Your Personal Trainer Behaves Like a Doctor – my revelation about the fitness industry

In medical school, aspiring doctors learn a lot more about drugs and treating the symptoms of disease, rather than how to prevent disease in the first place. It’s likely that the nutrition and fitness courses they are required to take in medical school don’t offer a comprehensive solution to the prevention of disease.

Nikhil Rao wrote in his article What Your Doc Doesn’t Know About Weightlifting (article here):

medical education is extremely intense, and extremely broad. It has to be. That said, there is a lot it doesn’t cover. We learn the atomic structure of every amino acid (most of us promptly forget all of this after the biochemistry final). We learn the equations for cardiovascular physiology. We learn the branches of every nerve, the origin and attachment for every muscle in the human body.

But we don’t learn the basics of healthy nutrition. We don’t learn about cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations and responses to exercise. We don’t learn about how insulin facilitates the utilization of protein and creatine.

Rao makes a good point in his article that doctors are taught about how to treat the symptoms of disease, usually with drugs and/or surgery, but they are NOT taught about how to prevent it through healthy lifestyle strategies like physical activity and a healthy diet.

Now, wouldn’t it make sense that our culture should place a stronger emphasis on the study, education, and practice surrounding the topic of DISEASE PREVENTION, rather than disease treatment? You would think so, but it’s not the case – and that’s a story much too long for this article to tell. Basically, my opinion is that it all boils down to the love of money, and how that contributes to the medical industry.

Instead, most of our culture’s resources are spent on the research and practice of DISEASE TREATMENT, not prevention. Now, I see a similar theme present in the fitness industry – except it’s not doctors that are to blame, it’s personal trainers.

Personal trainers know all about exercise. Some of the good ones know a little about nutrition, too. Somehow, these personal trainers have figured out a way to keep in shape. They’ve figured out what works for them and their clients, which is why they are healthy all the time and do good business year round.

The problem I see is that many personal trainers will PRESCRIBE a fitness program much like a doctor prescribes treatment for a disease.

“You’ve got __________, so you need ____________.”

That’s generally how the rationale goes. You’ve got a weight problem, so you need to eat less food. You’re weak, so you need a strength training program. You’ve got lower back pain, so you need to stretch more. You’re too skinny, so you need to eat more.

This prescription format isn’t helping people in the way they truly need it. The advice may solve the symptoms of the problem, but it won’t solve the SOURCE of the problem, which could be any number of things – lack of knowledge, personal responsibility, motivation, or discipline to name a few.

For example, chemotherapy may get rid of cancer (while it poisons the rest of your body), but it won’t prevent it from coming back in the future. Similarly, an effective fitness program may get rid of excess bodyfat, but it won’t prevent it from coming back in the future. Much more has to change to ensure that results are natural, sustainable, and permanent.

Now, wouldn’t it make sense that our culture should place a stronger emphasis on the study, education, and practice surrounding the topic of FITNESS PROBLEM PREVENTION, rather than fitness problem treatment? Why don’t we just avoid the problems in the first place by nipping them in the bud? Again, we would think this is a no-brainer, but it’s just not the case with most personal trainers.

I’ve been there myself. I’m a certified personal trainer through the NSCA, and I have worked in health clubs, homes, parks, and churches one-on-one and as a group fitness instructor. I used to prescribe fitness programs to people who needed them, and the clients who followed my advice reached their goals. But I knew that my clients needed something more than just a good program to follow, they needed something that they could put into practice themselves, something that would make them less reliant on a fitness professional. Something that they could OWN.

My fitness program prescriptions were quick-fix solutions to their problems, and it was my solution, not theirs. You see, I’ve found what really works for me. I know how to keep myself in tip-top shape, how to achieve specific goals, and how to enjoy the process. But my way isn’t necessarily the best way for everyone. For me, I’ve cracked the code of how to maintain high fitness levels and enjoy abundant health in my lifestyle. It isn’t even hard work anymore, and I look forward to pursuing my goals because I enjoy the process. I’ve actually fallen in love with the process!

Now, as a personal trainer, I would have a hard time imparting that quality to my clients. What I love to do is probably different than what you love to do. Therefore, I’ve discovered that it takes a lot more than just personal training to give people what they really need and desire. A rote training program isn’t the solution. A personal trainer can easily prescribe a program that will treat the symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle – that’s their specialty, but even the best program won’t cure the source of the problem.

Sure, my personal fitness program would probably be an effective solution for many people trying to achieve common fitness goals. If an average Joe put effort into a comparable fitness program catered to their goals, they would probably achieve them, no problem. But would they OWN those results and would they be able to sustain them long-term because they utterly enjoy the process? I doubt it. Not everyone will enjoy swinging clubbells, hiking, rock climbing, or Prasara Bodyflow yoga like I do. And I wouldn’t want to guide people into only sticking with those physical activities. There’s a diversity of choices out there that can’t even be measured. There are infinite ways to get into great shape, and the last thing I want to do is tell someone that they NEED to do it a certain way, and not to explore other paths.

The Solution

People need to be educated about how to live a healthier lifestyle, how to make abundant physical living an active part of their lifestyle, and how to prevent dis-ease through lifestyle strategies. More importantly, people need to take responsibility for their own physical education. If you don’t want an education, or rather, a re-education, then you’ll never understand the joy to be had in physical living. You can’t do it without first learning how – you won’t find strength, health, happiness, and freedom in a pill, in a magazine article, or in a special workout program. It doesn’t exist.

I’m sorry, but a cookie-cutter workout program won’t cut it. Most people hate working out, and won’t sustain that type of physical activity long term. They need something more, something exciting, something that they’ll dream about when going to sleep at night. They need something that they will ENJOY, that makes them feel happy and free, like a kid again. Now, some people have a genuine interest in lifting weights, cardio, aerobics, etc. Some people DO like to workout, and I’m all for it when that’s the case. However, for those that don’t enjoy working out at the gym, there are limitless options.

