time, doing a HIIT workout every once in a while would be excellent for you as it saves time and still improves many aspects of your cardio.”

3) “Last month I sprained my ankle, how long should I wait before I can start running again?”

a. Guru response: “If I remember correctly, your physiotherapist said that you can return to regular activity, such as running, in 6 to 8 weeks.”

b. Quality response: “It depends. I reached out to your physiotherapist and told her that we will be working on regaining full range of motion and lightly stressing the sprained ankle in a pain-free way in order to strengthen the area and prevent future injury. But we have to take it day by day. You may be able to start running earlier than 6 to 8 weeks if we stay on top of your recovery and rehab. Conversely, it may take longer than 6 to 8 weeks if you become deconditioned during that time or your running mechanics change due to the injury.”

So as you can see, while the barrier to entrance for all personal trainers is the same – a (roughly) thousand dollar fee and a 70% passing score on a written examination – there is a huge difference between the knowledge and application of a mediocre “guru” trainer and a true professional. If you are looking for a quality coach or personal trainer right now, listening for the phrase “it depends” may be one of the indicators you might use to fast-track yourself to better fitness. If you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.

Pat Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness

Crux Fitness has 2 locations: Richmond, Cloverdale