The Personal Trainer of the past was a position earned, not given and not really wanted to begin with. There was no instant success as you relied on a referral or won over bystander from the transformation, over 3-6months, of your first ever client who was only with you because of a prior year or two of conversations, mainly based on the Health & Racquet Club and Virgin takeover and the occasional abdominal workout, which was more for yourself to keep blood circulating and oxygen going to your head, not to think, but to remind you that you were still alive. Both of these had to take place to avoid insanity and boredom of your job as a fitness instructor which was, quite frankly, a fancy name for someone who had studied for a year only to pack weights away, apply a pool cover & turn on the cardio equipment. So now, with the upgraded title of Personal Trainer and a different colour T-Shirt, you had two clients, and if you applied yourself, in another 6 months, and the previous two years in the industry you would be going up to four clients and so on.
This was the speed of the industry, the only thing slower being the treadmills graced with the honour of people feeling better about themselves, with pages of books being flipped quicker than the rotation of their legs. We were really up against it, as the exercise pool was toe deep, and the general public didn’t need a degree in chemical physics to learn eight or so exercises in 2D format, which were near impossible to get wrong, as the demonstrated actions were fixed in the design of the machines. In fact, this multi tasking treadmill epidemic was putting our livelihoods at risks. The difficulty of a single joint movement on a fixed machine, with a diagram and shaded in picture of the body part it was working could only be faulted by human factor. In fact this not only provided us with ammunition to keep our sense of humour but also allowed us to survive in a man vs. machine environment.
There was only one style of training, a body builder for all approach, just changing up the reps for bulking or toning, with the occasional bit of excitement thrown in from the power lifting genre. Training wasn’t an art and the ability for trainers to rise-up was based on their eagerness to over educate themselves with limited resources and provide three variations of bicep curls; energy gained through their own excessive training to appear motivational and aspiring to prospect clients; and their own personal attribute of generosity which was going that extra 10meters to fill up a water bottle or retrieve a sweat towel.
Yes, this was the industry and the very few who stuck it out, repeated repetition, which sounds painful in itself, and adopted the fixed position of a machine in the smile sense, excelled. They deserved their big salaries & a place in society, in my eyes, at the time, but their reluctance to change would be their downfall in an ever evolving industry. Their methods would become extinct with the leotards of the nineties.
Luckily I didn’t undergo this process; otherwise I probably would have been looking for a big boulder and low bridge. Jokes aside, this industry has a high suicide rate. My condolences go out to all those who have lost friends and family this way and I understand what generally looks a fun and carefree lifestyle from the outside, often is overshadowed by lack of stimulation, slave-like hours and sense of being from the in.
It’s a much tougher industry than it is perceived to be.
I was fortunate to stumble into this industry as a hobby, at 17 and not viewed as a threat in the age where competition was rife, inflated egos common, money was the only prize and friendships between top trainers highly unlikely. This made me a target of influence and allowed me to learn from a whole host of trainers. I naturally gravitated towards a trainer, Joaquim Rasi, who challenged the norm of the industry daily, was not scared to stand out and practice unfamiliar techniques and, most importantly, did so with a touch of humour and real love for his trade. He made me push myself, become creative and ultimately set the ball rolling for a deep inner passion to pursue a career in the industry and blossom in what I would call present training, the start of the 21st century to now.
So the perceived big salaries and easy going lifestyles, allowing you to practice your past-time and maintain an above average physical appearance became a desirable occupation for many. The industry was trying to change for the better, as a few learned trainers, like Joaquim, were promoting the idea of functional training, which had a far better carryover to the clients daily activities and general wellbeing, allowed the trainer only to be limited by his imagination and besides being fun, it would bulletproof job security as it allowed the industry to become high-skilled and complex. But it was matched literally by heavy resistance, by the masses that didn’t want to challenge themselves in any intellectual way, but only by the weights they would load up for those eight 2D exercises. We had moved to the brain vs. brawn era.
Unfortunately, the look was more alluring than benefit and now people, with less time and in need of ‘professional’ assistance would opt for the brawn. You couldn’t blame them, if he looked good, he must know what he is doing. Once again the same human factor, which allowed trainers to survive in the 90’s, would be highly detrimental to the public in the 00’s. People didn’t just buy into these trainers; they influenced the ‘nutrition’ market, encouraged the use of steroids, increased recreational drug use and allowed the core principles of these types of trainers to have a big influence on the industry. They had no core and no principles, and the public power they possessed, maximized by the generation of mass marketing and emergence of social media, would be exploited to their own individual greed and not given back to the industry, which had injected them in the first place.
This was all the fuel I needed to start my lifetime mission, I was young, ambitious and stubborn, all the qualities I had to have to take on this monumental task. I knew I was up against the odds, but believed that this industry which had become exploited, could be restored and allow far greater benefits to be enjoyed by clients, careers to be had by trainers and a positive impact on the lives of many.
