Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-“Thinking Outside the Box”: Training the Trainer-


Earlier today, I received an email from one of my blog readers, who is also studying for her personal training certification.  She said:

“How much “should” a fitness trainer  train per day, and how many days rest?  You can’t tell me that you only work out 30 minutes 3 times a week (e-books for body transformations) and are as fit as you are.  As a trainer you don’t just do it to lose a little baby belly or whatever, but you are at a completely different level not to be compared to a little weight loss.”

Here’s my $0.02!:

trainerI have always felt it was weird when trainers don’t train themselves.  Case in point, there was a crazy chick that trained clients at the last gym I worked at.  From now on, i’ll refer to her as “crazy trainer lady.” She was the most horrible trainer i’ve ever known.  Her clients had horrible form, they gossiped with her the entire time, and she led what I called a “3 ring circus” that took over the gym most mornings.  She always trained small groups of women, and charged them K-Mart prices.  On several occasions, she cornered clients of mine in the locker room and tried to “sell” them on training with her.  Her pitch was “you’re paying $60 a session?  That’s crazy!  I charge only $10!”  Nice!  Ask any of my clients who trained with me at that gym, and they will probably laugh and tell you how ridiculous it was.  
My point in bringing this up was to provide a great example of a trainer who doesn’t “walk the talk.”  Crazy trainer lady was all into running.  All I ever saw her do was run on the treadmill, and her clients did all kinds of other stuff.  On numerous occasions, she would see me having a client perform a non-traditional exercise, such as a single leg anterior reach variation, and then five minutes later she’s having her clients do it!  Even better was when she got into using the BOSU.  She had 65-year old women standing on top of the dome and executing the most horrendous barbell clean and presses!  No lie!  I would shake my head in amazement and couldn’t believe she’d never been slapped with a lawsuit for negligence.  To my knowledge, she’s never injured a client, but I have a feeling that’s not always gonna be the case.
Trainers must walk the talk.  Period.  This means:
  • Being on time for appointments (crazy trainer lady was known for standing her clients up and/or calling in with lame excuses)
  • Not smoking (yes, there are trainers who smoke), and 
  • Eating an overall healthy diet (okay, so I was busted one time by a client as I walked through the gym lobby with a Taco Bell bag, but all i’d eaten was a bean burrito…relatively harmless)!
YOU are your best guinea pig!  I have always “tested” out new exercises, workouts, etc on myself prior to using them with clients.  Why?  Because I can then better explain how to do things b/c I know how the exercises feel.  If you feel comfortable doing exercises, you will have no problem leading your clients through them!
Any trainer can look at pictures in a book or magazine and copy them with their clients…but how in the heck can you do this properly without first having done it yourself?
I have been a little hit-or-miss with my own workouts the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been so busy with work that it’s been hard to stay on track.  I have no problem admitting that b/c i’m human, right?  So, right now i’m trying to do a mini-workout every day, in some form or fashion.  I personally prefer to do 4-5 days a week, and my workouts are at most 45 min each.  
I used to do waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much.  I exercised up to 3 times a day at one point.  I did 5 days a week of bodybuilding-style weight training for years.  On top of this, I did cardio, up to 45 min at a time, 5-6 days a week.  The days where I worked out 3 times a day were cardio morning and evening and weights mid-day.  I felt like crap and I honestly can say I look better NOW than back then…and I was 9 years younger!  I train smarter, not harder.  I was workout-obsessed.  I was continually tearing my body down instead of keeping it healthy, yet outwardly I appeared healthy.  Nowadays I train to stay lean and pain-free.  I have some low back/hip issues and if I don’t work out, I hurt, so that right there is reason for ANYONE to exercise.  I have a completely different perspective on exercise these days compared to back then.
So, here’s what I did just a little while ago…today’s workout!  I “borrowed” the SMR, stretching, glute activation, and integration sequence from the workout I took my 2:15 client through.  
  1. SMR: Psoas/Quad, Piriformis, IT Band, Gastroc
  2. Static Stretching: Cross-Legged Low Back/Hip, Supine Piriformis
  3. Active Stretching: Kneeling Psoas with Dowel Lateral Flexion, Rope Hamstring (straight and bent-knee), Cossack Stretch (Level II)
  4. Glutes: 
    1. Stability Ball Bridge (back on ball) with Miniband Abduction (band @ lower quads) x 15
    2. Single-Leg Bridge (with knee pulled in to chest) x 15 ea
    3. Clamshells (side lying hip abduction) with Miniband x 15 ea
    4. Miniband Lateral Walk x 15 ea
    5. Single Leg Anterior Reach with longer Miniband behind knee (pulling forward) x 10 ea
  5. Integration Sequence: 3-Way Squat Matrix with Contralateral Reach to External Rotation (I did the first set with my JC Predator band, so that there was resistance as I reached towards the knee/foot; I did the second set with a 5 lb dumbbell)
    1. Staggered Stance (split squat)
    2. Lateral Squat
    3. Transverse (rotational) Squat
  6. KB/Barbell/Bodyweight Sequence: 30 seconds work/30 seconds rest; 8 kilo kettlebell(s) & 15 lb Bodybar
    1. Overhead Press -8kilo x 30 seconds each side (no rest between; got about 12 reps each)
    2. 1/2 Snatch x 30 seconds each (no rest between; got about 10 reps each)
    3. Double Squat x 30 seconds (got 12 reps or so)
    4. Barbell Get-Up Sit-Up x 30 seconds (got 10 reps)
    5. Double Kettlebell Dead Clean x 30 seconds (I think I got 10)
    6. Figure 8 to a Hold x 30 seconds
    7. Push-Ups x 30 seconds (I got 12)
    8. Plank with Alternating Hip Extension (hold 5 seconds each) x 40 seconds

