This is a post I've wanted to write for a long time. I haven't written it, but not because I don't think it's an important conversation. I guess I haven't written it because it's such a loaded topic. It's one that, for other trainers who've spoken about it, has generated some pretty extreme reactions. So, to be completely honest, I personally just haven't felt prepared to tackle it or the potential response to it before now.
The "it" in this conversation is whether or not you can be a great personal trainer if you don't look like a fitness model--if you are, by standard measurements, considered overweight yourself. While I hope that everyone gets something out of this post, I am directing it at those of you who want to be a personal trainer. And it's especially directed at those of you who think you can't be an effective one unless you look a certain way.
I know that this is a real thing that prevents some people from pursuing careers in fitness. It wasn't an issue that came up for me when I was deciding to become a trainer. However, it did manifest itself in a different way later in my career, which I'll get to in a minute.
I became a personal trainer because so many people were asking me to train them that it seemed like a viable business. I honestly never worried that people wouldn't hire me because of the size of my body, whatever it happened to be at any given time. That's proven to be true over these last fifteen years, by the way. I've been smaller than I am now. I've been bigger than I am now. And it just has not affected my ability to get clients.
Let me back-up for a minute though and tell you my story and then I'll get into my advice for those of you who are thinking about a fitness career.
I was working for a fitness equipment retailer in 2003, and was so bored at work that I spent a lot of time reading the exercise books and fitness magazines that were lying around the store. I started to talk about what I was learning, and to play around with exercises while I was working in the store. People (customers, people who worked in neighboring stores, friends) then began asking me to train them or give them fitness advice. I was reluctant to do that without having some kind of formal education and certification, so I got certified and started a personal training business.
Just because I didn't worry about people not hiring me doesn't mean that I was without any insecurities. I didn't attend a single professional development event or conference, in-person, for my first seven years as a trainer. I was worried that the other trainers would judge me. I thought they would think I didn't belong there.
When I finally did begin attending conferences what I found was that there was a very diverse population of body types, shapes and sizes represented among the trainers at these events. There were people smaller than me, yes. But there were also people my size and larger. And what was also true was that I learned so much from the other trainers I met, that I can't help but think how much more I could have learned if I had gotten out of my own way sooner. I was guilty of assuming that all trainers looked a certain way, and that I was the lone exception. That simply wasn't true.
Okay, so if you are someone who dreams of a career in fitness and really wants to help others live healthier happier lives, but you're insecure about the size/shape/whatever of your body, here's what I'd say to you.
Do it anyway. Don't wait until you think you've reached whatever you define as physical perfection. My weight goes up and down, depending upon what else is going on in my life. I had a major trauma a little over a year ago. The stress of that has made exercise and other self-care activities almost impossible sometimes. I'm not working out as regularly or as hard as I have done in the past. But I do what I can do, and I'm honest with clients about my struggles and my successes. That doesn't make me perfect, but it does make me real. And my experience has been that people respond to what's genuine, not what's perfect.
Start to see your struggles, whatever they are, as an asset and not a professional liability. I cannot tell you the number of times clients have told me that they picked me as their trainer because I wrote on my website about struggling with an eating disorder and body image issues. I was less intimidating because they knew that I knew what it was like to struggle.
My level of knowledge and skill doesn't decrease or increase inversely with my clothing size. And yours won't either.
I'm going to write more in the coming weeks about the different reasons why body diversity in the personal training community is so beneficial to clients, and I'll address some of the concerns I hear most often from trainers. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about becoming a trainer, please leave them below and I'll do my best to answer. You can also email me directly at email@example.com if you'd rather your comment remain private.