Guest Post: What is a Personal Trainer Supposed to Look Like?

Today’s post is by my friend Bree, a personal trainer based in Sydney, Australia. You can find her on facebook, and she’s a fixture in the Eating the Food facebook group. Thanks for your wise words, Bree!

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First things first- thanks Amber for even considering that this post was worthy of being featured on the Go Kaleo blog. I tried blogging, but I’m not very good at it. To be honest, I’m an absolute wuss when it comes to revealing too much about myself. Which is why I’m way too pathetic to post this somewhere like my own blog where only my family, friends and colleagues might see, because this is about something that is very personal to me and is a topic that I will do anything to avoid discussing ‘in real life’: my weight. And how my weight is perceived by the industry I work in, which forms the basis of the love/hate relationship I have with that industry.

I’m a personal trainer. I wanted to be a trainer for many years, but kept putting it off. I’d lost a lot of weight and had been on a personal journey (like most people who change their life habits) but never thought I had ‘the look’. For seven years I waited until I had abs. I was so worried about how I would be judged, and thought surely my training business would fail if I didn’t look like the model on the cover of a fitness magazine. The abs never came, despite my best efforts, but as I reached my 30s, I realized that if I kept putting certain limitations on myself, I might never get to have a career that I was passionate about.

This week I had a conversation with a fellow personal trainer that triggered every one of those insecurities that stopped me becoming a trainer for so long. It highlighted the judgement that can silence the voices of those in the industry who genuinely love fitness, health and exercise and want to share that passion. We were talking about the new Zumba instructor at our gym, and how much the class numbers had dropped. Zumba has never been popular here, but the old instructor had worked the floor and recruited as many participants as possible. TheĀ  trainer I was talking to saw the cause of the drop in participation as something very different. She blamed the new instructor’s appearance. “She is disgusting… Who would be inspired by someone who looks like THAT?”.

Despite the temptation to reach out and punch my colleague, I went silent. Why? Because this hit home.

The new zumba instructor is probably an Australian size 12-14 (US 8-10). She’s Latino, with a body that is built for shimmies and serious booty shaking. Damn it, even her hair whip has attitude. Every moment of her class is filled with a joy and energy that embodies the enthusiasm of Zumba (and having spent three days at a convention across from a Zumba stage, I know a lot about the enthusiasm of Zumba). I’ve watched this instructor dance and thought ‘that chick can move!’ Sadly, to some in the fitness industry, her skill is irrelevant. Skill alone is not enough to make her a good example for those she teaches. This hurts me. Because just like that Zumba instructor, I do not have the ‘right’ look. I am overweight, my thighs touch, I have cellulite.

This whole scenario has spun around in my head for a few days and has made me angry. I am angry at myself. My own paranoia, that not fitting the widely held stereotype of how a personal trainer should look, damages my business. It stops me from approaching people in the gym, because I often think ‘who would want to look like me?’ I am incredibly fit, healthy, and can lift like a demon. All inspirational things. And I am a damn good trainer who really cares about my clients and has helped them reach their goals. But I have gained seven kilos since December 2012. The judgmental element of the fitness industry expressed by my colleague this week makes it tough for me, every single day, to show that I have more to offer those I train, or could potentially train, than my weight gain.

It also upsets me because I know how hard it is to walk through the doors of a gym for the first time. You think everyone is looking at you. You think about how different you look from everyone else in the gym. You already think you are being judged because you don’t ‘look fit’. I’ve walked through the same turnstile for eight years as a gym member, and now as a fitness professional, and I still feel it. The last thing you need is some trainer staring you up and down, making you feel like you don’t belong. That is not what personal training is about. It is not why I joined the industry. And I don’t believe that most fitness professionals enter the industry to just train the so called ‘body beautiful’. We join it because we want all people to learn how much exercise can make you feel awesome, and help you lead a long, productive, quality life. I want those of us in the majority to stand up and outshine those who make you feel that you are not good enough, because you don’t have body fat under twenty percent, or your boobs jiggle when you run.

I want every reader to understand, there are people in the fitness industry just like you. We don’t always look perfect, and we have factors in our lives that mean exercise and diet aren’t always our top priority. This year, my mother has been diagnosed with cancer, my father died, I suffered a major injury to my wrist that is going to involve a six month recovery period and I started a new business. The last time I gained a lot of weight it was during a time of major upheaval, just like this time. There are, quite simply, times when food prep and training aren’t especially important. Sometimes it is just about getting through the day. I’m sure many of you understand what that is like.

Please don’t think we look at you and think ‘lazy/not good enough/slacker’. Please do not think that all of us believe in the ‘no excuses’, train-until-you-spew model of fitness. Most of us believe in healthy balance, and that is what we want most for you to have in your life. Fitness is about something much more important than your appearance. Don’t be like me and allow the real and imagined judgement of others to limit you. There are many more fun, loving professionals like the Zumba instructor, than the narrow minded. Judge us on our passion, our experience, our empathy, our knowledge…just remember that our bodies, like yours, are shaped by our lives, and are not the sum total of our value as a trainer.