Not a week goes by where the Performance Coaches here at Absolute don’t get referred to as personal trainers, as I am sure many other strength & conditioning coaches, rehab specialists, exercise scientists & weightlifting coaches experience. While it doesn’t overly offend, or concern me, I know it does for other coaches, so I thought it would be a great idea to clarify the differences, as it is something that needs to happen if our industry is to gain greater respect as a profession within the general public, through health care insurance providers, and through the wider medical community.
Most coaches, at early stages in their career, started off as a personal trainer. It is a great way to dip in to the health and fitness industry, get your hands dirty, and start to get a greater understanding of human interaction, change psychology and all the other invaluable experience you can only gain through time. I was once a personal trainer, and still at dinner parties when meeting new people, normally resort to “essentially I am a personal trainer for athletes, injured and those who want a higher level of service and results”.
But, there is a difference…
Level of Education:
Not a week goes by where I don’t see a TV ad, with some celebrity trainer promoting the latest personal training course, “get qualified in just 3 months”, “with just 6 months of online training…”, a lot of these organisations now even call their personal training certification “Master Trainer”. You can’t be a master of anything in 6-12 months, and certainly not when it comes to the complicated and intricate workings of human physiology, biology, biomechanics, psychology, pathology, disease management and human variability. These titles are often supplemented with a whole host of weekend courses like “TRX extreme lvl 7 coach” “Body Transformation Certified” and “Wobble Board Master 2000”. These certainly add some skill, but who are we kidding, these aren’t exactly helping us become a more professional industry.
A coach probably has the above-mentioned certification, but understands that this merely scratches the surface, and are hungry for more knowledge to better service and help their clients/athletes/patients. A coach has a minimum of a university level degree, are registered with a major governing body that has a pre-requisite for acceptance, such as Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) or Australian Strength & Conditioning Association (ASCA), and require continuous professional development to stay registered under these bodies. Thus, ensuring they stay at the top of the field and at the forefront of the latest research and methodology when it comes to all things health, fitness, performance and injury management.
Job vs Profession:
Since 2004, the personal training industry in Australia has grown from just above 12,000 registered trainers, to now exceeding 32,000! (1). Unfortunately, only a mere 14% of this have a university level qualification, and with this, comes the downturn of the industry, where quantity has overtaken the drive for quality. Now, the education level plays a part in the job vs profession discussion, as the time commitment to formal study shows a greater level of passion and drive for a career, but the greatest concern is the level of experience and longevity in the industry.
Of all of those registered personal trainers, 55% have been in the industry less than 5 years, only 21% are still around between the 6-10yr mark, and then finding someone in the industry with 10yrs plus experience is a diamond in the rough! While fitness “professionals” surveyed in 2015, indicated strong intentions to remain in the industry over the next five years (i.e. to 2020), this drops significantly to 29% when asked about 2025(2). Now that doesn’t sound like passion to create a profession, merely a job until the next thing comes along.
The Quality of Service:
Have you ever showed up to your training session and there is no clear plan or structure? There was no tailored program that has been factored into a specific training phase for you? You saw them do the same session to the client before you as you warmed up? Then whatever you paid for it you paid too much. A coach will never take a training session, 1 on 1 or group, without a definitive plan, specific to the individual, who has been thoroughly prescreened, and part of a long-term structure. Too often I see personal trainers in public gyms with no program on hand, getting clients to do movements in no way suitable for them, and with no clear plan for long term progression, just inflicting damage and intensity just for the sake of it.
Now we only have ourselves to blame for this, social media, reality TV shows and the industry itself has somehow set expectations that unless you are vomiting in the bin at the end of your session then it wasn’t a good session. It can be unfortunately considered something to be proud of, by the client and the trainer alike, for that vomit moment or not being able to walk the next day because their legs were so sore, a battle scar of sorts. Of course, this all has zero ability to improve long term change and adaption, something a Coach knows well and will never sacrifice for the sake of the ‘Instagram moment’.
As a collective, the personal training and fitness industry need to be doing a better job of removing these pointless training expectations, ‘getting smashed’ for the sake of it, and provide a greater education on the importance of periodised structure and how adaption actually works for humans. We will be left with a far healthier population in general, and happier clients who achieve long lasting positive change.
Gaining Respect and Recognition:
Not a day goes by where I am not frustrated by the fact that the Australian Health Insurance industry, both public and private, only provide financial support after you are broken, injured, or in severe poor health due to disease, instead of being proactive. Prevention is better than the cure after all, but I can also understand why it is that way given how low the entry level is to the fitness industry.
If the industry itself where to set higher standards, or at least a tiered category, then it will help the push for highly skilled coaches to play a much bigger part in improving the ever-declining health of the Australian population. An example would be having the entry level Personal Trainer or Fitness instructor as it is, but then have a higher-level tier ‘Performance Coach’ to be registered as health insurance providers. They must have a minimum of say 5 plus year’s experience, university level education, registered to one of the previously mentioned higher level governing bodies, where there is greater expectations and requirements of continual professional development.
Setting higher standards and tier’s will give the industry the power to approach the health insurance providers to be covered, and the health insurance industry confidence that the invested money for the general public is truly making a difference. It will also allow us to play a bigger part in the medical and allied health community, where GP’s, Surgeons, Sports Doctors, Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, Soft Tissue Therapist and everything in between, will be able to refer to Coaches with the utmost confidence that a higher level of care and understanding of injury and pathology is a given.
Wrapping It All Up:
So, Personal Trainer Vs Performance Coach, there is a difference, and the importance of those differences should not be understated, particularly when it comes to who to choose when you are looking to improve your health, performance, injury and fitness. And on the bigger picture side of things, for our industry to be recognised and truly respected as professional by the wider medical community and insurance industry.
Written By Head Performance Coach & Co-founder David Smith
- Job Outlook (2015) ABS Labour Force Survey, Department of Employment trend data to November 2014 and Department of Employment projections to 2019
- “Profile Of The Fitness Industry In Australia.” Fitness Australia. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Aug. 2017.