You trust your PT, right? They trained for months be­fore earn­ing their job ti­tle, surely? Ac­tu­ally, it might not be so straight­for­ward. WH in­ves­ti­gates how to tell the gym chancers from the game chang­ers

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words ANNA HART

How well trained is your PT?

If you’re a woman and you’re into health and fit­ness (and we as­sume you are – you’re pe­rus­ing this mag, af­ter all), chances are you’ve been bossed about in a gym by a PT at some stage. I know I’ve been shown 17 en­tirely dif­fer­ent ways to do squats over the years. I’ve been con­fi­dently in­structed to ig­nore neck pain as I lifted weights. I’ve been in group ses­sions where I’ve been shouted at to ‘keep on push­ing’ through a se­ries of press-ups even as I felt my form de­te­ri­o­rate. And I’ve met PTS who never both­ered to read my med­i­cal ques­tion­naire or ac­quaint them­selves with my lin­ger­ing shoul­der and pelvic in­juries. If you, like me, have ex­pe­ri­enced the sink­ing sus­pi­cion that the shouty PT you’ve been pay­ing has no idea what they’re do­ing, here’s the bad news: you could be right. Over the past five years, the PT in­dus­try has grown dra­mat­i­cally – there are around 22,000 PTS in the UK and eight mil­lion Brits have gym mem­ber­ships. It’s an in­dus­try that’s now worth close to £600 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Academy of Fit­ness Pro­fes­sion­als. Un­for­tu­nately, this pro­fes­sion, which pre­vi­ously re­quired ded­i­ca­tion, train­ing, com­mit­ment and ex­pe­ri­ence, has be­come in­creas­ingly am­a­teur­ish and frag­mented. Sur­pris­ingly, there is no le­gal min­i­mum re­quire­ment to work as a PT – al­though most gyms re­quire at least a first aid cer­tifi­cate, level 2 gym in­struc­tor cer­tifi­cate, a level 3 per­sonal trainer qual­i­fi­ca­tion and PT in­sur­ance. In to­tal, th­ese re­quire­ments can be met in just four weeks. ‘It’s ridicu­lous how sat­u­rated the PT in­dus­try has be­come in re­cent years,’ says Rich Tid­marsh (, an ex­pe­ri­enced and re­spected trainer, who in­structs per­sonal train­ers. ‘It’s never been more dif­fi­cult for clients to make sure their train­ers are qual­i­fied and trust­wor­thy. There are still great per­sonal train­ers out there, of course. But there’s a grow­ing num­ber of

chancers who do a crash course over a few weeks, pay for In­sta­gram fol­low­ers and then set them­selves up as a busi­ness. At best, their clients won’t get the re­sults they hope for and be­come com­pletely dis­il­lu­sioned. But I’ve also seen ama­teur PTS do­ing real dam­age to clients’ bod­ies.’


Back prob­lems and torn lig­a­ments or mus­cles are reg­u­lar com­plaints from those whose PTS are less than well trained. ‘So many pa­tients come in for treat­ment for in­juries in­curred when a trainer or in­struc­tor has en­cour­aged the wrong tech­nique or ex­er­cise,’ says os­teopath Si­mon Freed­man (si­mon­freed­ ‘Many spinal and joint is­sues are ex­ac­er­bated by poor form at the gym, and small ad­just­ments make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a safe, ben­e­fi­cial ex­er­cise and some­thing that harms your body.’ The clos­est thing to a reg­u­la­tory body for per­sonal train­ers is the Reg­is­ter of Ex­er­cise Pro­fes­sion­als (REPS), which rec­om­mends only work­ing with a trainer who has passed their level 3 per­sonal trainer course. But REPS doesn’t award qual­i­fi­ca­tions di­rectly; it en­dorses qual­i­fi­ca­tions by count­less in­de­pen­dent train­ing bod­ies that con­form to the Na­tional Oc­cu­pa­tional Stan­dards (NOS), which are set at gov­ern­men­tal level by the Sector Skills Coun­cil (SSC) Skills Ac­tive. And there’s wide­spread feel­ing among ex­pe­ri­enced per­sonal train­ers and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers that th­ese stan­dards fall woe­fully short. ‘I’ve met truly ter­ri­ble train­ers who are still REPS level 3,’ says Tid­marsh. ‘Any­way, when did you last re­quest to see a PT’S cer­tifi­cates?’


