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Personal Training: FBG Goes Undercover

I’ve always wanted to go “undercover.” Put on a trench coat, dark glasses, a big hat and then have a pin or a broach that looks totally unsuspecting but is secretly a high-tech camera capturing scandalous affairs. Gawd, that would be fun. So, naturally, when I received a free personal training session coupon in the mail from 24 Hour Fitness, I thought, “Yes! This is my big chance!” Granted, wearing a trench coat, dark glasses and a big hat would draw more attention to me in a club than wearing non-assuming workout clothes and the FBGs have no hidden cameras at HQ (yet) let alone ones that look like a broach, I was still psyched. Pulitzer Prize here I come.

I scheduled my appointment for 10 a.m. on a Friday. Not a busy time, by any means, as I hated to take up my victim’s, um, I mean personal trainer’s time since I had no intention of buying a session after the free one. (I feel kind of bad for this, but it’s for the good of the public, right?)

When I first arrived, the easy-on-the-eyes trainer (former college football player) met me at the front desk and took me back to a small office where he asked me my goals. I told him that I work out casually (false), take my dog for walks (true), lift 3- to 5-lb. weights (false) and occasionally do an exercise DVD (big fat lie). The trainer, who we shall call Andy because that was his name, nodded and said, “Give me a second while I draw up your workout.” Not two minutes later, Andy was done with his workout masterpiece. (For the record, I remember spending at least 15 minutes on each of my client’s workouts, but whatev.)

He started me off on free weights, doing some compound moves. We do a squat/overhead-press move, followed by hip lifts/chest presses on the ball. Next it was on to the freestanding cable crossover machine, which oddly resembles a torture device even to me, where I did rows while standing one-legged on a Bosu ball. Next came squats on the Bosu, followed by walking lunges with bicep curls and then planks and side raises on the ball. He cued well, corrected my form when needed and gave an appropriate number of “good jobs.”

Andy kicked my ass. But I’m pretty sure he was on to me, as I suck at acting. I could tell that he was getting agitated that his hardest moves weren’t affecting me like most beginners. And really, part of me forgot that my character shouldn’t be able to do 15-lb.bicep curls and, truthfully, part of me was too proud to act like I was suffering. Yes, even I fall victim to “What will others in the club think about me?”

I will say though that even from the very beginning, his moves and weights were way too hard and heavy for the person I said I was. Twenty reps of squats plus overhead presses? Um, that’s HARD. Plus, towards the end of our session, he asked me about my interest in purchasing sessions. When I said that I probably wouldn’tbuy but would enthusiastically refer my friends and family to him, he turned sour. Quickly. His good looks couldn’t cover up the fact that he was pissed that he wasn’t making money off of me.Before I left, I asked him how long I could do the workout before needing to switch to a new one to continue seeing results. He told me that ideally I need to change my workout every time. Read: YOU MUST WORK OUT WITH ME. Then, I asked him to show me how to set up the torture device up for my height in case I come in and it’s not set correctly. That was like pulling teeth. He gave me a quick demo of the machine that was far from helpful. Read: YOU MUST WORK OUT WITH ME.

(Beware. Rant coming.)

Why do so many fitness professionals continue to keep their clients in their dark? It’s almost as if they feel that if they actually enable people to work out on their own that they’ll be out of work. Which is completely short sighted in my opinion. If your job is to train someone on fitness, then the client better learn something. As a trainer myself, I want my clients to learn and fly away like little birds with their new knowledge and lead healthy lives. I do not want them to depend on me forever. I understand that people have bills to pay, but when your intentions are to really make money—not help people—it shows. People don’t like being sold. I didn’t like being sold. And, for the record, referrals are a great way to make money in any business.

(End of rant.)I have no doubt that if I spent my hard-earned dollars with Andy, I’d get some hella hard workouts and get some great results. I did push myself much harder with him around then on my own. Not to mention that not all trainers operate with money as their numero uno objective. Andy also taught me that I should stick to blogging and leave the undercover investigations to Dateline.

Do you have any experiences with a trainer good or bad? Are you a trainer and have wrestled with teaching/making a living? Have you ever gone undercover? Share your experience in the comments below! —JennPhoto grabbed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/schnappi/2321628609/.

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28 Comments
  1. GroundedFitness says:

    I train at a private studio- so we get paid the same amount whether we have lcients or not, which i feel is the best way to do it. Clients get all confused when we tell them we arent trying to keep them forever- we want to teach them how to do it on their own. sometimes we actually kick people out- or when they want to sign up for the same package, we say no, and cut them back to a few times a week because we know they dont need it. it can be detrimental if you start to rely on your trainer too much because you dont learn how to make time for fitness on your own.

    we have a rule with eac exercise that we teach the client WHY we are doing this exercise, and the next progression that is coming.

    and i wouldnt have been able to fake it either.

    Kelly Turner
    http://www.groundedfitness.com

  2. Erica says:

    hahahah I love this! I wouldn’t have been able to fake it either! Thanks for the fun read.

    Kelly- I love that you get paid the same amount whether you have clients or not!

  3. Melissa says:

    Now I’m thinking I ought to get a trainer. I took off work today because of a hard week last week, intending to get back on the exercise wagon, and now here I sit eating Cheetos for breakfast and procrastinating.

  4. tfh says:

    This is very interesting. Andy has confirmed my sad rational for never seizing the opportunity for one free training session because I’m afraid I won’t be able to say no to future sessions if I don’t like the trainer or don’t wish to continue.

    However, I have had a good experience with a personal trainer at my old gym whom I never hired but would give me “hey, that move could be more effective if you did this” advice, gave me his card but never pressured me to sign up. I’ve kept his card because I figured if I ever did sign up for training sessions that’s the kind of person I’d want.

  5. kjl says:

    This was really interesting, Jenn! I haven’t ever felt the need/had an interest in working with a personal trainer, but I’m sure to some people who are just starting out or need motivation it would be necessary/helpful. If I ever have the need for a trainer, I would definitely seek out one like Kelly and not like Andy!

  6. Just Plain Joy says:

    I’ve had limited success with personal trainers, and I’ve done several of those free trials. I actually got hooked on the nutritionist at the gym! My sister, on the other hand, sees a trainer weekly and enjoys it. I liked your description of your undercover experience!

  7. Sagan says:

    That’s irritating! I’d love to go undercover:) My experiences with personal trainers has just been with boot camp, but they have been AWESOME. They were there for the love of exercise and the fun of it. Didn’t seem to be overly concerned about the money.

    That many squats and shoulder presses can be tough enough even when you ARE used to exercising!

  8. Kat says:

    I love reading about this since I hope to become a trainer soon. Its all about your people skills isn’t it? I think a client also will know if your intent is true or not– teach for the love of health and fitness, not for the love of the greenback. Thanks for the focus!

  9. Maren says:

    I also took a free session at 24 hour fitness. I did not work out AT ALL when I went in. I told the trainer that and that I was really looking for him to show me how to use the machines as I could not afford to purchase additional sessions with him. He did show me how to use the machines, but worked out my arms so much I was sore for over 4 days. For the first two days I could not lift my arms over my head. I don’t know what kind of training some of them have, but it was not for beginners.
    Also, I still don’t know how to use most of the machines at the gym. I have found that asking someone who is working out, not someone who works there, is usually the best option. Most people are happy to help and show you how a machine works.

  10. Donna says:

    I have been working out forever and just a few weeks ago got pulled into working out with one of the trainers at my gym. I was skeptical because I refuse to sign a long term contract but I ended up signing up for a few sessions to kick my independent workouts up a notch and put me on more of a plan. The trainer I was set up with was AWESOME. She really got me out of my rut and showed me machines that I don’t usually work on. Paula also showed me how to do the exercises I already knew how to do more effectively by changing the angle or extension just a bit. If I could shell out $50 a month I would totally do it.

  11. Angie says:

    Wow! What an experience! Myself being a trainer, I also want my clients to feel like at any time they would be comfortable enough to go off on their own. Most just know they lack the motivation and need me to hold them accountable, but the ones that are done after 6 sessions, I really try to leave them with a feeling of “I can do this on my own” attitude and let them know I am always around if they have any questions!

