Friday, August 8, 2014

The Dark Side Of The Fitness Industry

I love what I do. I've spent the last 6 years working with people and helping them achieve fitness goals. I've helped people lose weight, get leaner, bigger, faster and stronger. I've been blessed with the fortune to work with an amazing array of people: world class doctors, Olympians, world record holders, prolific businessmen, well-known authors and a Holocaust survivor. Any of my awesome (former) clients who don't fit into one of those categories: you're also badass.

While I've written a lot about all the things that I like about this industry, I've never really written about the other side of the industry. The stuff that isn't so much fun that people wouldn't understand until they got into this as a career. While this post isn't intended to dissuade anyone from pursuing strength and conditioning / personal training as a career, it is intended to let people know that there are things that they might not love.

The Hours
Any personal trainer or strength coach will tell you that their schedule fucking sucks. I know VERY few people who will say "oh yeah, I love my schedule"; that's a feeling generally reserved for the owner or head of an established facility. I remember when Kelsi was training in Cambridge and was taking the train to and from work. She'd routinely get home well past 9 p.m. and then have to be up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to catch the first train of the day. Dan used to drive 45 minutes too and from Brookline to get to work, and he'd get home late at night and eat his "coach's dinner" over the kitchen sink: bite of beef, handful of blueberries, chug of raw milk. Repeat until satisfied.

If you're a personal trainer who intends on having a full schedule, you're going to be expected to be available at the butt crack of dawn (sessions at our gym started at 6 a.m.) and for the sessions after the civilians leave work (we stopped training at 8 p.m., unless the trainer wanted to keep going). This can very easily turn into a 15 or 16 hour day. If you work in a college strength and conditioning facility the same hours hold true. Swimmers and rowers usually start training before the sun comes up and the evening lifts at BU went until close to 9 p.m. Just like in a commercial gym, this can lead to long days. I know that after Dan left our gym to run CrossFit Resilience, his days didn't get any easier. In fact, it's not uncommon for him to sleep in the gym since he will get more sleep that way.

The Money
Strength and Conditioning coaches don't exactly "get rich". Sure, there are a handful of coaches out there who've turned themselves into a brand and have achieved great financial success: Eric Cressey, Mark Verstegen, Mike Boyle and Joe Dowdell are some names that come to mind. These are extremely well-known coaches who've released products and become ingrained with collegiate and professional athletes. But for the most part, it's not a position you take because the money is so fantastic. You do it because you're interested in working with the particular population the facility caters too and because you love the industry.

As a personal trainer you can make some fairly legit money (very much gym dependent), but it all comes at the cost of your schedule. I have a few weeks of 40+ hours of personal training sessions under my belt, and I'll tell you that it's not a lot of fun. You can pound out those sessions but you'll notice that your quality begins to diminish. Personally, I found out that if I stayed at about 35 sessions a week I could make good money and still produce quality sessions that I was proud of. I wasn't quite ready to start giving out shitty sessions just to make a few more bucks.

By nature, it is a results oriented industry. This is both a curse and a blessing. You can be a great trainer with a great style of training who see's a ton of results with one group of clients and zero fucking results with another. The reason? The first group does all their homework, but the second group of clients doesn't do anything when they leave the gym besides crush Whoppers and sixers of Yuengling. Regardless of the reason, the second group of clients will go to their friends and say "that trainer didn't do shit for me, I actually gained weight while I was working with him!". And now people think you suck. However, if people adhere to your programming and consistently see the results that you intend, then you're building a solid name for yourself.

The same holds true for those of you working with athletes. You can't control what they are doing outside of the gym, and if the athlete you see on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is going home and crushing beers and pizza 3 days every weekend then the results they see from your program will be skewed. While this may not be your fault, their performances will still reflect upon you and your ability.

Too, in a college strength and conditioning facility, shit rolls quickly downhill. Very often when a team does poorly during a season the head coach will turn around and point the finger at the S&C coach. If the team is experiencing an abundance of non-contact soft tissue injuries then that's probably the right decision; but if your wide receivers have a case of the dropsies and the basketball teams only shoot 45% from the free throw line the finger should probably be pointed in another direction. It's fairly common, rightly or wrongly, for college strength coaches to get canned simply because a team performs below expectations.

Probably not the S&C coach's fault.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret: everything is bullshit. Every blog you read (I mean, except mine), every coach you listen to, every program you read: bullshit. You're reading, listening to or reading the opinion of the particular coach involved. I can share the same opinion as 10 well-established coaches that I know, but that doesn't mean that it's still just an opinion. It may be an opinion shared by smart people who can back it up with both academic and anecdotal evidence, but it's still an opinion. Despite the fact that we call it "exercise science", it's also an art that requires careful application to each individual client. A particular established protocol may work perfectly for 99% of people, but will have to be finagled for that last 1%; that's where a good coach comes into play.

It seems like I can open up Facebook any day of the week and find a thread where coaches and trainers who don't actually know each other are internet fighting about a particular theory or training method that really doesn't matter. The saying "what you eat doesn't make me shit" comes to mind whenever I see things like this. If you want to train your athletes/clients a particular way, then fantastic, that doesn't affect me even a little bit. Do you, Boo Boo.

Since everything in this industry comes down to a particular persons opinion, that ultimately means that everyone is right at some point. I may disagree with following a strict bodybuilding style program, but there are a ton of coaches/trainers out there having a ton of success doing just that. Just as I believe that foam rolling and mobility are necessary evils that all clients/athletes need to be doing, there are a ton of coaches out there who see no need for it and have clients who are training pain and injury free. I think Tracy Anderson is a total idiot who can't train her way out of a paper bag, but there are people out there who see significant "success" (however they define it) via her system. Coaches and trainers fucking love to bag on each other. It's very easy to tell your athletes that the guy in the next town does an awful job and isn't worth paying because it's your opinion. He's a direct competitor to you and you want to keep as much business with you as possible. Whatever your own opinion about various other coaches/trainers out there, the fact remains that there is a population of people out there who will find success with those people; isn't that what we ultimately want? For people to find success and happiness through exercise?

CrossFit works. Powerlifting works. Pilates works. Bodybuilding works. Soul Cycle works. Even Zumba fucking works. Anything will work if you bust your ass and consistently put everything you have into your training. A shitty program performed with full adherence is always going to be more effective than a "perfect" program performed with a lackluster attitude.

Some of these are things "we" can change (infighting, maybe even better pay!) and some are just the nature of the business. All in all, they don't change the way that I feel about being a performance coach, but I know that some of these things end up being a big deal for other people. Take everything I said with a small grain of salt and find out more information if it's of interest to you.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

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