So, why has the in­dus­try be­come so sat­u­rated? ‘Fit­ness has be­come more as­pi­ra­tional and fash­ion­able and, un­for­tu­nately, some peo­ple just see be­ing a PT as a way to get so­cial me­dia fame, free­bies and val­i­da­tion,’ says Tid­marsh. ‘For some, it’s more of an on­line pop­u­lar­ity con­test than a pro­fes­sion.’ And it’s never been eas­ier or cheaper to set your­self up as the hot new PT on the block. Most big-name chain gyms don’t em­ploy their PTS, in­stead they rely on free­lancers who are able to use their fa­cil­i­ties – and their rep­u­ta­tion – for a small fee. Com­bined with the trend for outdoor train­ing, it’s fea­si­ble for a new­bie PT to set them­selves up as a pro with noth­ing more than an In­sta­gram ac­count and ba­sic equip­ment. ‘His­tor­i­cally, the start­ing point for most newly qual­i­fied PTS would be a gym or leisure cen­tre en­vi­ron­ment,’ says a spokesper­son for the Academy of Fit­ness Pro­fes­sion­als. ‘But the sector has seen some frag­men­ta­tion over the past five years, and al­most 50% of to­day’s per­sonal train­ers take a free­lance or self-em­ployed route.’ Only 18% of peo­ple who call them­selves PTS ac­tu­ally make a liv­ing from the in­dus­try – an in­di­ca­tion of an in­creas­ingly over-sub­scribed sector. Per­haps more than a qual­i­fi­ca­tion or two, one of the most re­li­able marks of a com­mit­ted PT is that, as well as ex­pe­ri­ence, they’ve in­vested in the in­dus­try. ‘Look for train­ers in se­nior roles at small in­de­pen­dent gyms, ide­ally gyms that have been around for three years or more,’ says Tid­marsh. ‘If a trainer owns or runs the place, this shows a level of com­mit­ment that you don’t need if you train clients in the lo­cal park.’


Whether you’re in a group or one-to-one ses­sion, don’t for­get that you’re pay­ing a trainer to per­son­alise your workouts. One of the tell­tale signs of a less-than-rep­utable trainer is that they’re de­liv­er­ing the same work­out to ev­ery client, re­gard­less of their fit­ness goals, life­style, past in­juries or age.

Ge­orgie Okell (ge­ is a PT who teaches box­ing at London gym 1Rebel. ‘I’ve heard about women go­ing to gyms and get­ting that free ini­tial PT ses­sion and the trainer im­me­di­ately as­sum­ing they are there to lose weight, rather than tone up, build mus­cle or im­prove over­all fit­ness,’ she says. ‘A good PT will pay at­ten­tion to their client. Every­one has dif­fer­ent lim­i­ta­tions, dif­fer­ent goals and needs a dif­fer­ent type of mo­ti­va­tion to help them achieve them.’ Even in a group ses­sion, a trust­wor­thy trainer will keep classes small, so they can of­fer vari­a­tions to clients based on spe­cific re­quire­ments. Repet­i­tive strain is on the rise; if your trainer tells you to ‘work through the pain’ when you com­plain of mus­cu­lar sore­ness, bin them right away. ‘A good PT will al­ways think about your long-term health, rather than just try to get you to sweat so you come back next week,’ says Tid­marsh.


Aside from the dis­il­lu­sion­ment that comes from not reach­ing your goals, plus the risk of in­jury, let’s not for­get all the hard­earned cash you lose by choos­ing the wrong trainer. The av­er­age UK PT ses­sion now costs around £40 per hour out­side of London – and £60 an hour in the cap­i­tal. And some PTS are adept at pres­suris­ing you into com­ing back for more. Ob­vi­ously, mo­ti­vat­ing clients is part of the job, but if it feels like bul­ly­ing or pres­sure, walk away. ‘It’s hu­man na­ture to avoid con­flict and we don’t like ad­mit­ting we’ve made a mis­take,’ says Tid­marsh. ‘But if you’re not get­ting re­sults and have doubts about your trainer, be bold and break up with them.’ Put sim­ply: life is too short, and the con­tents of your wal­let too pre­cious to spend an­other minute with a PT who’s not giv­ing you what you need. You’ve been warned.

Close to the chest

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