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The Fitness Zone

How fit do you need to be to be a Personal Trainer?
August 27, 2015 | by Annette Chatterton

When people look at becoming a personal trainer, there are plenty of questions raised as to whether being a PT is the best option for them to pursue. A question we commonly encounter is what level of fitness does being a Personal Trainer require? The answer isn't quite so simple! Australian Institute of Fitness South Australia's Director and Course Coach, Annette Chatterton, dives into the question of fitness levels for fitness professionals.  

The answer to this question would have to be “it depends”. There are plenty of ways to look at this question and therefore, plenty of different answers that could be provided. There certainly is no “right” or “wrong” way to look at answering this question. So, to help answer the question, let’s start with some definitions.

The definition of “Fitness” in the Australian Dictionary is “Fitness is defined as

  1. health

  2. the capacity of the human body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort”.

According to “Your dictionary” fitness is defined as “being in good shape” or “being suitable for a specific task or purpose."

This second definition brings some subjectiveness to physiological requirements. But according to the first definition a Personal Trainer should be able to maintain their oxygen levels as they train their clients. But this is where “it depends” really comes into play. It depends on the type of PT session, the fitness and strength level of the client, and how many clients like this are to be trained either together or one after the other. Some other “it depends” questions can also be asked. A Personal Trainer should be fit and strong enough to demonstrate each exercise as required hour after hour with a reasonable resistance. Thus throughout the day the oxygen demands will be easily met as you lift, carry, set up, demonstrate and spot clients. If a personal trainer cannot perform the exercises requested, it not only makes it hard for the client to perform the task safely and correctly, but doesn’t really reflect well on you as the trainer. Although it helps to be fit to be able to do exercise and routines throughout the day, it certainly isn’t a job requirement.

Not all Personal Training is Fitness Centre based. Walking, running and riding sessions, on land or in the pool will require greater aerobic fitness levels, greater oxygen demand. A fit PT will be comfortable to set the pace, and hold a conversation. This would demonstrate that their anaerobic threshold is at a higher level than their clients. The “talk test” would be a quick assessment of meeting the oxygen demands.

If the client were a top level athlete I would suggest that this guide is unreasonable. But the majority of PT clients are not elite, but either beginner or intermediate. Perhaps a minimum of 30 minutes continuous aerobic activity is a reasonable expectation of a Personal Trainers cardiovascular fitness. In fact the Australian Institute of Fitness test the cardiovascular fitness for 20 minutes only in the student logbook.

Being in good shape is part of the definition of fitness. Clients expect Personal Trainers to look fit, and role model their profession. This is very subjective. Is it leanness? muscularity? BMI? It is certainly not specific. In fact, many people/clients will have many different ideas of what “fit” looks like. One client may think a lean physique is the best determination of fitness levels, whereas another person will only want a personal trainer who looks like they’re ready to compete in a bodybuilding event. The amount of personal trainers who have “ripped abs” are actually a lot lower than you think. Although it may help with your reputation as a personal trainer and help to gain new clients, it isn’t a necessity.

Perhaps a weight loss client prefers to train with a PT who has a weight loss story, and in fact might still be on the journey? The client may expect the PT to understand and have more empathy, rather than be intimidating and unrealistic. In fact, having a personal trainer with a ripped physique may even be intimidating for this type of client.  A body building client looking to improve their form and maybe even enter events and competitions would seek a PT with the physique they aspire to have. Their belief and trust in the PT’s exercise prescription and nutritional advice would influence their choice. It certainly helps if a personal trainer has already been through the path the client is currently undertaking and therefore will have a better idea of what the client may face, obstacles to overcome and any specific injuries that may occur.

In conclusion a Personal Trainer should look and be “fit”. They should “walk the talk”.  They should be in the “normal” % body fat range, be able to carry the heavy DBs for their client, be able to spot a challenging lift and maintain an adequate level of aerobic fitness to meet their oxygen demands during a long day of physically and mentally demanding training. This might include their own fitness training as well as delivering sensational PT sessions.

Personal Trainers are mentors, role models and motivators. But being fit alone won't make you a great Personal Trainer. A combination of attitude, education and personal attributes, including fitness level and empathy is the recipe for an amazing PT. At the end of the day, you don’t need to be extremely fit and/or muscular to be a personal trainer, so long as you're helping clients to reach their own personal goals. 

About Annette Chatterton

Annette is the Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT. She has been an active Coach and Fitness Presenter for over 30 years. Her interests lie in aqua, personal training, triathlons snow skiing, and sports coaching.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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