So there ya have it.  That was my workout today.  A lot easier than the one my 2:15 client went through!  In addition to the warmup/glute/integration stuff I included in my own workout, I had her using the rope, speed ladder, & running suicides outside!   If my clients ever got the chance to train ME…omg…I would DIE!!!!! 😀


22 responses

  1. Paul

    I haven’t (yet?) the need to seek out a personal trainer so I have never made an inventory of what I would want in them. I suppose I would want:
    1. Athletic/fit appearance – not for vanity reasons, but as a testament to a healthy lifestyle.
    2. On time – one of my pet peeves are people showing up late, it is highly disrespectful and unprofessional.
    3. Open minded – someone who is able to incorporate different techniques to achieve whatever goal I had in mind.
    4. Hard ass – if I were paying for someone to observe and instruct me, I would want to know what I was doing wrong and how to correct in.
    5. Solid client testimonials – I would probably look at did their clients achieve their goals and how pleased the client was with them.

    I usually have one or two other guys working out for me and make it my explicit purpose to always outdo them, not for pride or boasting, but to lead the way. I do have a friend who can perform more Pull-Ups than myself and I find it more motivating than humiliating.

    March 3, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    • Great points, Paul! Thanks for your input! More people need to have these “requirements” in mind when choosing a trainer.

      There’s somewhat of a debate out there regarding “should a trainer be in shape?” I may just write about that next!

      March 4, 2009 at 7:41 am

      • bravofitness

        YO! My early interests for fitness were bodybuilding years ago. Not the roid kind, but the old fashioned build as much muscle, train crazy and eat, kind. I have trained in many styles to date, but i still remember the good old gym days and “Chicken Johnny”. Johnny was a “trainer” at the gym my roommate and I went to. One day Johnny came in with a KFC bucket, to the gym, to his office. I swear, this is true. He also was not in good shape either, which just made him carrying that bucket appear worse. My roommate commented how I should be working at the gym instead of Johnny. Heh. As a trainer now, I too, don’t think a trainer has to be be “carb free”, but there should be a solid effort to be looking the part. Everyone has different styles and body types and such. I am 5’11” and 247. I love my plyobox. My buddy is 6’1″ and he loves his bench press. The size of a person doesn’t dictate their workout, nor should it dictate their training style. Personally, I work out 6 days a week, intelligently. I do many style of workouts, not just muscle building, because I need too, for my clients. I truly believe I am my business card when I do a consultation or pass someone in the grocery store. I eat as clean as possible. I do so for recovery as well, not just for weight control. It is not easy, but I remember this fact when I am talking to clients too. If it’s not easy for me, dedicated to this, I know It is a challenge for them. I believe If they see me in good shape and lean, then it makes it easier for them to get on board. That’s what I think anyway!

