Mission Statement for Personal Trainers

By: Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, CPT.

My name is Tony Gentilcore, and I’m a personal trainer. There, I said it. Like many alcoholics in their first AA meeting, revealing such information can often times be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Not because I am actually embarrassed to admit that I am a personal trainer, but rather, because I am embarrassed for the profession at times. It’s no secret that there are a lot of people out there who have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to describing their past experiences with a personal trainer, and rightfully so. Matter of fact, I came across this survey from an undisclosed source, which asked people to illustrate their past experiences:

Collin, 34, lawyer: I was expecting to hire someone to help me strengthen my back and get rid of my lower back pain. Not only do I still have lower back pain, but I also have a shoulder impingement to boot.

Mary, 42, housewife: Who needs gossip mags when you have a personal trainer who would rather talk about who he banged last night than teach me how to squat properly?

Alexis, 23, student/model: like oh my gawd, is it weird that my personal trainer said it was gym policy that all clients had to wear tight shorts and that he had me do nothing but pull-throughs and Romanian deadlifts during our session?

Richard, 37, teacher: I would have been better off hiring Richard Simmons.

That being said, this is NOT an article geared towards saying how much personal trainers suck. Who am I to say who stinks and who doesn’t? For all I know, a lot of people could be saying the same things about me. However, what I would like to do with this article is elaborate on some of the qualities/characteristics that I feel separate a “good” trainer from a “bad” trainer. So consider this my Jerry Maguire moment and allow me to write this unofficial “mission statement” for personal trainers.

Who’s coming with me?

Mission Statement #1

I shall get certified by a reputable organization:

Sorry, but getting certified through www.howtogetpeoplejacked.com for three easy payments of $49.95 or attending a weekend seminar sponsored by Personal Trainers R Us are not necessarily the way to go. In essence, getting certified is more a formality than anything. It allows you to be able to get your foot in the door and the majority of clubs out there do expect that you get certified through a NATIONALLY recognized organization before they will hire you. The gold standards in the industry are generally recognized as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Other reputable certifications would include, National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

As I mentioned above, getting certified allows you the opportunity to get your foot in the door and gives you some credibility. However, when you consider the fact that there are some certifications out there that allow take home tests, how “credible” can you be? Regardless, you do have to get certified. But what you do with that certification is entirely up to you. I have always stated that what differentiates a good trainer from a bad trainer is self education, which brings us to Mission Statement #2.

Mission Statement #2

I shall make it a point to read/study at least one hour per day.

I am certainly not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last. Go to any conference or seminar, and just about every speaker will say this time and time again. It’s fairly simple really. Read/study for one hour per day, and you will be in the top 5% in your chosen field within three to five years. Who wouldn’t want that?

I can attest to this wholeheartedly. A little over four years ago, I was working in my first gym as an intern thinking I knew everything there was to know when it came to getting people into shape. Looking back, I can honestly say I sucked! I STILL think I suck. But I made it a point to start reading various forums and reading any article I could on strength and conditioning and nutrition. I also started buying various books to read and made it a point to try to read one per week (sometimes two). I became the epitome of a nerd. And chicks loved it dammit.

Now I am working at one of the top clubs in Boston and writing for several online magazines and receiving e-mails from random people saying that they enjoy my writing and that some of my articles have helped them to make significant progress in their own training. I am even approaching rock star status, and getting recognized at various conferences and seminars I attend. Okay, two people have noticed me, but it’s still cool.

And for all of those people who state that they have no time to read, I call bullshit. If you have time to watch endless hours of television every night (Dancing with the Stars?), then you have time to read. One hour per day is not much to ask. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even have to be a straight hour.

  • 1. Many of us take public transportation to work everyday, myself included. I have a 35-45 minute commute each day (both ways). This is the perfect opportunity for me to get some reading done. At least until my motion sickness kicks in.
  • 2. I know many of you waste time at work on the internet. Instead of using IM to gossip with your co-worker who is across the office, visit a few reputable online fitness sites and read their articles. An article here and there will add up during the day.
  • 3. For the ladies out there who dread Monday Night Football, take the opportunity to get some reading done.
  • 4. For the guys out there who dread Grey’s Anatomy, take the opportunity to get some reading done.
  • 5. Read while “taking care of business.” [aka: sitting on the toilet].

Long story short, it never hurts to read and in doing so, you will only make yourself more valuable as a trainer and as a human being in general.

