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Nick Mitchell: Beware of Coaches Who Teach Beyond Their Pay Grade

Are you a professional trainer or fitness enthusiast who is as confused as hell by what you read online?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to address a well-grounded fear only to sell you my “secret” way to demystify the jargon and bullsh*t, but I am going to give you a warning.

There are now a bunch of “coaches” (why are they calling themselves coaches if they are personal trainers by the way? Could it be to add credibility that they feel they are otherwise lacking?) out there who have decided to make a living teaching trainers about the technical aspects of Personal Training.

Dodgy self-proclaimed titles aside; I am ALL for this.

I can’t stand the mushy BS of the “six-figure marketing guru” trainer, but I think that every nugget of technical information a trainer can pick up will serve him or her in good stead IF they are then able to apply that knowledge to helping their clients.

Always focus on finding ways that will help your clients and then every other aspect of your business, from personal fulfilment to cold, hard commerce, will improve beyond measure. My primary focus at UP has always been to relentlessly improve our Personal Training product; in other words, find ways to keep on getting better and more consistent client results. This appears to have paid off somewhat, with plans to open new locations in our fifth, sixth and seventh countries within the next three to six months.

nick mitchell

Don’t just get your (useless) Personal Training certification. You only need that to get insured. After that keep on getting educated with hands-on learning, attending courses, and then using your brain and imagination to apply that new knowledge to the appropriate circumstance.

So far so good, but where’s the warning?

The problem as I see it is that more and more in post-certification PT education we have the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome’ on some kind of endless loop.

Sexy stuff sells, and the people teaching a lot of the PT education courses are in the business of making money. I certainly don’t blame them for that. It means that in an effort to keep content fresh, to stand out from the crowd, and to excite the eager audience who craves something new, we now have a proliferation of “coaches” who are stepping beyond their remit.

Here is the cold hard truth that some people don’t want to hear: in order to become a great Personal Trainer, you do not have to take 20 courses a year. You do not even have to take 20 courses in your lifetime.

You probably do need to take a few courses, though, and you probably need to keep refreshing your knowledge through reading or interaction with intelligent, hungry and like-minded colleagues.  It’s something that’s sorely lacking for the vast majority of Personal Trainers in commercial gyms, and over the years I’ve learned to appreciate that this is a distinct advantage for the trainers who work at UP.

Personal training education

As I’ve already written, you learn by doing, by thinking, and by being totally invested in your clients’ progress.

What you need to remember about personal training is that it is extremely hard to do well because of the all-round skill set and commitment required – but it is not rocket science.

A great trainer masters the fundamentals. He lives and breathes “the basics” and occasionally overlays something a little bit more complicated on top of that.

To give you one example: a great Personal Trainer needs to intrinsically understand exercise biomechanics (there are courses that help to teach this, but not enough). However, the irrelevant wittering that I endure on social media about “GLUT4 translocation”, “beta cell dysfunction”, and convoluted supplement protocols (a trap I fell into once upon a time – and yes I still believe in supplements, but that’s a subject for another day) to fix incredibly complicated health issues is only mental masturbation for bored trainers who need to feel the dopamine rush of learning something “new”.

At UP we receive literally hundreds of PT job applications every month. We are constantly growing and have dedicated time slots every week in all our gyms across the world for interviewing and assessing those who are good enough to make it in for a face-to-face chat. 

I like to think that we know what to look for in a professional PT. It is always a fundamental appreciation and (potential) mastery of the basics, and it is never disappearing down the rabbit hole of misunderstood science.

UP training

Allow me to put this argument in a different way. Would a great metabolic scientist make a great PT? If you know anything about the PT business, then you know that answer is a negative.

Why are you then trying to learn about mind-shatteringly complex metabolic processes when you have not mastered the fundamentals of your trade? Mastering the fundamentals means that you should be getting consistent, high-quality results with at least 80% of your clients. I can assure you that very few of you are getting close to that mark.

Are you perhaps being a little bit naive in thinking that you have the right education (before you get all twisted up, don’t confuse intelligence with education) to understand complex science that takes academically smart people many years of formal study to work up to?

What about the person teaching you this horrendously complicated subject?  Have they put in the academic hard yards to really be able to crystallise the information in a way that gives it the correct context? Doing a Sports Science degree and reading a few things on PubMed does not qualify you to teach ‘hard science’.

Have you ever been to see a specialist doctor? One of the frustrations of dealing with them is that they invariably take a very narrow view when it comes to alleviating your problem. 

A gastroenterologist knows all about the processes of digestion, but would refer out for nutrition advice. 

An orthopaedic surgeon might be too quick to resort to the knife or cortisone shot, and be ignorant of the latest therapy options. They adopt this approach largely because the complexities and layers of understanding of their own work force them to specialise.

And yet now we have Personal Trainers attempting to teach other Personal Trainers a bit here and a bit there of complicated, often highly-speculative science, with claims that they can show an all-round perspective (that the medical community largely fails to achieve) in a weekend course. I feel a bit embarrassed for the industry even just writing that last sentence!


PT education often seems to me to be suffering from ‘small man syndrome’. As a profession, we are looked down upon, and that can easily give those who take it seriously the burning desire to prove their intelligence and value. We need to prove it in the right way, though, and not fall into the trap of being the well-meaning bullshitter.

Personally, I think that being a great PT is hard enough and life-changing enough not to need to masquerade as jacked-up medical doctors. 

Are you aware that in many cases you can change a client’s life far more effectively than a doctor? Getting under someone’s skin and helping them make life-changing habits is a lot easier for a good PT, who sees his client several times a week, than it is for a medical professional and their monthly 10-minute appointment.  Can you imagine if governments laid on mandatory, free Group Training classes and diet support for the obese? We would change the health of the western world!

It’s time that the Personal Training industry was proud of the amazing work that it can achieve. Part of that process is to ditch the insecurities and accept what we are and embrace all the good that we can do. 

I was shown the Twitter bio of a trainer the other day – it said ‘martial artist/actor/body transformation coach’.  You all know that person is going to be a clown. 

Let’s keep on trying to improve ourselves, but ditch the need to be pseudo-intelligent fitness versions of the classic ‘actress/model/singer (waitress).’

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