    I am so not a salesy person by any means, but I always offer up more training just in case! ;0)

  12. Andrea says:

    I’ve worked out with tons of trainers at different gyms over the past 15 years, and my biggest complaint is how they’ll bad mouth things previous trainers have taught me, and then tell me the “right” way to do it. Yet, when I ask WHY theirs is the “right” way, there’s not science behind it – it’s just the way THEY do it.

    That being said, I’ve learned SO much from my various trainers, and I’ve never had a bad attitude from one, even when I’m just mooching off of the free first session!

  13. Marcy says:

    This is why I’m too scared to even go the personal trainer route. Yikes, yikes, yikes.

  14. Deborah says:

    I just had my first experience with a personal trainer through Fitness Together here in NJ. I actually bartered free training for free advertising on my blog. (always workin’ it) I blogged about my experience and the results over the 30 day challenge. Here’s one link:
    http://www.jerseybites.com/2008/10/my-birthday-present-to-me-results-are.html

    I hope that link works. If not, just search “fitness challenge”. Since that picture, I’ve probably lost a few more pounds and body fat. I am in the best shape I have been in 15 years, maybe ever. I lift hard and walk on the treadmill on a high incline for 1 hour at least 4 days per week to burn fat. I wear a heart monitor and keep my heart rate below 125. It really works to burn the fat. The big, huge, benefit in working with my trainer was the nutrition counseling. Without it, I would not have made the progress I did in just a month and a half. We’ll be doing another “after” shot in a few weeks. I hope to be really smokin’ by then.

    Thanks for this blog. It’s nice to hear from other women who like to kick butt.

  15. Cassandra says:

    Hilarious, but not surprising. I had a friend who was using a trainer and she was losing a lot of weight and was really jazzed about fitness, etc. Well, her trainer asked her out, which really weirded her out. Things got awkward. She quit her training sessions. She gained the weight back. The end. All because of an unprofessional tool.

  16. Jenn says:

    Amazing comments and discussion guys. I think the morale of the story here is that we should all just hire Kelly and Angie to train us. Period. 🙂

  17. Deborah says:

    My trainer is a married woman with two kids. I don’t have to worry about the pick up factor.

  18. Laura says:

    I'm a member at Gold's and have had two good trainers there. I always asked for a man because I figured the chances of me being annoyed with a perky woman were much greater at 5:00 am. 😉 Anyway, they were both into body building which sort of freaked me out at first, but in the end were great trainers. I never had any pressure to buy more sessions, which I thought was good considering it's a big gym. I also had cell numbers and e-mail addresses for them in case I ever had questions.

    My sister is an independent trainer, and she's always made an effort to personalize each workout she makes for clients. Even when she worked at Gold's and Sport & Health, she always gave her clients programs and photographs so they could work out on their own. She HATED the sales part of her job. There are trainers out there who are genuinely interested in their clients, it just may take a while to find one.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    I had a very similar experience, though I felt so horribly out of shape after the “free” session, that I felt guilted into more sessions, lest I die an early death. And, the entire time I spent my well-earning money, my trainer did routines well above my fitness level and seemed barely interested in doing anything other than flirty with me or telling me that it’s “supposed” to hurt. Even after multiple times of me saying, I can’t walk for three days after week have a session, it was still my fault for being out of shape…

    Man, it was those days that I said, “I wish I had me some Jenn–’cause she’s reasonable and supportive… and doesn’t tell me about how much her dental work is gonna cost while also asking me if I want more sessions…”

  20. Elizabeth says:

    Also, according to the above comment, I need to go to a “grammar” trainer nearly as much as a personal one… Sigh.

  21. Oh She Glows says:

    Grounded fitness- Thanks for your comment, that makes so much sense to operate in that fashion! It is good to know that not everyone is trying to squeeze every last dollar from our pockets!

    Like anything I guess, there will be good trainers and bad trainers. I don’t think it is a fair assumption to think that everyone is going to try and make you rely on them and be dependent.

