Levels of Trainers

I was reflecting the other day on trainers and long-term athletic development.

Yes, in a city with showgirls abound and more buffets than a man can count this thought crossed my mind.

What is the trainers’ mindset and plans with a client beyond the “get this accomplished now” phase?

How far ahead should a trainer plan? After all, not all clients will remain with you for years (in some cases not even days.)

How can a trainer realistically get a grasp of where they stand, and where they can improve? (HINT: We usually know what we suck at, we get better at it, disregard it or avoid the situation altogether.)

Thus far, I’ve narrowed things down to the following:

1. What the trainer knows.

2. What the client needs, if different from what the client wants.

3. What the trainer actually does.

Then I narrowed things down to two questions:

Does the trainers’ knowledge and skill set match the clients’ needs and wants?

Is the training designed to produce actions that match the goal?

This in turn made me consider trainers with various levels of skill. I’ve known non-certified or formally educated trainers that were exceptional at their craft.

I’ve seen many with credentials that appeared to not know (or seem to care about) what they are doing to another human being.

I’ve seen some that despite having their clients’ do nothing of benefit and with considerable risk (AKA has the client do silly stuff) remain well employed with a high number of clients and highly capable trainers unable to attract new clients.

The last pair deals essentially with salesmanship, word of mouth referral and possibly charm. I’ll stick with things I know something about.

Today’s article focuses less on “certification” but rather “qualification.”

Level 1 Trainer / Coach
“Do no Harm” The rule of both medicine and personal training.
I am not talking about the standard Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) or the “pain, but in a good way” pain, I am talking about aggravation of previous injuries, causing new injuries or creating environments where injuries are a certainty.

The Level 1 trainer applies proper exercise selection, common sense and develops programs within the range of the client. Although any exercise has the potential to cause injury, the trainer makes the selection and provides instruction and supervision needed to minimize potential issues and not prescribe exercises with risks that outweigh potential benefits.

A trainer with a noted history of injuring clients’ fails to meet the absolute minimum-minimum of “Do no Harm” and is therefore a “Level 0 trainer” regardless of their education or credentials.

Bodyweight calisthenics, mobility and flexibility training, resistance machines and low/non-impact cardio training typically fit this bill. This is often the conservative position taken by the American College of Sports Medicine and can work for de-conditioned (but otherwise healthy) clients as well as clients with medical issues.

Level 2 Trainer / Coach
Can identify and/or address issues and qualities. These are trainers with specific knowledge or training in a given area. They can see a weakness, strengths, asymmetry or need (vs. want) in a given client and prescribe exercise accordingly.

In the case of body composition, they can work with muscle gain or fat loss.

In the case of bodybuilding, they can identity asymmetrical muscle size or definition and how the parts of the body relate to each other.

In the case of movement specialists, they can improve range of motion, stability and strength.

In the case of performance specialists, they can identify and improve a skill need (speed, strength, power, balance etc.)

In the case of CrossFit, there are numerous CF Specialists coming into the field that address issues such as Olympic/Powerlifting, Gymnastics and Mobility.

The Level 2 Movement, Performance and CrossFit trainers are quite likely Level 4 in their given field of expertise.

Level 3 Trainer / Coach
The trainer can match the needs of training to the needs of the sport/event. Simply put, the programming is designed, periodized and directed for maximum transfer between the training and the technical base.

Volleyball players, football players, combat athletes and sprinters all train differently, even though there are shared elements and needs. This holds true for non-competitive athletes, beginners and the de-conditioned clients.

Level 4 Trainer / Coach
This can trainer literally programs for a singular person and consistently tweaks the program to address the immediate and ultimate needs of the athlete.

High level bodybuilding coaches, fight coaches, personal CrossFit coaches and advanced movement specialists provide excellent examples of this type of trainer. The relationships between the coach-athlete and the coaches’ level of understanding of training, sports and psychology are some of the major keys to success.

If you’ve read this far you might be saying to yourself “I want a Level 4 trainer!”

Of course you do. But here’s the rub.

Some trainers are Level 0 and will not evolve past that.

There is NOTHING wrong with being, and staying Level 1.

Not every trainer can be a Level 4. Some simply cut out for it.

Just because a trainer has the skill level of 2-4, doesn’t mean they will deliver level 4 services. Truthfully, I’ve know Level 1 trainers that performed at Level 4 with their clients.

I can put together a program tailored to a single individual that addresses whatever needs they have (at the time) and I can work that program to meet the clients needs and wants. I continually monitor and assess their performance and always ask myself “How can this be made better?”

Level 4 right? Not so fast…
Just imagine I used the same program for EVERY client….now I’m down to Level 0, at best Level 1.

Once again…
What the trainer knows.
What the client needs, if different from what the client wants.
What the trainer actually does.


One thought on “Levels of Trainers

  1. Sue

    Excellent blog. It definitely made me think of what level trainer I am. I would say I’m a level 1 but sometimes move between that and a level 4 depending on: 1. Which type of client I’m working with, ie. the “fragile egg” or the “I want to build muscle now!” Or somewhere in between those extremes. 2. How long will I be working with this client. Level 1 if only a few sessions, level 1-4 for more sessions. Thanks again! Sue


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