#8: My Thoughts on Personal Training
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
I preface these thoughts with a reminder of my place in the fitness world: I have no fitness certifications, nor am I a competitor of any sort. I’m healthy, I have the bank account of a recent college graduate and almost never lack motivation to workout. 😊
I’ve had a session or two with personal trainers at Equinox, Lifetime Fitness and a local park district, and I did few months of personal training at a former tennis club in high school. Most trainers are incredibly friendly and passionate about fitness. To maintain their business, they must find and retain clients, which makes them a type of salesperson. Not only are they selling personal training, but they must continuously convince clients that they are the best person to train them rather than another trainer. Some trainers develop a niche that helps them stand out, such as training for bodybuilders, pregnant women, sports performance, or injury recovery.
I had a similar business model when I taught tennis lessons: To find and retain clients by “persuading” them not only to take tennis lessons, but to take tennis lessons from me. This meant that my clients either had to like me and tennis, or like me or tennis enough to continue paying and showing up for lessons. I’m genuinely passionate about tennis and helping others learn, so I spent my first few months of teaching trying to make each client the best possible player they could be. I realized that I could retain more clients by making each lesson exactly what the client wanted rather than what the client needed, on top of consistently following up when I didn't hear back. If my client was a group of young children, it meant playing tennis games and learning about their special interest, even at the cost of improving their skills as much I would have liked. If It was teaching an adult, this varied from feeding as many balls as possible and skipping water breaks to hitting 500 serves and chatting about a client’s dog. Although I started the business with the idea of improving my client’s tennis skills, I ultimately realized that I needed to keep people happy so that I could continue my job more than actually teach great tennis. I expect that personal trainers are also more concerned with keeping clients than making clients as fit as possible, and this bothers me as a potential client. If I hire a personal trainer, it's because I need them to whip me into shape, not because I want to have a fun workout. I can understand how most people have a different mentality, which is the same mentality that allowed me to run a business, but it makes me feel uncomfortable.
An hour session of personal training costs anywhere from $50-$250. It takes months to make progress, which means that I would have to pay a trainer this price at least once a week for several months. Even at the low end, I can’t justify $1 per minute. I understand that being healthy is priceless and difficult to achieve. Some people need to pay this price to motivate themselves to show up, because they have no idea what to do, or because they have a specific goal. This price feels outrageous for anyone who does not struggle to find motivation to show up for a workout. I can understand purchasing a few sessions when you have no idea what to do or how to do it. Whenever I have a free session, I dedicate it to improving my form on a compound lift that I’m struggling with. If I need a new routine or to learn new exercises, I watch YouTube videos, look on Instagram, or look online. (If anyone ever needs a new routine, I have several spreadsheets that I’m happy to share.) I hated when a tennis client wanted one or two lessons to fix their forehand, but I understand their reasoning. If someone tells me they only want one or two lessons, I'm much less likely to want to develop a connection or go the extra mile for them because I know the reward is limited, even if it's subconscious. If I need to achieve a specific goal by a certain date (such as a bodybuilding show, military fitness standard, or was in physical therapy) then it would probably be worth paying an expert to increase my chances of success.
That statement implies that hiring a personal trainer increases my chances of success, whatever that may be. If I went to a good trainer and said “I need be able to do 10 pull ups 3 months from now” then the trainer would assume partial responsibility for this goal, since their reputation is now at stake too. If I go to a trainer and say “I want to build strength” without a specific goal, it's easier for a trainer to continue to sell me sessions and convince me that they are the key in helping make progress. Of course, I can tell if I’m progressing based on how many more pull-ups I can do, but I would want to know how many pull-ups I’m doing specifically due to the trainer and not just because I’m in the gym every day. I can see how someone could justify spending money on a trainer if it increases the rate of progress in absence of the trainer. (In my mind, the additional amount of progress must exceed the utility of the amount of money spent and progress I would have otherwise made, but this is more complicated economic theory.)
I’ve thought about this in regard to my own fitness, and I do believe a solid trainer would help increase strength faster than what I can do on my own, but I think this would come from a well-designed workout plan that includes the weight I should push myself to, not from someone babysitting my workout. I could pay someone to send me personalized lifting plans, which would be much cheaper than personal training and be a better fit for me. I must admit that a trainer gave me a piece of technique advice last week that increased my personal record for a hang clean by 10lbs.
My last issue with paying such a high amount for personal training is just the amount of anxiety it gives me. If a session is $60/hour and I talk for just 5 of those minutes, I’m paying $1/minute for conversation. While this is basic math, I’m working on teaching myself that this is a toxic way of thinking. If I were to pay for a session, these thoughts ruin the session that I should be enjoying and focusing on. When I used to teach tennis lessons, I was NEVER late and did my absolute best to go up until the minute the lesson ended, if not a minute over. One of my biggest issues is starting an hourly session late or ending a few minutes early because it is so expensive to begin with.