    I have never had a personal trainer, but I did observe a trainer at my gym for several weeks. She was working with a lady who, it was clear, did not push herself….at all. And the trainer didn’t even try to motivate her, or to improve her fitness week by week. Each week I saw them, they did the same exact routine! I felt like telling her she was wasting her money. Just because you pya big bucks for a trainer does not mean you will magically become fit. It takes discipline from within to really make long term progress.

  22. Lori says:

    You are so sneaky. I loved this! It is so sad to hear is attitude.

    The places I worked, I wasn’t being paid extra to train, it was included. However, I had the same attitude as you did. I wanted people to learn and take off on their own.

    I felt my job was to show people how to exercise and for those that were more advanced challenge them more and give the motivation they were seeking. Working in the health field is about helping people plain and simple.

    It reminds me when I went to a meeting at a gym I was working at in college and the owner said if you weren’t in the fitness business to make money you shouldn’t be in it. Therein lies the problem with commerical fitness centers in my opinion. Although I know they aren’t all like that.

  23. Adriana says:

    I’ve had plenty of clients who choose to stick with me long after they learn what to do- because they know that I’ll push them harder than they would push themselves…in other words, they get a better work out with me!
    As a trainer, I feel like my primary job is motivation. Sure, I need to teach them proper technique, etc. But the real key to results is motivation- the motivation to work at an intensity that will bring results, which is very hard for most people to conjure on their own. My feeling is that there’s about 5% of the population that *love* working out and pushing themselves. Then there are about 5% more who just like being active, but nothing serious. The other 90% don’t like pushing themselves, so they hire us to help. Sure, ideally we’d train them and they’d have a new-found motivation to continue on their own- and I’ve actually had people like that. But the reality is that most people need some help, whether it be from a trainer, a friend, a group, or a class.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ummm…first of all that guy is not a trainer he is a training manager. His job is not to train you it is to show you the value and the difference that personal training makes over trying to figure out the machines on your own and the difference that a trainer makes. He is paid a base plus COMMISSION not paid for your session. 24 hour fitness is not a 2-bit private studio it is a money making machine. Dont do research on things that you really don't know whats going on.

  25. Amy says:

    Signed up for my gym they gave me the whole personal training sales pitch. The body fat percentage chart he showed me was highly inaccurate. It said I was bordering obese; I went home, checked medical charts and I was clearly within healthy range. He was just trying to make me feel fat so I would sign up. I told him I have lost 10 pounds on my own and he said, “Oh, you’ll gain it back.” Nice, thats inspiring. By the way jerk, I’ve lost 20. In your face!!

  26. Cheryl says:

    I had a free training session with a trainer once and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I had recently lost about 15 pounds and had been casually working out so decided to take the gym up on their offer. He did all my initial measurements at the beginning and told me I had too much body fat for someone my age. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but whatever. But that wasn’t the last I heard of it. Throughout the one hr session he brought it up at least 5 more times. Listen buddy – I’m at the gym, I am clearly not happy with my body you do not have to keep rubbing it in. For whatever reason his words really got to me and did the opposite of what he intended. I did not sign up for any more sessions and I stopped going to the gym.

  27. Thats really interesting. I have heard of some horror stories about Fitness First in Aus calling people at midnight etc. Including myself! It is such a turn off – they need to think of a bigger hook to get people to train with them… err.. like striking up a good balanced relationship where they can teach you and and help you get closer to your fitness goals?! I loved this story.. I have had similar experiences! 🙂

  28. Barb says:

    I can’t say enough good things about my personal trainer – in fact, he prefers the term “fitness coach.” From the sounds of other people’s experiences, trainers put you through paces and tell you what to do, but … that’s about it? The “coach” approach includes motivation, support, and handling some emotional female venting that I’m sure he hates, but takes in stride. He also sees his role as teacher, to empower clients to get to a point where they can do it without him.

    I got lucky, though, and came to in in a backwards way. Joined a gym (YMCA = non-profit organization, which likely makes a difference; no high-pressure sales pitches). Took classes; he taught one. Signed up for a small-group training course relevant to my needs; he ran it. So, I got to build trust and see his style long before I decided to make the leap into one-on-one training sessions. It seems to me that THAT is what the free trials should be about – seeing if the person is a good fit for you, not how many machines you can blitz through in an hour.