Personal Training – Good for Brainstorming, But Not Ideal for Long-Term Success

I don’t have anything against personal training or personal trainers.

Having said that, I think ultimately you are the one who will eventually find your own ideal routine. Even the goal of my site is to give out guidelines and “tweaks”, so that you can find the routine that works best for you.

I am always hesitant to give out exact routines, because copying something that works for me 100% isn’t something that will be best for any other person.

personal training

[Overdue for a good black and white picture. This one reminds me of “The Haunting”, a 1963 black and white horror film where an evil mansion traps all of its guests. For some reason, I find old black and white horror movies scarier than modern day films.]

Personal Training Has Its Place In the Short Term

There are tons of knowledgeable people who can cut down your learning curve by hearing their wisdom. This is true in any endeavor, not just getting in shape.

There comes a point when the “student must become the teacher” to reach the highest level. No matter what the skill… business, sports, racing, cooking, etc…the people who are super-achievers build upon a skill set taught by their teacher.

You Can Become Your Own Best Personal Trainer

Over time you will test and tweak different exercises, different combination of exercises, different tempos of lifts, etc. A personal trainer who has spent 20 years training hundreds of people will have valuable advice, but someone who has spent years learning what works for them will come up with a better routine.

The key to becoming better than even the best personal trainer is to constantly test and tweak.

High Achievers are Always in Learning Mode

The key to coming up with your ideal routine is to constantly test and improve upon what is working for you. So…really you will never have the perfect routine because you are constantly improving.

Personal training is a great way to test other methods, but most likely you will implement some of what you learn into your current routine that is working for you.

Find Something That Gets Results, Then “Test” One Variable

I like to take a scientific and systematic approach to getting fit.

The best way to see if something gets results is to test one variable at a time and give it enough time. If you change more than one thing at a time, you really can’t pinpoint the variable that caused the desired effect.

Over time, you will work your way towards an incredible routine…keeping what works and dropping methods that don’t. Can you imagine what type of results you will get with 20+ years of testing and tracking?

Study Many Methods, Then Test Things That Make Sense

What “makes sense” to some, won’t make sense to everyone. For example, I like to do HIIT on a treadmill and others would rather do kettle-bell swings to get the same HGH producing interval-style workout.

I have a pre-existing back injury and when I tried doing kettle-bell swings 10 years ago, it gave me a terrible burning sensation down my right leg.

So, no matter how effective this exercise is for some it doesn’t make sense for me to do this at all.

Beware of People Who Claim to Know Everything

I am the first person to say that there are many, many ways to get fit. I promote methodologies that I believe will help many people get slim and defined. I was hoping from day-one that people will just study all of the tips and test and track for themselves.

I have been working out consistently for 20+ years and have stayed lean most of that time, but I’m absorbing info and learning every day. The people who I learn from are also people who are in constant “learning mode”.

One of The Benefits of Getting Older

At some point you will understand exactly how your body reacts to exercise and you will get in the best shape of your life. At this point, every little tweak will make less and less impact on your appearance.

The fun part now is to see if you can stay just as fit with less time devoted to training. Time is our most valuable resource, so freeing-up more of it is always a good thing! Start testing “time variables”, like working out one less day per week, dropping an exercise, doing more in less time, etc.

The perfect routine to me is time efficient…anyone can get in amazing shape if they train 6-7 times per week.

Note: The point of this article isn’t to put down personal trainers. I know many are doing a valuable service and helping people get fit and healthy.

39 thoughts on “Personal Training – Good for Brainstorming, But Not Ideal for Long-Term Success”

  1. I love this post and I am a personal trainer. I agree 100% with every word. After a certain point you should know enough and want enough to find your own fitness path. Success coaching, goal setting and specific training designed to reach targeted goals is where most people really need help but this is not just in fitness but in life.

  2. What about “The Exorcist” Rusty? Scared me to death. Not just because of the gross special effects but the concept of sheer evil in it. I did’nt sleep for 8 days!!

  3. Hi,

    awesome post. Rings true for me. I really like to learn about bodybuilding myself and test stuff out. You inspired me to write something similar to my blog readers. I will encourage them to question everything and learn as much as they can..

    Thanx, gonna keep an eye on this blog!

  4. You know what’s funny rusty is that your title is somewhat ironic.

    “Training” is by definition short-term. I think we have lost site of that.

    There are fundamental differences between training and teaching that people do not usually recognize anymore.

    When you “train” someone you are preparing them for a specific thing, or helping them reach a specific short-term goal.

    I pulled this from an article that pulled it from Merriam-Webster:

    Teach has many alternate definitions, including:

    * To cause to know something
    * To guide the studies of
    * To impart the knowledge of
    * To instruct by precept, example, or experience

    Definitions for train are:

    * To form by instruction, discipline, or drill
    * To make prepared for a test of skill

    It can be subtle but recongnizing the differences can help us to use trainers effectively.

    When you go to a trainer you MUST have very specific short-term goals in mind. It is a mistake to give a trainer an “open-ticket”. Tell them exactly what you wish to accomplish.

    If you don’t know what your goals should be then what you need is a consultation, not a trainer. A good trainer will sit down with you in a brain-storming session to help you form expectations about your training. Then use this later to guide the training process.

    That is a sure-fire way to weed out bad trainers. It sometimes takes me an entire week or two weeks before I am ready to train someone. Yet people walk into corporate gyms constantly and are handed “routines” after a 3 or 4 minute conversation.

    Another thing that trainers and trainees need to recognize is that you goals will evolve over time. Changing goals means changing training but it goes further than that.

    The problem is that people are looking for the perfect routine but the human animal is not a static machine. Training is a dynamic and evolving process.

