Travel the country and enter any fitness facility; there are likely two guarantees: the first is the facility will employ professional trainers whose role and responsibility is to provide expert advice and assistance to members, and the second is that a large number of members can be observed exercising with poor form and incorrect technique. Why the disconnect? Professionals trained to teach exercise properly, standing among those who are exercising improperly. Why is it that only a limited number of members take advantage of the certified personal trainers for advice and education? And on the flipside, are there steps fitness facilities need to take to ensure their patrons exercise properly? It certainly is not due to the lack of recognition of the professionals. In addition to the pictures hanging on the wall, most trainers are very noticeable by the distinct badge across the back or front right pocket of their attire. The shirt easily identifies their role and should signal their ability and willingness to assist.
In addition to serving their paying clients, trainers should also provide assistance to ensure the facility participants are exercising correctly and minimizing injury risk. A personal trainer in the gym is much like a lifeguard at the pool; interaction with members will increase confidence in their ability and can reduce the anxiety of asking for help. Personal trainers should ensure that people performing incorrect technique are tactfully corrected, particularly in lifts where they can be injured such as in the squat, bent-over row and deadlift. It is amazing that contraindicated exercises like supine leg lifts, behind the head pull-downs and presses are still performed in mostly every gym in the country. Is it a novel concept that a trainer provide instructional advice to ensure the facility they work for promotes correct exercise technique? While most trainers certainly want to help, they stop trying after the first oversized “know-it-all” disputes sound exercise science and the trainer’s good intentions are belittled or swatted away. This is where support by management can go a long way. It certainly makes sense that a facility manager would want to do everything in their power to ensure that only proper exercise was performed in their club and even more to promote it. Everywhere else in this country when someone does something wrong that places them at risk they are corrected. In fitness facilities, the risk could be as severe as injury or even death. While it is understandable that there are some individuals who believe they know more than what has been proven with evidence-based science; this segment of the gym-going population represents the minority. Yes, these members may quit a facility if they have to exercise correctly (with weights they can actually lift with proper form), but who cares if they leave. They represent less than one percent of the total club and the removal of their presence will likely be a breath of fresh air to many of the members.
Trainers can and should, in an appropriate, tactful manner, take things a step further by providing clear examples of how to exercise properly. This can be accomplished by creating exercise posters of “how to” and “what not to do”, such as demonstrating a lat pull-down to the front next to its incorrect counterpart. This places correct technique in the face of the members who, for the most part, certainly want the advice. It is smart to have the trainers pictured in the posters or signage in uniform, so they are marketed and distinguished as providers of expert advice. Trainers should also offer special training sessions on the compound lifts such as the front and back squat, deadlifts and other common popular lifts. Policing the training environment like a strength coach does with athletes at a university, but with polite and endearing tact can go a long way for service and marketability for the training department. It can also reduce the overall risk of injury for members and liability for facility owners.