        March 6, 2009 at 9:50 am

        • LOL! “Chicken Johnny” sounds like the Australian bodybuilder Lee Priest!!!! I remember reading articles about him back in the day…for some reason he fascinated me…and I believe it was the fact that he ate complete crap in the offseason. He actually worked out a few times at one of the gyms I worked out when I lived in Austin. The guys said he would waddle across the street to get junk food after working out…and he was so out of shape cardiovascularly that he would be sweating profusely and breathing hard!

          I’m not a low-carb believer either. It’s all about quality, not quantity. I think what most people need to realize is it’s all about MODERATION. Clean food tastes better…and it’s sad b/c most people are so used to eating crap that the thought of eating more natural stuff disgusts them! What’s great is when a client has cleaned up their diet, and then eats some junk, and realizes how bad it made them feel. BIG wake-up call!

          Thanks for sharing!!!! 😀

          March 6, 2009 at 1:27 pm

  2. I don’t think a trainer has to have a “perfect” body (many 20-something trainers have that just because of their age!) but I do think they MUST be in training. Interesting that you bring up the trainer who was only running. I did my first marathon in December (and BQd!) and my first ultra last month, so running has definitely taken the lion’s share of my training time. Just a week or so ago, I re-committed to doing more of the balanced kind of training I put my clients through. Today my Gymboss, my rope, and a kettlebell have a date in the garage for 30 minutes of fun.

    Keep up the great work, Sarah. Oh, and have you done an AOS certification? If you decide to, let me know. I may be doing that this year… 🙂

    March 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    • Hey Leslie!
      I’m with you – I don’t think a trainer must possess a chiseled, rock-hard body, but they must practice what they preach! If I were hiring a trainer, it would make no sense to me if I met one who obviously didn’t work out. I wouldn’t take them seriously!

      You did an ultra?
      (on knees worshipping you, lol)!!! 😀
      I am in awe!
      There is NO way I could EVER do something that tremendous. Distance running is not fun for me, but I have much respect for those of you who can do it! The mental fortitude that requires is astronomical! Also, you have obviously been smart in your training, to keep from overtraining, etc. Kudos to you! Of course running had to take precedence over other forms, but you cross-train. I NEVER saw “crazy trainer lady” lift a weight, stretch, foam roll, or do anything other than jog here and there while waiting for clients. I’m assuming she ran outside most of the time. Not knocking running or runners at all! I just had an even harder time taking her seriously (never was gonna happen anyway, because of reasons I mentioned in my post, lol) when I realized she didn’t do anything else but run. Now, if she was taking her clients out running and performing “running training” with them, that would be different. But no…she trained her clients in the gym, and I feel it would benefit her tremendously if she picked up a weight. It would also benefit her clients, because it would help her be able to instruct them better. Then again, I really don’t think she cared that much…her training sessions were more like gossip sessions. :p

      I haven’t done an AOS cert but did inquire about it months ago. No one emailed me back. 😦 I do love the AOS methodology and the fact that it’s a lot more than just kettlebell training. I will keep you posted for sure if I choose to do it! Right now what’s really piqued my interest is Scott Sonnon’s CST cert. I will be posting more about this in the future for sure!

      Thanks for chiming in!

      Yours in Health,

      PS – I LOVE my Gymboss!!!

