Should You Judge a 'Chubby' Fitness Trainer?
“If you’re a certified personal trainer, why do you have a belly?”
This was a comment I received recently together with a side-eye look of doubt from a female workmate as we were having merienda at the office. The irony is real. Yes, I am a certified personal trainer by U.S. National Academy of Sports Medicine (I passed the exam!) and my midsection is well, let’s just say a work in progress.
A misconception that's gotten a second wind since the resurgence of body-building gyms is that a trainer’s physique must be Herculean to be considered legit.
Remember the age-old conundrum, 'Would you trust a skinny chef?'
In the age of social media, trainers (or even just fit men) who sport six-pack abs, chiseled arms, and post their grueling routines and gain a following are often looked at as credible. Remember the age-old conundrum, 'Would you trust a skinny chef?' Same but reversed in this case. The more ripped a coach is is automatically equated to his strength to train.
“People are still misinformed. Appearance and social media following do not necessarily equate to competence as a fitness coach,” explains Mark Limbaga, head coach at Gravity Chamber gym in Quezon City and the strength and conditioning coach of the Philippine National Boxing Team.
But those who’ve been in the fitness industry long enough understand that while coaching competence goes beyond physique, looking the part continues to be important in the eyes of those who choose to work with personal trainers. It’s as real as marketing gets—people want to see credible results. The best image model: the trainers themselves.
“The fact that they look successful on their own fitness journey implies that whatever they did, worked. —Callanta”
“The product entices the consumer and if you can see the actual product in front of you like, say, your trainer’s impressive physique, then it can serve as motivation,” explains Chappy Callanta, C.S.C.S., program director for the 360 Fitness Club chain, who’s been around the fitness training environment for most of his life. “The fact that they look successful on their own fitness journey implies that whatever they did, worked.”
While a trainer’s body serves as a visible testimonial, most people still need to understand that physique alone doesn’t necessarily equate to credibility. Having spent the greater part of the last decade inside gym environments, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen super fit-looking coaches making clients do exercises beyond their current fitness level. They use the “no-pain, no-gain” mantra to the hilt as the client does rep after rep of an exercise in bad form.
A coach should know how to help you reach your fitness goals. He or she should be able to answer your questions as to why you need to do certain exercises.
What then should you look for in a fitness trainer aside from at least having a semblance of looking the part? For starters, look at their ability to coach. “Basically, a coach should know how to help you reach your fitness goals. He or she should be able to answer your questions as to why you need to do certain exercises,” says Paulo Sotelo, C.F.S.C., F.M.S.C., C.W.P.C., the senior coach at 360 Fitness Plus in Alabang.
“Talk to them first and makes sure that they understand your goals and can present you a plan that can get you closer to your goal. They must have a solid knowledge of exercise science for different kinds of people and populations,” adds Callanta.
Observe, too how your target trainer teaches a client. And before you even sign up, “keep asking questions, and even Google their name,” advises Limbaga. Check their credentials and certifications, too. A fitness trainer’s task is to help you improve your fitness levels through coaching. Think long and hard who you’re going to hire for that important job.
Understand also that as individuals, we all have different body types. The ideal body for you will depend on what you’re given genetically. “The idea that there are different body types is still not widely talked about. There’s [truly] a misconception about ideal body standards especially with what we see in the media,” says Callanta.
Fitness trainers are not exempted from that. Hence, not all trainers will look muscular. Some will be leaner, other wide, some might still have some fat to burn. Not all coaches have six-packs, too.
Then of course, they could also be navigating their own fitness journey. “You never know their history. Some may have a health condition or going through a major challenge in their life that affects their own training,” says Limbaga.
There's a misconception about ideal body standards, especially with what we see in the media. Fitness trainers are not exempted from that.
This is what precisely what Sotelo had to go through while starting out as trainer and working through his own weight struggles. “I can’t blame them if they mistrusted my ability because I was a bit on the heavy side before,” he shares. “It actually brought me to owning up to my own mistakes and realized that I might have had too much cake and beer.”
Whether fitness trainers (myself included) like it or not, people will always check our physiques as proof of sorts. “A trainer [really] must have a minimum amount of strength or muscularity which shows time spent working out,” says Limbaga. But at the end of the day, “it will always be about the client.”
And that’s you. You’re the one who’s going train and be coached. Not even your trainer’s God-like physique will matter if the coaching isn’t appropriate for your goals. So think about the overall package you’re getting beyond a coach’s abs and guns.