As detrimental to my career as it sounds, I wish nobody needed to hire a personal trainer. I wish my profession would go extinct! Fitness should not have to be a complicated subject, and it’s not when you strip it of all the cultural baggage we attach to it. Anyone can become physically fit with a very simple traditional formula – engage in vigorous physical activity regularly and eat good food most of the time. That’s the straightforward path to physical fitness. Add in some habits like avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol, and other toxic substance exposure, and you’ve got a recipe for good health for a lifetime.

With that simple fitness advice, there’s so much potential to play around with. So, shame on any personal trainer who dictates closed-minded, dogmatic beliefs about fitness to their clients. The goal of a good coach should be to teach their trainees how to embody their own expression of physical fitness, not to regurgitate a pre-set path to fitness that has been outlined by out-dated textbooks.

Which do you like better in regards to fitness training?

a) being told what to do, even if you don’t understand why
b) knowing why and how to do something, so that you can do it better for the rest of your life

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

7 Responses

  1. Great article, I really like your philosophy (maybe that is just because it seems similar to mine!).

    I have counseled people on diet in the past, and you can make pretty much all of the same arguments.

    I think what it comes down to is this: We all have only 24 hours in a day, and can only devote so much thought and time to any given thing. That is why we are looking for the quick fix, because we don’t have time for anything more than that. We want to do it all, have our cake and eat it too. What we really need to do is simplify our lives. Let go of the things that are not important so that we can have more time, thought, and energy to spend on the things that really are important.

  2. Very well said, Damien!

  3. I always enjoy your blog. One more time you are spot-on John.

    Doctors are even worse. I mean the average docs, those who work for the industry. They want to treat symptoms.
    They don’t care care for the source and have no clue about solutions. And the few docs who are really good aren’t paid by the public health care system because the system pays for treating symptoms with methods that don’t make you healthier but even more sick. No insurance money for prevention or sufficient and sustainable rehabilitation.
    No it is not about money (different from private insurance companies) because the treatment of symptoms is often more expensive than real help – at least in the long run. It’s the quick fix thinking – the public health system is not interested in your health but only in your ability to do your job. Most jobs are not very demanding in respect to the health and fitness you need to do them. And if you feel like crap take prozac or painkillers.

    That is why I had to do my own research in the field of medicine, psychology, movement research, physiotherapy, training, nutrition etc. to prevent or rehabilitate problems.
    It took me a lot of time and I wonder what the people do who have not the education to understand this stuff and the time to do their own “research project”.

    Among other things I found Scott Sonnon’s material on my journey and it matched well with my own thinking about holistic health, psychoneuroimmunology, somatic education, body-mind-connection and longevity oriented training.

    Yes the “fitness” industry is like the “medical treatment” industry and the (fast) “food” industry. I find machine training, aerobics and the whole bunch of gimmicks in the fitness industry just ridiculous. It makes you dumb, not fit. It is just big business and betraying the clients. Sports clubs for serious amateur athletes aren’t always better. Some martial arts instructors would make Thomas Kurz cringe….And even personal trainers are not always a good option.

    Bottom line: I know exactly what you mean.
    But there is one thing where I don’t quite agree with you.

    You say: ” Anyone can become physically fit with a very simple traditional formula – engage in vigorous physical activity regularly and eat good food most of the time. That’s the straightforward path to physical fitness.”


    Remember the deconditioned state that most peole are in because of desk jobs and too much mental and emotional stress? You mentioned it recently in one of your posts. Vigorous activity on your own would lead to injury for 85 % of the population says Coach Sonnon. Well – I am more optimistic. I say 70 %. That’s why the fitness industry came up with their silly machines — to save the money for trainers without injuring the clients.

    My dance students are average Joes, no pros. Bad coordination, bad self awareness, SMA, fear reactivity etc . The majority of them shouldn’t train vigorously without learning how to do it.
    But even the competitive athletes….I had a class of 17 year old rowers. Some of them had bad coordination in dancing, in walking, in standing (slouching). It seems that even serious sports training can’t compensate for sitting all day in school, before the PC and anywhere. And rowing is sitting too, no “free movement” in all directions.
    They need Intu Flow and some of them a coach or physiotherapist before going into some vigourous activity they are not familiar with.

    “knowing why and how to do something, so that you can do it better for the rest of your life”
    Again I agree – that’s what teaching is all about.

  4. Thank you for the very well-thought comment, Andrea. I’m glad you’re enjoying my site. It’s definitely evolving, that’s for sure. You bring up a very important point – that most people are so deconditioned that they risk hurting themselves by diving right into a new fitness or athletic program. I 100% agree.

    I was trying to convey the point that becoming fit is very simple, which is a message that I think needs to be heard – given that there are complicated and mixed messages being exclaimed all throughout the fitness industry.

    Hopefully, more and more people will become aware of the inherent dangers of exercise that are caused from severe deconditioning, and will take their rehabilitation seriously. We have to walk before we run, as the saying goes. And if you’re deconditioned, you’re technically injured and should treat your body accordingly. Most people have a dulled intuition about their current conditioning level, until they begin to explore it thoroughly and regularly. I agree that Intu-Flow is one of the best ways to get started.

  5. […] Tougas, of made a great comment in another blogpost the other day… We all have only 24 hours in a day, and can only devote so much thought and […]

  6. John, how do you transfer that information when, 1. Your ‘job’ as a trainer is to ‘tell them what to do,’ and 2. Most people have little interest or care regarding the workings of their inner selves? Any thoughts on that?

  7. […] This question was posed in response to this article – Your Personal Trainer Behaves Like a Doctor. […]

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