The Professional Mediocritist & How To Avoid It

GEARDUpPodcast December 7, 2013 0

personality of trainerYes, I was guilty, too—at least a little bit.  I was a “professional spotter”. But it didn’t last long.

I started working as a personal trainer in the fall of 2004.  I always knew intuitively that the most crucial aspect was to push people to the brink—to continually coerce them into training harder, lifting heavier, getting stronger, eating cleaner, even if they fought me tooth-and-nail in the process.

But, I was guilty of a few mistakes.  I was worried that I had to keep the client somewhat “entertained”, and so I was constantly looking for new and unique ways to reinvent the wheel, put my own personal twist or variation on an exercise that would “make it mine”.  I was worried that a client, if they got bored, would simply quit and walk out the door.

This virgin phase lasted but a few months, and I couldn’t handle it anymore.  I was making no money as a trainer, and I felt like a sell-out. Granted, I was getting people in better shape than most trainers at my gym, if only for the fact that I consistently kicked the living shit out of my clients.  But I still felt like I was pandering.

So I made the career choice to end all career choices: I quite the personal training industry after six short months, and went back to driving a truck and moving furniture for a living.  Helluva career move.

At the same time, I started lifting at a new gym with my mother (of all people), and the Fitness Director there came to find out I was a NASM certified trainer with prior experience.  He saw how intensely I trained with my 50-year-old mother—who I was basically morphing into a powerlifting cougar at the time—and he hounded me to come work at that gym.

I was torn.  I didn’t want to do something in which I didn’t fully believe. Being a furniture mover, while far from glamorous, was at least honest work.  And if there was one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do, it was going to bed at night, knowing I was scamming people, and shitting all over that thing I was most passionate about—bodybuilding.

So I picked this guy’s brain during a two-hour-long conversation, basically getting him to ensure me that I could go about doing things how I wanted to do them.  His response: “Hey, you can do things however you want.  It might take you longer to get there, and it’ll be a much harder road, but you’re welcome to it, if that’s what you want”.

And so I set out.  I began working at a commercial chain gym.  I started with everyday “average” clients—an elderly woman looking to lose weight, a pair of teenage boys whose wealthy father sprung for them to train, etc.  Only something interesting happened: they all changed really rapidly!  The 64-year-old woman dropped 75lbs in about a year, and both the teenagers proceeded to morph into jacked manifestations of their prior selves, seemingly overnight.

See, I adopted one very simple premise at that point as a trainer: if I ever had a question as to whether a certain approach was the right approach, I simply stopped and asked myself, “Is this how I would train myself?  Is this how I would train my mother?”  If I couldn’t honestly answer “Yes” to both of those, then I knew I was guilty of trying to sell snake oil, and would drop the approach for a more honest one.

Something profound happens when you adopt honesty-with-others as a bedrock principle of your life: the facts are always on your side, since they don’t lie, and you don’t ever have to worry about anything.  If a client didn’t like a certain answer I gave them, I would refer them to reams of evidence.  And not the modern-day theoretical mumbo-jumbo that every “fitness guru” on Facebook debates about these days.  I’m talking about pointing out the countless examples of how others succeeded at achieving similar goals—the bodybuilders and fitness celebrities my clients wanted to look like—and then, I would take them down that same path.

Over the course of several years, a crazy, yet logical, progression occurred.  I proved I was really good at getting “normal” people into shape, making them strip bushels of body fat and pack on copious muscle mass.  With that, my rep grew.  With the increased reputation, I got more advanced clients—still housewives, but these ones were seriously committed to fitness, eating right, and having a great 6-pack all year round.  I then took that group, and proceeded to get them into ever-better shape.  Which increased the reputation more, and led to more of the same pattern.  Ten years into this now, and probably 80% of my client load consists of NPC competitors—bodybuilders, figure girls, bikini girls, etc.—and I get to spend my day working with kick-ass people who truly work for it.

So that’s how I broke the “professional spotter” mold.  In his article, “The Professional Spotter and Excel Spreadsheet ‘Guru’”, (http://blackstonelabs.co/articles/the-gab/94-the-professional-spotter-and-excel-spreadsheet-guru-by-matt-meinrod ), Matt Meinrod makes an interesting observation towards the end:

You really want to be different Professional Spotters and Excel Spreadsheet Gurus?…  be honest and say the real secret to getting the physique of your dreams is saying, ‘No’ to every temptation at the grocery store, showing up to the gym even when you don’t want to, and to be as patient as a virgin monk, because it might take a few years to hit your first goal.  But then again, where’s the money in being honest?

