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Following on from last week’s Nike mannequin reaction blog, Peach founder Tim Hayes asks why it is that the majority of personal training clients come to him asking to be thinner – and how personal trainers can react responsibly. 

It’s clear the fitness industry and society is moving towards more realistic goals about what is beautiful, but how did we even get to this place where we need to draw so much attention to size? Is beauty inextricably linked to size? Or fitness for that matter – what about being happy, and feeling strong and healthy, shouldn’t that be more important? Or is that simply too hard to measure, and not as clickable as those weight loss transformations all over Instagram?

Should weight loss be the primary goal for personal trainers?

I recently posed a question on a personal training group “should weight loss be the primary goal for personal trainers?” I got a fairly mixed response, but in general most people said that it was what the client wanted so their role was to deliver that for them. For me this is where I feel the fitness industry is getting it wrong; if we make fitness about weight, then don’t we miss out on the journey? The education in how to exercise properly, finding activities that you love and make healthier decisions every day because you feel great? I feel like clients come to me telling me they want to lose weight just because they’ve assumed it’s what I want to make them do, thanks to decades of the fitness industry telling them it’s all about weight loss – because making somebody dissatisfied with their appearance sells. As personal trainers, each time we don’t question this and go along with it we perpetuate the myth that fitness and personal trainers = weight loss and weight loss = success and happiness. 

What should personal trainers do?

In my opinion, the role of a ‘personal’ trainer should be just that – being personal. We shouldn’t make the journey just about weight, we should make it about what makes that individual person feel their happiest, healthiest and strongest, and hopefully foster a love of fitness for life. Does weight loss really equal happiness, or is it just a really easy way for a trainer so say ‘look at me I’m great I make people thin’ and get some easy hits on their Instagram page? Instead, we should be asking ourselves whether the client is going to be genuinely happy at the end of this?  How has their relationship with food, weight, self worth and body image been until now, and are we going to make that worse or better for them? Are they able to sustain those goals, or have they just been smashed to bits for 12 weeks to get to a place that they think will make them happy because that’s what society says happy is?

One of many examples

I recently went on a date with a woman who told me she felt very self conscious, because I was a trainer and she was 15kg over her idea of her perfect weight. We ended up talking about it: it turned out she had done bikini modelling competitions, where she restricted and starved herself to get to her goal appearance. The whole process was horrific (her words) and she still wasn’t happy when she was ready for the stage. This is the point, will you ever be happy if happiness is based on external gratification like this? Since this experience she has tried all sorts of diets, trainers, group exercise classes and never being able to reach her goal again. I asked her why exactly she wanted to drop 15kg; eventually it came down to her thinking she would be more desirable to other people, and this is key. I sent her away with a lot of questions to answer.

Questions to help you evaluate your relationship with fitness and weight loss

Look at your past fitness and weight loss attempts they can be any period in your life but try and pick the most significant ones give each one a name eg Body Comp

  • List the goals 
  • Timeframes 
  • Fitness solution eg Training on your own, group training, personal trainer mixture of the above, type of training. 
  • Nutrition solution, be as specific as you can. 
  • Rate your happiness between 1-10 10 being the happiest during this process and write about why it either made you happy or not. 
  • Were you successful in reaching your goal as set out in the timeframe you set? If yes or no what were the reasons, be as specific as possible. What would you have done differently if any. 
  • If you reached your goal were you happy ? If yes or no list the reasons, what would you have done differently if any?
  • Did your goal last? eg did you sustain that goal if so how long and if not why not. 

When you’ve written your examples, try to identify the positives and negatives from each solution. 

The aim of this is to come to a place where you realise what makes you happy what works what doesn’t and why. 

 Then write what it is you want from your fitness solution. Now remember, it needs to fit with your lifestyle and where you want to be in all areas of your life, this is specific to you, not what you think I want or what other people want but who you are and what you want. 

The aim of this is to look at the history to see clear patterns of trying different solutions with the same goal in mind, and the outcome will be to try and establish some more meaningful goals. 

To conclude 

I feel the level of knowledge in the market, and the service that trainers provide clients has decreased and become generic, all whilst the clients really require a more specialised service. It seems on the whole it’s become training for aesthetics and the personal element has fallen by the wayside. Personal training is generally associated with weight loss, clients come with preconceived ideas of what personal training is and what they think they want it. I believe as fitness professionals we need to spend much more time on WHY clients train, build goals and solutions that go far beyond weight loss, move away from aesthetics and build sustainable solutions that make a significant change in all areas of their lives. All trainers of all levels including myself need constant mentorship and support: because this isn’t about us, it’s about the clients we serve, and what kind of society we want to live in.