Trainers can almost be broadly classified into two categories; Counters and Coaches.
Education,certifications,tenure, online presence and financial success do not segregate them. There are counters with all manners of letters after their name making decent money and coaches that are unknown outside of a small circle.
What segregates them is how they do what they do.
Counters: Generally regarded as a personal trainer that has mastered the ability to count, historically for three sets of ten repetitions. (1)
Some counters have managed to forego that need by having the client perform their own counting and use moves done for time,so only a clock needs to be watched. (2)
Further, some will concoct “exercises” that defy logic and typically cannot be performed with any mechanical consistency and use the clock as the standard of measure.
Coach: Actually lives up to the title by actively teaching a given technique or pattern. Many will explain why certain things are being done while others do not.
They can confidently provide a logical answer to the question “Why is this exercise being chosen?” in any of their programs or practice sessions.
The signs of a potential counter:
– Your workouts change drastically every session with CrossFit being something of an exception. One week its high volume machine training, the next its kettlebells, the next its circuit training and so on.
– No skill seems to be developed or progressed. You never do anything long enough to get somewhat good at it before jumping on to something else.
– Unless theres a medical condition, break times between sets vary greatly. Sometimes it’s 30 seconds, other times it’s several minutes. Its never consistent even on weekly basis. (3)
– No assessment of any sort was performed.
The signs of a coach
– There’s consistency in work being performed. Variations or complete changes occur on a prescribed, or possibly as needed basis.
– Emphasis is placed on the basics and quality movement before quantity of movement.
– Exercises sequences might change due to equipment availability or may need to be modified but there is a level of familiarity. Learning stacks atop previous learned material.
– Progression or regression occurs as needed. Intensity is adjusted based on the athlete)
– Progress,competence and confidence is sought.
– Break times are monitored,but may be flexed if needed.
– An assessment occurred before ANY work was performed.
Notes: Being fair there are things that both counters and coaches do. The “it depends” answer applies and the similarities are largely superficial. The coach can explain “why” something is the way it is whereas the counter cannot.
(1) Counters are also known by a slightly less favorable, but equally accurate description as “pin setters” (as in all they do is set the pin in the machine) Do some coaches use machines and adjust pin settings? Yes. But they also coach the mechanics, tempo and movement even in a single joint, fixed pattern exercise.
(2) Doing work for a prescribed time is not always a bad thing. It comes hand to build conditioning and for fat loss type workouts.
(3) Break variability is not uncommon and is tied to the level of intensity and desired outcome. For strength adaptations I break not less than 2 minutes, however I personally (my own training) have taken breaks as long as 10 minutes. For a healthy beginner athlete 3 minutes is a fairly good start point and can be dialed up/down as required.