It’s an interesting point, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with (minus the cynical last line).  But interestingly enough, just a few lines above, Meinrod tells us,

Now I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t admit at one point in my life I too was a professional spotter.  Once I came to the realization of my own douche baggery ways, it wasn’t long before I checked myself out of the business and into professional spotter rehab.  I knew I had more to offer in my waking hours than hunting down the pink dumbbells, adjusting bench inclines, and convincing some poor schlub that my high-tech training methods were the key to unlocking his or her inner mesomorph psyche.

Sounds more like the confessions of a guilty soul, than any great insight into the profession of personal training.

Yes, I agree with Mr. Meinrod, most personal trainers are a complete and utter joke.  But one thing that Meinrod fails to mention, is that this is true of every industry, without exception.  Personal training just happens to be a “hot field” right now, where everybody has big pipe dreams of “staking their claim in the fitness world”, all with little-to-no work and time invested.  Sound like the manifestation of a larger cultural mindset? (Maybe we should ask Dave Pulcinella, Meinrod’s partner, as I know he has some very specific beliefs on this exact topic.)

Not to invent some awesome new Venn diagram method of viewing the world, but as far as I can tell, there are essentially three types of people when it comes to work ethic:

  • 90% of people will gladly half-ass whatever you put in front of them, so long as they get to retire to the couch, television, and comfort food at the end of the day
  • that rare 8% who actually try pretty hard at their craft, and do a decent enough job, but often end up plagued by guilt over feeling like they’re “not really making a significant change”, and don’t take the work to its finale
  • finally, that incredibly uncommon 2% of crazy fucks, like myself, who are so intensely and insanely passionate, and so stubborn and bullheaded, that they refuse to give in, quit, or conform, simply because it “makes things easier”.  You know, the Vince Lombardis of the world, who will gladly and eagerly accept death over compromise.

Meinrod found he was a fraud when he was a trainer.  That doesn’t mean that all trainers are.  Yes, that is the current trend.  It’s the current trend when it comes to, oh, I dunno, everything.  For example, let’s take the writing industry.  Most people write incoherently (90%); then there is that rare 8% that does a pretty decent job and has at least a better-than-rudimentary grasp of the basic functions of grammar, dramatic presentation, and logical coherence (…Spider senses tingling…).   And then, there is the crazy 2%– those who actually have an interesting and unique perspective, and find ways to convey it, even if it’s not trendy and even if it requires having a perspective one-step removed from “the funny shit that everybody already talks about”.

If Meinrod insists on trashing personal trainers per se, and was one himself, then it stands to reason that a very simple Pepsi challenge is in order—how about we both post links to our galleries of all of the amazing transformations we have produced?  How about we post links to galleries of the slews of 50-year-old women Meinrod was able to get to squat 275lbs for reps, and then put on a national stage, in less than a year’s time?  Or how many every-day housewives he was able to strip 50, 60, or even 100lbs off of?  I will be happy to provide links and pictures to all of the above.  Pepsi challenge, baby, Pepsi challenge.

Or maybe, the problem is just that he just never got there, and because of that, now feels entitled, in his infantile retrospective, to throw us allunder the bus.  Maybe he spent his days walking abreast clients down the lunge-aisle, as they clutched for life onto their pink dumbbells. Maybe he was a tad too concerned with making money, and not being honest, since he clearly sees the two as polar opposites?  And maybe, just maybe, that’s why he had to recognize his “professional douche baggery”, quit the industry, and become a hack at something new altogether?  Because he didn’t want to take the time to take the hard road, and do it the right way?  At the end of the day, I don’t know.  But I’m sure we’ll get another snarky article that will explain exactly why, riddled yet again with half-assed grammar and pseudo-interesting phraseology (though I have to give him credit in his article for “Metabolic Genocide”; well played, sir).

Moral of the story: at any given endeavor you undertake, you can be extraordinary, or less than that.  And if you choose to be less than that, don’t blame the endeavor.  Perhaps think long and hard about yet another coin of phrase that didn’t make it into your witty catalogue of verbiage: Be cautious not to shit where you eat.

-David A. Johnston

Leave A Response »