I understood the psychology in a gym between all parties involved, I educated myself on all aspects of health and fitness in a crazed obsessed way, I learnt systems of major gym corporations and quickly distinguished their warped ways of making customers feel satisfied while all they were interested in was lining their pockets and last but not least I applied science and copious amounts of sweat to achieve a body which not only out performs, but often outlooks those of the very bewildered substance users.
I was a bit of an enigma, not through natural talent but by hard-work and combining my educated mind with my science demystifying physique, I quickly rose to the ceiling of Personal Training. I was limited by hours, not demand, a luxury very few possessed.
Guys like me were a threat to those who had enjoyed early success and absolutely hated because now they were forced to change to claim back their position on the Personal Training ladder. They were never going to adapt as they had settled years ago for a short-cut approach to everything, hard-work was way beyond them, and an industry which they would often protect with force was now open for us to influence.
It wasn’t easy by any means to achieve what we had in very hostile environments, where you were not only competing against Neanderthal mindsets but by the very organisations that benefited from us, but who’s systems didn’t allow for greater progression. Fortunately I met others along the way that also shared a passion for change in the industry and were quite simply the pioneers of current industry trend by being looks with brains, which could only be achieved through dedication, persistency and hard graft. They gave me reassurance in what I was setting out to accomplish and great thanks goes out to Liana McCarthy, Gideon Roux, Paulette Sybliss and Nicolas Veret who all had a massive influence on me.
The problem was, that a few of us got ourselves into prosperous situations and because of the time and effort it took to get there, rather than continuing on our quests to change the industry, chose personal preference. I emphasized with them as I understood the hardships and toll the industry had had, but also their choice to rest on their laurels, although through much greater demands, was not too dissimilar from the situation we were trying to change in the first place. The upgraded industry train was not going to stop and feeling like I was responsible for putting the coal in the original one, I wanted to stay onboard but this time as a conductor.
So to the future of training and protection of a multi billion dollar industry which everyone wants to be apart of, where people with social status have advantage over those with skill, franchises of previously successful gyms of the mass era are popping up everywhere, not to mention the trend of specialized gyms focusing on singular aspects of training going up in counterbalance. Wow, where do you start as a consumer in all of this? Quite simply it’s your choice, what do you want? What suits your goals? And all I can encourage is to take an option, because in modern times, any exercise is better than none at all. I’m not here to convince the market, I’m here to pass knowledge down and inspire young trainers to excel otherwise I fear that the future of Personal Training will become obsolete while the fitness industry explodes!
With 14 years of experience, a gym gaining in popularity daily, a force of motivated trainers and a massive client base which has bought into my values, I feel I can develop a trainer, where his salary is not constricted by hours, his confidence not beat out of him by senior trainers, nor his hard-work exploited by his employer and create a niche position for these few who excel to get just rewards for their preventative measures just like doctors would for their cures and provide a capitalist system for Personal Trainers not only to pursue for as long as they feel fit, but also to inspire many more to enjoy the massive benefits of an occupation which will only reward those who are professional, responsible, hard-working, knowledgeable and selfless.
We could call it the computer vs. man era, but we won’t because this industry thrives on human factor and the elimination of man at this stage would signify the loss of a profession and the removal of my passion which fortunately has already been shared to a few but none more notably than a kid, who through his eagerness to learn and excel, has kept my fire to succeed burn. A tribute to a work colleague, friend and all round good guy:
“With the world at his feet and weights in his hands, and at a tender age, Justin Swart is leaving a mark on the fitness industry and I’m not talking about wearing a black soled sneaker on a squash court. He is reveling in an industry notorious of negative connotations and is giving hope to a profession, which is usually termed short-lived. He is an exceptional Personal Trainer who is selfless, runs on passion and delivers 1st class service. A rare breed in most industries these days.:
So what are Personal Trainers? They are the ones you donate your most valuable asset too, the ones you look up to for guidance and the ones that set the standards, which you wish to follow. They should be role models in society, but due to the mass of the wrong type of characters taking up these positions, they are actually the laughing stock.
With the emergence of Justin onto the scene, this shows us that the guys who are meant to carry this industry forward and restore it’s credibility are out there. It is up to people in senior roles not to inhibit them through their own insecurities and jealousy, but rather let them excel and see how far they can go.
I continuously got blocked throughout my career, but always believed that if I could remain true to my core values and overcome the many obstacles, I may one day have the pleasure of giving these guys the platform to grow. That day is now and this isn’t about me, but rather about the emergence of one of the most exciting and rewarding industries in the world.
Justin is at the forefront of a new breed of trainer and he is already taking others with him. Not a second goes by when he doesn’t challenge himself or improve upon something and with a guy like him leading the revolution, the weight of the Personal Training industry is very safe in his hands! ”
I have lived an amazing life through Personal Training and believe that if carried out at an exceptional level, it plays an integral part in society and in a world where human interaction is dwindling, will only be more sought after. I hope through my article, more people will appreciate the industry and keep belief in it, but more importantly that more trainers with the right intentions pursue this trade knowing that a long term approach to success will bear far greater rewards than those exploiting it for instant success and by adding value instead of taking it away, the industry we love can be passed on to future generations to enjoy!