Monday, May 9, 2011

The Trainer Talent Code

Imagine watching a young child playing a clarinet, and seeing her practice a song as she learns it, over and over again.  She struggles with it, learning a few notes, then finding her rhythm until being interrupted again by an error.  When she makes a mistake, she re-starts the song, and focuses her effort on perfecting the song until again, she makes another mistake.  This process repeats itself, painfully, until 5 minutes later.  She stops, thinks, and starts the song again, only this time, it's perfect. 

This process, known as deep practice, is what author Dan Coyle refers to in his book The Talent Code, and Coyle refers to this process as a frequent necessity for any greatness to occur. 

In my experience, this process is critical for trainers to get to become 'experts', and unless this happens, the expertise is never gained.  Recently, Bret Contreras piqued my interest and thought into this topic, as I have my own experience both being a trainer, and managing and teaching over 200 trainers in the span of 3 years while working for a corporate gym.  So how can this process happen?

1) Experience versus Expertise: as Bret says, this is important, but the take-home point of this is not just slaving away, doing 8-10 personal training sessions per day, and considering yourself an expert because you're busy.  Truth is, you probably don't have the time or energy to further your education if you are that busy, and won't be able to further your expertise.  I used to tell my trainers that expertise trumps experience, and I think Bret and I agree on this point. 

2) Humility: In meeting several of the best trainers and coaches the past 5 years, one of the most common trends I notice is that most are extremely down to earth.  Despite being very accomplished, these experts will answer emails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, open their facility doors for a tour, and even have lunch with you.  Now, take a step in a commercial or corporate gym, and you will find the 'expert trainer' that you've never heard of, training while chewing gum and drinking coffee.  Yes, they are busy, but not humble in their approach, and definitely not displaying that humility.  In many an interview, trainers have presented themselves as experts in their field, despite the fact they cannot program, coach, or train anyone other than themselves, which leads me to...

3) Deep Practice: Coyle refers to this process as: making a mistake, correction, mistake, correction, and the consistent effort to perfect a craft that yields success long-term.  Now, the pre-requisite for this, humility, must be present in order for a trainer to have the awareness to continue practicing programming, coaching, and training with others in order to achieve expert status.  On the contrary, a trainer who does not have humility: they will rarely be aware of the fact they are not as good as they could be, and in turn, will not spend the consistent effort on improvement. 

With Bret's article, I would like to expand on one thought: a trainer who executes training sessions with a purpose, training with a vested interested in the client, and training to consistently improve the clients experience, results, and overall health, will become an expert.  Hands down.  Like Coyle says, they will make a mistake, they will fix it, make a mistake, and then fix it again. 

The difference between the trainer who only does sessions (as Bret says) and the trainer that has the "Deep Practice" mindset, is the latter will involve more study, more inquisition, and eventually more expertise. 
One of the reasons Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove are so successful is because they have the Talent Code mindset, tracking every session, rep, and result.  Imagine:
  • Training a client who recently hurt their hamstring in a flag football game
  • Having a female come in who, before even training, requests to only do bodyweight exercises
  • Training a Wall Street CEO, type A personality, with a history of low-back pain, but consistently trains with poor form, heavy weight, and wants someone to train him one way: his way
As a manager, each client would predictably be set up with a trainer whose personality and experience matches each individual.  However, personality and experience are less important than the 'common denominator': each client needs to be trained with a delicate combination:

1) Experience:  giving client what they WANT initially will yield happy client, and ultimately, they will purchase sessions or packages

2) Expertise: giving client what they NEED will eventually yield a happier client, and ultimately, they will be educated in what they were doing wrong, change those factors, and become a raving fan of your system. 
This will NOT happen if a trainer is NOT in the trenches, learning how to handle different personalities and character traits, and is not in front of the client, adjusting and learning to their movements, programs and sessions.

In summary: I am opening a personal training studio in the NYC in the next few months, and I can say for certainty that I will be hiring trainers that have experience with clients, whether or not it's 'in the trenches' or with online, but perhaps more importantly, the trainers should possess the attitude towards Deep Practice and persistence (Todd Durkin calls this hiring for attitude and training for skill). 

Other qualities and characteristics necessary to become a expert personal trainer:

Character Traits and General Business Skills
  1. Professionalism
  2. Listening ability
  3. Organization skills
  4. Communication skills
  5. Passion for results
  6. Energy (fake it until you make it!)
  1. Program design
  2. Coaching and cueing
  3. Exercise selection (see my article on that, HERE )
  4. Time 'Under-the-bar' (Dave Tate's book)
  5. Continuously educating others, from clients to other trainers
I hope this article provokes more thought on this topic, and perhaps comments and conversation!

Thanks Bret for the inspiration for the article!

-Coach Kev

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