      March 4, 2009 at 2:33 pm

  3. P.S. Regarding the trainer who had a 65 yo woman on a Bosu doing c&p’s??? Whaaaat??? But a couple of weeks ago on Biggest Loser, they had a woman on TWO Bosu’s (on the flat side of each) holding what looked like 7 pound weights and doing delt flyes. Woefully ineffective, to say the least, and an accident waiting to happen, in my opinion!

    March 4, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    • EXACTLY!!!!
      There is no point in doing C&P’s on a BOSU…I don’t care what anyone else says! Worse was the fact that the woman couldn’t even do them with good form ON THE GROUND! You and I both know that if a client can’t do a movement in a stable environment, they have NO business doing it on an unstable surface! CRAZY! That’s why I call it “circus training!” It was more like “let’s entertain the clients and make them think they are doing something worthwhile b/c it’s fancy” thinking. Not smart AT ALL. I get heated about this kinda stuff!

      The training methods on The Biggest Loser scare me, too. Did you watch last night? One of Jillian’s dudes fell off a bench while doing step-ups and twisted his ankle. I DO NOT understand the need for 300+ lb people doing jumps onto a 24-inch box. It’s dangerous. I also do not understand why Jillian feels the need to climb on top of her clients all the time (ie: while they are doing wall-sits). My clients laugh about this! Maybe she’s part monkey?

      March 4, 2009 at 2:37 pm

  4. bravofitness

    Keep giving ’em hell Sarah! Great insight. I have a client right now that left her gym because the days she signed up, a “trainer” was sitting out front of the gym smoking. After her sign up, “Smokey Smokerton” ended up giving her the tour. Smokey told her she would, “Be all over her” if she missed her sessions. NIce. Walk the walk!

    March 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    • I am LAUGHING! Smokey Smokerton!!!! Too funny! 😀
      I think we should compile a bunch of stories such as these into a book!

      March 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm

  5. JMJ

    Cracking up at these stories. I’m glad I never “officially” worked as a trainer at a big box type gym. But through the years I have seen it all. Trainers walking in with pizza, chipoltle burritos, cokes, smelling like smoke, and talking on their cell phones during a session. Terrible message. As trainers, we should be a picture of health, we really should walk the talk. In my opinion, you have to be in shape, period. You have to live the fitness lifestyle, your clients are coming to you for encouragement and for direction. I once heard a good analogy on hiring trainers and having the look vs other professions- you want your dentist to have nice teeth, your financial advisor should be well dressed, drive a nice car and be well off-financially, and you probably want your chef to be a little on the heavy side. @Leslie-I ck’d out your blog. You’re a machine! It’s an outdated phrase, but-you go girl.

    March 6, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    • Jason-

      How’s about we start an “elite personal trainer club” or whatever…lol…it will be you, Leslie, bravo, John Izzo, and a few others…so far…

      The rules?
      No smoking.
      You can eat junk now and then…just don’t let anyone see 😀
      You MUST work out.
      Leave the cell phone at your desk/in your car when you’re working.
      Good hygiene/grooming
      No hoochie mama clothes for girls/overly-tight shirts/string tanks for guys!!

      I’m sure we could add more to that list, but i’ll stop for now!

      March 7, 2009 at 8:25 am

      • bravofitness

        NICE! Good that you noted the phone and clothing thing. I am in better shape than my clients, but I don’t think they want to be reminded of it everytime I see them because I am in my “hot bodz” top! 🙂 It can be intimidating to clients, and frankly I find it a little cheesy. I have my phone volume low, and aside from family emergency(my kids), I don’t answer the phone, period, during a session. I always emphasize that the clients time is THEIR time. I can conduct business anytime.
        Don’t forget to add NO buckets of chicken!

