I recently made the decision to leave my job as a Personal Trainer. After three years in the Fitness Industry I just felt it was time for me to move on. This was for a variety reasons. Firstly, I now had my Psychology Bachelor degree and was was keen to get out and use it. Secondly, I felt I was no longer growing as a person from the work. I had obtained all of the transferable skills I want to carry with me into the future and I wanted the opportunity to use these elsewhere. Finally, over the years I became increasingly aware of trends within the Fitness Industry that I no longer wanted to associate myself or my ‘brand’ with. I’ll explore some of these toxic elements of Fitness culture below.
Becoming a Personal Trainer is far easier than it should be. The ease of qualification means that the vast majority of Personal Trainers are under-educated and unprepared for the demands of the industry. Far too many Personal Trainers lack basic knowledge about anatomy, physiology and the finer points of coaching and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. The job is more complicated than telling people to get down and give you 20. There is zero-to-none regulation of the Fitness Industry which means that these under-qualified, disingenuous trainers are free to run wild and train whoever they convince to take on their services. And I got sick and tired of being associated with people who do not take their job and the responsibility they have to the safety and well-being of clients seriously.
Beyond the lack of regulation of the Fitness Industry, I found myself growing more and more uncomfortable with the culture that the Fitness Industry promotes. I became a Personal Trainer because of my desire to help people. I thought it would be a good way to utilise my training in Psychology and Sport Science to improve the lives of others. That’s what I signed up for. What I became a part of was an industry that profits from telling people that they are not good enough. I wanted to lift people up and help them to take control of their lives through healthy diet and exercise. But this is not what the Fitness Industry wants for it’s clients. It wants clients to be dependent upon on us and to look to us as the only avenue to them reaching their goals. All of this just to turn a profit.
The fitness industry is one of the most powerful and profitable going around, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t care about providing genuine support for people. I want to help create independent people who manage their own health proactively. If I had it my way, I would work with clients for 6 monthes, then check in on them once a month, providing coaching and support ongoing. But that’s not how the industry makes money. It makes money by keeping clients reliant on trainers and services. Or through clients not using their membership. The Fitness Industry would seriously take a hit if everyone was able to get semi-regular coaching to help keep them on track to train independently. I disagree with relegating clients to dependence upon me and couldn’t keep condoning it anymore.
In addition to trying to keep clients reliant upon Personal Trainers, the Fitness Industry constantly provides one-size-fits-all solutions and then blames clients when they fail. The client didn’t eat write, they didn’t follow the plan right, they mustn’t have worked hard enough. It is never the Industry that is wrong. Despite it promoting unsustainable solutions that have nothing to do with a well-balanced life style, the Fitness Industry is never at fault if things don’t work out; only the client. Whilst I didn’t engage with any of these behaviours or ideologies personally, I have become disenchanted with the industry that allows this to grow rampant.
Futhermore, I refuse to be apart of an Industry that tells people they aren’t good enough as they are and will only be good enough when they achieve their fitness goals. The level of fat shaming and fat stigmatisation in the Fitness Industry is despicable and prevents people of diverse shapes and sizes actually feeling comfortable engaging in exercise. Furthermore, the Fitness Industry uses and promotes the fear of fat to exploit people’s insecurities and bully them into boot camps and other short programs that once again result in significant profit and little sustainable gain for the client. The obsession with fat and the idea that there is only one type of fit body also extends to Trainers. People often assumed I lacked knowledge in the field because I didn’t look like a super model. Working within the industry made me feel exceptionally insecure about my appearance as people, often driven by expectations drawn from social media, seemed to value my appearance more than my knowledge and training. This did begin to put a strain on my own mental well-being as I sometimes felt that I, an exceptionally strong, powerful, agile young woman, was too fat to be a Personal Trainer. Despite my wealth of knowledge and expertise, the pervasiveness of the fear of fat in the Fitness Industry actually made me doubt my own competence.
From what you have read above you may feel I have negative feelings towards my time as a Personal Trainer but you would be wrong. I am very grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned and thankful for the people I have met a long the way. I have had the opportunity to work with incredible clients and to learn from other amazing Trainers. I have learned a lot about my own values and ways of interacting with clients as well as where I see myself in the future. I have also made friendships that will last a life time. One such friend from the gym made a lovely comment when they found out I was leaving. They said ‘You’re good for the Industry, but the Industry isn’t good for you’. I feel with that one simple statement he has illustrated all I have tried to express in this post. I went into the gig quite idealistically and stuck to my guns about my philosophy to training but at the end of the day, it all kind of wore me down. I look forward to the next step in my journey and will always look upon this period in my life fondly.