Mission Statement #3

I will not be JUST a salesman

Don’t get me wrong, as a personal trainer you HAVE to be able to sell yourself and be able to sell training packages to clients. If you don’t, you won’t make money, and you can say “bye bye” to that sweet Storm Trooper Halloween costume you have been trying to save up for. What I don’t agree with is the trainer who is adamant on purposely holding clients back in order to get them to buy more training sessions in the future. To me, this just seems very shady and unethical.

One of your goals as a personal trainer should be to get your client to the point where they aren’t as dependent on you. You should want to get them to the point where they are able to walk into any gym and know what they need to do and how to do it. I think it’s an awesome feeling when I can take someone who has never lifted a weight before in her life and a few months later, she is teaching someone else how to deadlift.

Trust me, don’t be that trainer who holds back with his/her clients. Getting people results is what is going to keep them coming back, as well as get you referrals. If other people see that your clients aren’t making progress, the likelihood of them hiring you is slim to none.

Mission Statement #4

I will not be just a rep counter

I see this ALL the time. A trainer is with a client, he or she is standing there with their arms folded in front of them, looking in the other direction, and counting reps with a monotone while their client squats with atrocious form. If you’re with a trainer who does this, please feel free to karate chop them to the neck.

I am such a stickler for form and being hands-on with my clients. The LAST thing I want is for some other trainer or potential client to watch me with a current client and think, “what in the heck is that guy doing?” Be proactive and be a coach! When I am working with a client and teaching them how to squat for example, I am all over the place giving cues and feedback of what I want them to do and making sure they are doing it right. I am not just standing there counting reps and checking out the hot girl on the elliptical. Okay, I am checking out the hot girl on the elliptical, but my client still has impeccable squat form, so shut up!

Mission Statement #5

I will know my functional anatomy

True story. I was chatting with a fellow colleague who will be starting his first training job in a few weeks. We’re standing there talking about the baseball play-offs and how it sucks that Pedro Martinez is out with a torn rotator cuff. He looks at me and says, “you mean the rotator cuff in the shoulder, right?” [enter: crickets chirping]. I even know of a massage therapist who was working with an elite athlete and the athlete had to show HIM where the TFL was!

Believe it or not, I have come across this more often than you would like to think. I am not saying you have to know every single origin and insertion of every muscle in the body, but you should know where the rotator cuff or TFL is for crying out loud. Knowing your functional anatomy will only make your job easier when it comes to program design and fixing people, not to mention it’s a great selling point when you’re able to explain to prospective clients that because “x” muscle is weak, “y” muscle is inhibited. People eat that stuff up.

Mission Statetment #6

I won’t use cookie cutter programs

The same program will not work for everyone. I thought this would be obvious, but apparently it isn’t. I still see some trainers using programs they got out of Flex Magazine (circa 1999) with every client they work with. What works for one person, will not work for the other. And here’s a little hint: any program you get out of a muscle magazine will not work for 99% of the general population.

If someone hires you to get them into shape, the least you can do is design a program that caters to their individual weaknesses, imbalances, health history, and current orthopedic issues. If you don’t, you’re a lazy asshole.

Mission Statement #7

I won’t be the “functional” trainer

Functional training has grown in popularity within the past five years or so, and with it….no one knows what the heck it is! To me, functional training is anything that improves a real life quality. Call me crazy, but having a client perform a one-legged squat on a foam pad while holding a medicine ball above their head is NOT functional. It’s a waste of time. The same can be said for squatting on BOSU balls. How do any of these things improve a real life quality? Unless you’re training someone for the circus, they really have no place in any training program.

At the same time, you have to put things into perspective for your clients. What are you going to say when someone asks you, “how is performing arm curls while standing on this wobble board going to help me?” I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head. And please don’t say, “it activates the core!” Sure, it activates the core. But it also decreases the rate of force production, which kind of defeats the purpose in the first place. On the other hand, when you have an 80 year old woman perform rack pulls from knee height, you can explain to her that it will make lifting a bag of groceries off a counter much easier. And guess what? That “activates” the core too!

In the end I just feel that the whole concept of functional training has gotten to be a bit ridiculous. I understand that as a trainer, you want to set yourself apart from the masses and do something different. But at the same time, you have to think to yourself, “will this specific exercise actually help my client in his or her everyday life?”

Mission Statement #8

I will be adaptable

How I train people now is totally different than how I trained people four years ago when I first started. It’s even different than how I trained people three months ago! If you aren’t constantly changing things and experimenting with different modalities, then you’re shortchanging yourself. It would be kind of conceited to think that your training programs are THAT good that they never need to be tweaked or altered in some way.

