What's the Difference Between a Personal Trainer and a Teacher?

Trainers Can Strive to Be Teachers for the Betterment of Their Clients

Army Fitness
Teaching group exercise. Getty images

In our fast-paced, technologically-driven, chaotically busy world, fitness professionals are in an increasingly important position to affect positive change in the lives of the people whom they are hired to serve.

Whereas modern medicine has unfortunately become largely a disease industry, the growing field of physical exercise training serves as a potential anecdote to a life spent going under the knife, swallowing prescription pills, and endless appointments for every ache, pain, or psychological turmoil.

The Ethics Required of Fitness Trainers

Of course, the level of academic education for a fitness pro is nowhere near the level of education needed to become a medical doctor, they do share one very important ethic. That is, like the doctor, the fit pro must understand that her first role is to First, Do No Harm.

A fit pro must not injure his students through reckless, egocentric “beasting” sessions. Rather, he is trusted to oversee an intelligent, methodological, and progressive overload over time. It’s not very professional nor ethical to leave the health-minded customer worse for the wear because the fit pro wanted to “try something out” that he saw on the internet or in a magazine.

If the fitness pro wants to hurt himself by lifting too heavy, going too fast, doing too much, or moving with sloppy form and otherwise training in exercises that he is not properly educated or skilled in, that is his own business.

However, to do the same to the people he is paid to look after and he is negligent.

While the doctor only sees you after you get injured or sick, the fitness professional is in a position to help you avoid getting injured or sick by supervising an intelligent, gradually-advancing fitness and health regime.

Good Communication Is Vital to Physical Training

Since fitness professionals work within a hands-on, practical, physical field, communication is a major part of the process.

It is not enough for the fitness leader to personally be strong, fit or otherwise physically talented. He is not there for the student to simply watch him work out. Rather, to be effective, the fit pro needs to be able to clearly demonstrate, explain, identify and correct as needed. It is not merely a matter of what he can do, rather it is more important what he can do for the customer’s benefit.

Because communication is so important in the teaching/training process, let’s take a minute to consider the meaning and value of the profession we identify with.

The Difference Between a Teacher and a Trainer

Is there a distinction between a trainer and a teacher? Is this just a semantical question, or is there a real difference?

If you are a  person searching for a fitness professional to guide you along your personal fitness journey, or if you are a fitness professional (or considering the career) this is an important question to consider.

When I think of a trainer, I think of a person who may do some teaching, or maybe only teach some things in the beginning. The rest of the time is spent supervising and counting repetitions.

  • A teacher connotes a person who is invested in the success of his or her students and whose very success depends on the growth and learning of those students.
  • A trainer has a job. A teacher has a responsibility to supervise and educate.
  • A trainer has clients. A teacher has students.
  • A trainer counts reps and sets. A teacher counts growth and progress.
  • A trainer takes the thinking out of it, while a teacher makes you think more.
  • A trainer is only concerned with a short amount of time (usually not more than 1 hour at a time). A teacher is interested in your learning process which extends beyond the limited amount of time you are in the gym together.
  • A trainer focuses on techniques. A teacher emphasizes principles.
  • A trainer wants your business forever. A teacher wants you to be empowered so that you no longer need the teacher and can become your own teacher.

All Trainers Can Strive to Be Teachers

The above comparisons illustrate a distinction between the trainer and the teacher. The distinction lies in the professionalism and commitment to the service being provided and the level of dedication required.

There is no shame in being a trainer, it is a positive profession. However, just as there is more to the person than his muscles, there is more to being a fitness professional than counting reps and supervising the client for an hour a few times per week. A teacher has to lead by example, which means to demonstrate the qualities of the subject he teaches in action.

A fitness professional ought to be fit, in the same way that a health professional should be healthy. There ought to be a consistent message between what is being taught and who is teaching it. This is called integrity and is the hallmark of any professional.

Fitness pros, if you view yourself as a trainer, consider making a long-term commitment to your profession and begin to think and act as a teacher. Your students deserve it and education is the way forward.

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