Blog, bodybuilding|fitness|frank zane

Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

In the early 1980’s it seemed unusual as I watched one of the guys who worked out at World Gym in Santa Monica put a young lady through a workout. I wondered why she was letting him massage her butt in plain view of everyone. It was strange but I guess this was part of her training program. Nowadays it seems almost every bodybuilder is a personal trainer or wants to become one and earn upwards of $50 an hour. And in Los Angeles and other big cities personal trainers have no shortage of clients.

Not that there is anything wrong with this. A lot of undisciplined people realize that the easiest way for them to get in shape, providing they have the cash, is to hire a personal trainer to put them through their workout. The trainers have some exercise background and have taken a certification course so they have some credentials. And many people who aren’t yet personal trainers want to be. With the growing body awareness today, the expanded fitness client base beckons to many who see the opportunity to increase their income.

So while I think that on the whole this is a good thing, there are a few ingredients in this quest for fitness recipe that are distasteful to me. Even though I’ve trained thousands of people over the years, I’ve never thought of myself as a personal trainer. I like to consider myself as a trainer of personal trainers, or at the very least, one who enables others to train themselves without having to continually rely on an ongoing personal trainer. While there are many people who will probably always either rely on a trainer or not train at all, I feel the majority of people who are addicted to being trained by someone could very easily find ways to stay motivated enough to do it alone or use the motivation of a training partner, providing they could find a reliable one.

One of my goals is to liberate people who want to be more fit from reliance on a personal trainer. Such self reliance demands people take responsibility for their own workouts. A good way to do this is to change the way one talks about their training situation. An expression I often hear from people who have a trainer is “He has me doing…” —-this is an example of powerless speech. To overcome it first realize that no one is making you do anything, you are choosing to do it yourself. It’s been you doing it all along, not your trainer, even if he spots you and helps you with forced reps.

In many cases personal trainers give wealthier clients the excuse not to be responsible for their workouts. These trainers serve as ‘weight caddies’ handing fat cats their weights, picking up after them, counting their reps, even telling them when to breathe. And although I often hand clients the weight when I train with them, I refuse to pick up after them or count their reps, or tell them when to exhale. I like to see people do this on their own. I love to see people get a great pump after each set, and in order for this to happen they must be focused, aware of the movement, and in touch with the sensations their body is sending them as feedback.

Another potential problem I see is what can happen when trainers think everyone is just like them. I’ve seen trainers who have power-lifting backgrounds giving their clients heavy squats and dead-lifts even thought it’s clear that’s not what they need. The result of this lack of empathy is usually injury or over-training. As a trainer, you just can’t measure everyone with your own fitness yardstick. Everyone is different and has a different threshold for how much training is enough.

Not everyone should train to failure. Actually I don’t think anyone should train to failure. Laws of behavioral science tell us that people need positive reinforcement to continue performing successfully. Failure is a form of punishment. I like to see a person’s final rep be successful and in good form. Failure invites injury. There are plenty of ways to maximally stimulate a muscle without resorting to training to failure (such as drop sets where you continue your reps by dropping to a lighter weight) but these techniques are only called for when you are already in great shape and close to absolute peak.

As you get older it’s much safer to do slower negatives with lighter weights. There’s more control of the weight and the muscle interprets the weight as being heavier. Also it’s important to remember to stretch between sets. You’ve got to rest between sets anyway. Stretching keeps the muscles warm, pumped and allows you to regain your strength and focus for your next set.

So I have my own creed when it comes to people who pay me to help them with their workouts. My goal is to help them develop self-reliance, enough so they don’t need me to do their own training and do it on their own. But how do you teach a person discipline? Practice the perfect workout, don’t talk it, or expect someone to do it for you. Concentrate, be in present time, don’t talk while performing a set. Don’t ask me a question while I’m in the middle of a set, nor will I ask you one. This forces a break in focus on your set while your mind goes into search mode for the answer to the question. The important thing is getting a good workout, not talking about it. You don’t have to know why something works for it to work. You do need to know procedure, you need to know how to do it. During a workout it’s all about how, not why.

But we’re all human. Sometimes I find myself taking a little too much rest between sets (never in the midst of a set) during a workout. When I was competing I would only talk to people before or after workouts. When my priorities were aligned I had a real purpose to train hard it wasn’t hard to do what I needed without any help from anyone. When I had a training partner it was even easier. But good training partners are hard to find. So what to do?

A nice way is to listen to a guided workout while training. I made such recordings years ago that one can listen to while training taking you through your entire workout. Listening to them I realized how much easier it was to train with someone telling me what to do even if it was myself.