This ties in very well with the “read one hour per day” statement. After I read a book, I am always seeing how I can implement certain movements or change my program design to get more efficient results. As Alwyn Cosgrove always says, “absorb what is useful, reject what is useless.” Be adaptable and open minded to other training philosophies. There is no one perfect way to train someone, yours included.

I’m Off My Soapbox

Again, this article was not meant to come across as me bashing personal trainers. Well, maybe a little. But I am a personal trainer, so I’m allowed to. Either way, I hope I was able to shed some light on some of the qualities and characteristics that I feel all personal trainers should encompass.

About the Author:Tony Gentilcore is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and personal trainer (CPT) through the NSCA. He currently resides in the Boston area and can be contacted at tgentilcore18@yahoo.com.

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11 Responses

  1. Goldin Martinez says:

    I really enjoyed this article. The mission statements were really helpful. Thank you!

  2. Mark says:

    it was awesome

  3. john poppie says:

    this is great someone who is down to earth no bs just train and train correctly i.e. form and things of that nature. i wanna learn more.

  4. Noel Lyons says:

    Tony, You make many good valid points, but the one I picked up on the most was “Functional training has grown in popularity within the past five years or so,….but no one knows what the heck it is”.

    This is so true, I am amazed at what the Trainers in my gym ask their clients to do. You’re right in that many of the exercises serve no real purpose, recruit less muscle mass and slow the tempo of the workout down. All not good!

    But FT in the right hands does have merit. There is still too much mindless exercise in the gym (eg most machines, poor form, concentration etc) and clients need to associate with exercise rather than disassociate (eg mindful exercise). So whereas the motivation for FT has often been extrinsic (that bland statement of improving the quality of their everyday lives), it is far better when it is intrinsic (where the focus is physical mastery, developing body awareness, mind-body connection etc).

    It’s a subtle shift, but may well explain those who get FT and those who don’t….. Noel Lyons.

  5. Great article. Your mission statement #5 (I will know my functional anatomy) story about an ignorant massage therapist made me cringe!

  6. Keith Pigg says:

    your passion came through. i am a firefighter/paramedic and am heading the health and wellness program for our department. i recently recieved my certification for fire service peer fitness trainer through ACE and taking careful baby steeps here, these guys are ruthless. thank you for your candor. keep it up.

  7. thanks for this. it made me laugh. I’m in the throes of getting certified (on the ground, in a classroom and a gym, with an instructor, by a reputable organization, not online!) and finding this article was very timely… I’m getting certified, not only because its the legal thing to do but BECAUSE I want to be moral and ethical about my career AND not mess with people’s health… its the one most important thing they’ve got. Its not my right to just ‘make things up as I go along’… Just nbecause certain things worked for ME doesn’t mean it will work for them and I want to do right by my clients, not for my bank account. THANKS for this…

  8. Dave says:

    As somebody just starting out as a PT I found this article extremely helpful and a good reminder as to what Pt is all about! Good to hear somebody shoot straight from the hip and keep it simple!!

  9. JJ says:

    I enjoyed your article. I have been personal training at a Gym for 2 years and my income is horrible, around $6k this year. In additon clients tend to not be committed, cancel all the time, and choose to eat poorly. I had so much passion to begin with and now just find myself highly dissapointed. But the flip side is when I’m on the floor training clients (I spend tons of time designing programs & mix it up ALL the time, plus I’m always spotting and giving cues) I really enjoy what I’m doing and feel so excited when they reach new strength levels. No one teaches us at our gym how to sell and I believe it is that tool that I’m missing but sadly I’ve always felt fearful when trying to sell something to someone. I just let people come to me.

  10. James says:

    Would you like some cheese to go with that whine? I have come across many trainers just like you over the years. Always quick to point out what is wrong but is not encouraging enough to fix anything. Dont get me wrong, you make some valid points and I agree but is this a mission statement or do you just like to complain. Judging from your choice of four letter words you do. Here is a hint. Instead of add to the list of crappy trainers by posting negative insults about them on the internet, spread a little knowledge. Encourage and inspire. Be a leader instead of a manager. Maybe then you wont see all this going on. Then as yourself, Are you the example?

  11. Emily Maciejewska says:

    Fantastic article. Totally true and has made me want to read more and more books!
    Thanks so much!