A question that many people ask when thinking about becoming a personal trainer is ‘How fit do I need to be?’
The answer is… it depends. It’s helpful to first look at what we mean by ‘fitness’.
Dictionary.com defines fitness as: ‘1. health; 2. the capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort.
According to Your Dictionary meanwhile “Fitness is defined as being in good physical shape or being suitable for a specific task or purpose”.
This second definition brings some subjectiveness to physiological requirements, whereas according to the first definition, a personal trainer should be able to maintain their oxygen levels as they train their clients. This is why the answer to the question is “it depends”. It depends on a number of variables, including the type of training session, the fitness and strength level of each client, and how many clients are to be trained, either together or consecutively.
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 also reflects poorly on the trainer. This isn’t to say that the trainer is expected to perform the entire workout alongside their clients: in fact, doing so throughout a day of back-to-back sessions could soon result in burnout! The session belongs to the client and the trainer’s task is to closely monitor them, not work on their own fitness.
It’s worth considering that not all personal training is fitness facility-based. Walking, running and riding sessions, on land or in the pool, will require greater aerobic fitness levels, and have greater oxygen demand. The ‘talk test’ is a quick and simple way of assessing whether oxygen demands are being met. A fit PT will be comfortable setting the pace, and holding a conversation while they do so. This would demonstrate that their anaerobic threshold was higher than that of their clients.
If the client were an elite athlete, this guide would be unreasonable, but most clients are either beginner or intermediate in terms of their fitness. The ability to perform a minimum of 30 minutes continuous aerobic activity may be a reasonable expectation of a personal trainer’s cardiovascular fitness.
According to one of the definitions above, ‘being in good physical shape’ is an element of fitness. The fact is, aesthetics does play a role, with clients expecting personal trainers to look fit, and model their profession. Of course, this is subjective, with different clients having different ideas about what ‘fit’ looks like. For some people ‘fit’ may refer to leanness, while for others it would be about muscularity, and others still, BMI. Wanting to achieve a lean physique themselves, one client may be drawn to a trainer with that body type, whereas another may only want to work with a personal trainer who looks like they’re ready to compete in a bodybuilding event. Which leads us to the next question…
The number of personal trainers that have ‘ripped abs’ is a lot lower than many people may think. The few highly visible trainers showcasing their six-packs on Instagram are not a true reflection of the norm. Although a rippling washboard stomach may help build your visibility and reputation as a PT in some circles, and to gain new clients, it isn’t a necessity. In today’s fitness market, clients of all ages and life stages are looking for a genuinely diverse range of trainers to help them reach an equally diverse range of goals.
An older client looking to maintain their independence might be drawn to a more mature PT with experience in training older adults in functional exercises that improve their ability to safely perform activities of daily living. For these clients, the aesthetics of a six-pack would have no bearing on the goals they are trying to achieve.
Similarly, a client seeking to lose weight may prefer to train with a PT who has their own weight loss story, and might still be on their journey. The client may expect such a PT to understand and have more empathy for their circumstances, whereas having a trainer with a ripped physique could be intimidating for them.
On the other hand, a bodybuilding client looking to improve their form and maybe enter competitions would likely seek a PT with the physique they aspire to have. Their trust in the PT’s exercise prescription and nutritional advice would influence their choice. In a specific scenario such as this, it would certainly help the client to have a personal trainer that had previously undertaken the same challenge themselves. By having walked the path the client is currently on, the trainer would have valuable insights into the challenges the client may face, the obstacles to overcome and the training skills to avoid any specific injuries that may occur.
In conclusion, a personal trainer should look and be at least ‘fit’ enough to ‘walk the talk’, but this doesn’t mean they have to have the physique of a bodybuilder.
In terms of their own personal fitness, PT’s should ideally:
Personal trainers are mentors, role models and motivators – but being fit isn’t enough in itself to make you a great one. A combination of attitude, education and personal attributes, including fitness level and empathy, is the recipe for an amazing PT that can help clients reach their personal goals.
The Australian Institute of Fitness provides training for personal trainers and fitness instructors. We offer a wide variety of personal training course options. You can choose from: