Is the Best Personal Trainer a Bodybuilding Personal Trainer?
A constant theme of my life seems to be questions about what makes a good personal trainer. I am especially asked this of bodybuilder personal trainers – perhaps because the bodybuilder is a relative rarity in London so they stand out for scrutiny more, or perhaps even because some members of the public associate me more with bodybuilding than with pilates (praise be to God!). So does a bodybuilding personal trainer fit the bill, especially if you might not actually want to turn into a bodybuilder yourself!
The common misconception of the knucklehead bodybuilder making a limited personal trainer is like all bad generalisations half rubbish, and half truth. Venture into any London gym and you will find a variety of bodybuilding personal trainers who aren’t necessarily the smartest or most educated trainers in the universe. However, dig a bit deeper in those very same London gyms and you will unquestionably also find personal trainers who know nothing about bodybuilding…and equally know nothing about personal training!
So what do I think – is the bodybuilding personal trainer suitable only for clients who want to become competitive bodybuilders themselves? Of course not. A good personal trainer needs to wear a huge number of hats – done properly this is a far more complicated profession than most people give it credit for, with an in depth knowledge of nutrition, supplementation, hormonal systems AND in the gym exercise all vital for success – but all things being equal there are certain compelling (at least to me) reasons why I’d opt for a personal trainer who knows bodybuilding over one that comes from any other sporting background.
The bodybuilding personal trainer advantage comes down to two words – BODY COMPOSITION.
If you want to find a personal trainer to get you ready for the London Marathon – then all things being equal choose one with personal experience of distance running. If you want to find a trainer to get you ready for anything else, the chances are that your goal will be “to get in shape”. Whether that means adding muscle, losing fat, or both it still comes down to one thing – improved body composition. And this is where (again I feel I must write all things being equal) the bodybuilding personal trainer will win out every time.
Bodybuilders spend their entire existence thinking of the best ways to get lean without sacrificing any of their hard earned muscle. Given the massive metabolic advantage of holding onto muscle tissue whilst dieting (a simple way to think of this is to understand that 1lb of muscle equals 50 extra calories a day onto your metabolic rate) we all, male and female, can benefit from this knowledge. In short, a well qualified (certifications from GOOD personal training / strength & conditioning organisations such as the NSCA / ACSM, and not the ones we see in London like Premier / YMCA) personal trainer with some sort of bodybuilding experience will be able to provide the following aspects of added value that would be beyond the trainer with no legitimate bodybuilding type exposure –
1) If you haven’t built a reasonable amount of muscle (via bodybuilding / weight training / resistance training – whatever term you wish to use) then how can you be taken seriously as a personal trainer when advising someone to do something that you have never been able to do? Remember, it is a science and an art – if you have never pushed yourself hard I promise that you will never be capable of pushing a personal training client hard.
2) If you have never dieted to get lean, then how can you advise your personal training client accordingly? London gyms are packed full of young, lean personal trainers who are athletic and have never had to diet to display muscular definition. I’ll hold my hands up here and say that I have never really been fat…. but I (alongside anyone with a bodybuilding pedigree) have had to diet extremely hard to get my body fat levels down to the competitive requirement of 4/5%. Unless you know how shitty low carbs can feel you can’t empathise with the client. If you are unaware of the effects of really hard dieting (sleeplessness, moodiness, lack of concentration..the list is endless) then there is no way that you can know what it feels like, and know the tricks to alleviate many of the common problems.
3) An analogy that has just occured to me is that in many ways bodybuilding personal trainers are like the Formula 1 teams of the body composition world. Some of the extreme strategies may not be appropriate, but they all have some lessons that can be translated to the more moderately paced real world.
PS – almost all our London personal trainers have bodybuilding / strength & conditioning type backgrounds – there is no substitute for in the trench experience! And if you are not in London and can’t come to us, and want to improve your body composition, I would go out of my way to find an old fashioned rough, tough gym and identify a great bodybuilding personal trainer for yourself.