        March 7, 2009 at 10:16 am

        • LOL!
          I love it!
          Hot Bodz! Wow…that’s a blast from the past! I think I should have owned stock in Hotskins…I used to workout in teeny tiny shorts and tops…with stripes and stuff…and my bodybuilder friends wore string tanks and striped tights…and fanny packs! Gotta love the early-mid 90’s!
          I have always thought it would be funny to be training a client and then do something completely off the wall like pop open a beer…just to see their reaction. I knew a trainer who, on more mornings than not, had Kahlua in her coffee while she trained clients! No one knew, I don’t think. I’m thinking the bucket of chicken would be a good gag! 🙂

          March 7, 2009 at 11:13 am

        • bravofitness

          I actually have those ‘stop smoking’ cigarettes, the cotton filled ones, that i use as props. I had someone bring me an empty blizzard cup from DQ before, too. It is classic to see that crap on my desk because people know me better! What’s worse is we know that these things ARE on the desks of some “trainers” out there!
          Keep it lively! 🙂

          March 7, 2009 at 11:19 am

          • I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
            On the flipside, it works the same way with clients…I mean, most of ’em know that they shouldn’t be doing certain things around us, right?
            I had one woman walk into the studio I trained out of at the time…she was eating a ginormous chocolate chip cookie from the deli next door! The two other trainers standing there, as well as myself, had to pick our jaws up off the floor.

            March 7, 2009 at 11:22 am

  6. DDRdiva

    I totally agree that trainers should be able to do the exercises they assign to clients. Even if they can’t deadlift the same amount of weight, they should at least be able to properly demonstrate the form. Otherwise what use are they?? Anyone can read a book or website.

    As for body type, they should at least look healthy, not overly fat or skinny. Some college and pro football coaches look absolutely appalling! Seriously, they look like the photo you posted above. Who would want to take athletic advice from them? They should be ashamed of themselves for the poor example they are setting.

    March 7, 2009 at 9:46 am

    • Amen, sista! 😀
      You hit the nail on the head!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I keep thinking of more examples. At the first gym I worked at, we had a front desk girl that was very friendly and members seemed to love her. She could outschmooze the best of ’em, and sold a lot of memberships (I, on the other hand, wasn’t born with the gift of “schmoozing”). Anyhow, our boss decided she should become a trainer. She studied for a cracker jack certification and passed. She was working out on a regular basis, too, which after a while became a very hit-or-miss thing. You see, she had a problem with Budweiser and some illegal substances that tend to make people lazy and get the munchies. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Shiner Bock, lol, but as a Fitness Professional, I realize I CAN fit this into my routine in a healthy manner. This girl was a party animal, and it showed. She was a little “rough around the edges” and i’m thinking by now her insides have gotta be pickled and her lungs have gotta be black. Ewww. So, yeah…not the best example for a healthy lifestyle, ya think? More like a poster child for living life in a bar! I know that sounds mean, but I don’t know how else to put it (and hopefully you guys have come to realize that i’m a kind-hearted person). It was a slap in the face for me as a trainer. Kinda like “if you can do it, anyone can do it,” which is complete nonsense. Obviously our boss was thinking more about dollar signs than his image. I was encouraged to work out with her, to keep her on track. WTF? I remember thinking “I keep MYSELF on track, I don’t need to be made responsible for another “trainer’s” workouts.” She ended up getting fired down the road after she was caught stealing or something. Nice!

      March 7, 2009 at 11:04 am

  7. JMJ

    —>”She studied for a cracker jack certification and passed” Ha! Hilarious!

    March 10, 2009 at 10:48 am

    • Hehehehe!
      Scary how many of those there are these days!

      March 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

      • bravofitness

        I remember a client of mine a few years ago brought me a copy of a personal training certification packet he got from a place where he would go get massages. It was a 2 day course(can’t remember the price), and the “packet” was printouts of articles from the web and some stuff that was put together in microsoft word. I never did find out who exactly the certification was through. No surprise there. Unbelievable that this stuff goes on.

        March 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm

        • Wow.
          It’s obvious that those who pursue the legit certs are those who are more serious about it…maybe? Not saying all who attain a legit cert are serious trainers…I mean, i’d venture to guess that a scary percentage aren’t worth the price they paid for the cert. 😀 Geez, I sound like such a snob…oh well! LOL! Anyone and their dog can get certified, just like nowadays it seems any doctor can go to a weekend course and learn to do liposuction…SCARY!!!!!!

          March 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

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