    Many commenters on this post and the post itself talks about finding the perfect “routine”. A routine is temporary. It is a “method”. I think one of the main avenues for long-term frustration is to mistake “methods” for “principles”. There is no perfect routine that will continue working forever and routines are NOT principles.

    “Ideal Workout” is not a concept I can really wrap my mind around.

    Many of the popular coaches actually develop their “philosophies” to explain their training methods, rather than the other way around! Something I’ve noticed that very few people recognize. Be careful of the explanations that trainers give, therefore, for their training methods. Arm yourself with the fundamental principles before you even approach a trainer.

  5. Late to the party as usual, but let me just say a thing or two in favor of PTs.

    1. I never stuck with it more than a few weeks or months until I hired a PT. Now I’m 2 years & counting.

    2. It’s an appointment to show up for, and I’ve always been big on that.

    3. It’s someone to show off for.

    On the negative side, I see a lot of PTs in my club that I would never use. They are all conventional. My guy is an exercise physiologist with 15+ year experience as a PT. He was the one who told me I only need 30 minutes, to make it intense, and only twice per week. He was the one who got the club to even offer 30 minute sessions instead of the normal hour. It’s half the cost, but he reasoned he could have twice the clients, keep them in the game because while 30-m is doable for most, people burn out and quit at an hour. So, he has a more steady income for the long haul, recessions and so on, keeping himself in the game, too.

    His goal for me has always been to progress from the isolation stuff we did at the beginning to, now, mostly big compound stuff. We do lots of free squats (my favorite and I’l break 200 pounds very soon), dead lifts, bent over rows, and just yesterday a new trick to the mix: power cleans (95 pounds to start — getting the form down pat).

    Anyway, y PT is a partner, really, and he has acknowledged a lot of learning from me, via my blog and the tidbits I tell him from Rusty, Craig, Art, Mark, Keith Norris and others.

  6. As a personal trainer I have to reply to this one! I can see where you’re coming from in terms of finding the best routine for you, rather than some routine a personal trainer repetitively hands out to all his/her clients. A good personal trainer will help someone to achieve their ‘ideal workout’ and offer them the support to stick at it – something they cannot achieve on their own.

  7. Dinlore,
    I think HIT is a good way to build mass. If it were me I would continue losing weight and follow Rusty’s strength training advice until you hit a weight loss plateau or reach your desired weight. Once you reach your desired body fat percentage determine whether or not you actually want a little more size or if definition will do the trick. If you want to get larger than HIT training might work for you. Keep in mind this form of training only works for people who can work out with an intensity that can damage the muscle in one set. Use Power Racks for squats and your bench press exercises to help force those extra reps. Power Racks are better than MOST trainers in assisting with these exercises (Sorry had to throw that in). If for some reason you leave an exercise not feeling satisfied with the intensity of the set I would feel free to add another set (this should not be the norm). I would do a full body workout one day and then take two days off (rest will depend on your diet and the intensity of your HIT training). Furthermore I would write down your results and force yourself to add either more weight or one more rep in each exercise session. When you plateau with HIT training you can switch back to strength training. You could rotate between strength training and HIT each month until you get your desired size. You could also use a strength training approach to size by using the six to eight rep range to get a combination of size and strength at a slightly slower level.

  8. It can be good to have a PT when you’re a newbie and know nothing, but it’s only good if it’s a good PT, if it’s one of those “my way is the only way” then it’s bad, because a newbie will learn close to nothing and will become a follower.

    In the long run it’s like you said Rusty, you should be your own personal trainer, no one knows my body, my recovery capacity, nutrition etc… better than myself, so i’m my best PT no doubt, and saying this it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to learn from other people, it’s just the other way around

    We should always keep learning and testing, adapting things to our own goals and fitness levels, to our own bodies

  9. Jason G and Rusty, thanks!

    How often would I want to work out if I was training to failure for mass? I’m slimming down these days and concentrating on getting to a low bodyfat %, but I can tell that at some point I would look better with just a little more mass on my chest, shoulders and arms.

    A few years ago I came across the cyberpump website and really bought into the HIT approach of training to failure each workout. I think all I managed to do after a few months of that was burn myself out and plateau.

  10. Hey Rusty,

    Very true. Whenever I have personally trained people I have told them that I am training them to not need me as soon as possible. Not good for business I grant you that, but long term I dont think PTs are needed for ever.

    Also in regard to the Haunting, I think its one of the scariest movies ever made. Because you never actually see the ghost your imagination scares you to death more than any image ever could. Modern special effects mean movies like that cant be made anymore.

  11. Great post Rusty. Agree with many of the points you made although I wish I had a personal trainer in the beginning as this would have probably saved me a ton of time and made me less of a C&A (chest and arms) guy when going to the gym. But then again, I had Kianna’s Flex Appeal to umm… study;)

    Whatever happen to Rick, the bodybuilder dude? It seemed like he ripped his chest or bi-cep muscle at least once a year…

  12. Hi Rusty,

    When it comes to you and your readers, I would agree 100% that hiring a “good” personal trainer is necessary only to break out of a rut, try something new or to get some professional feedback on our lifting form / training routine / postural assessment / etc…

    Your readers are obviously a bunch of self-starters who enjoy learning how to transform their bodies.

    However, in my experience, these type of people are the minority.

    There are a great many more people who have no intention of learning how to transform their bodies. Too busy…not interested…bad memories of climbing the rope in gym class…

    For these people, a personal trainer can be worth their weight in gold.

    They provide the fitness knowledge, the confidence that they can achieve that transformation, the camaraderie of a shared experience, a needed pat on the back or a kick in the ass and a fiscal commitment that some people need to avoid skipping sessions.

    Thus endeth the rant

  13. Jason G,

    That is what I should have said. I’m always thinking from the “gain strength without mass” mindset. Going to failure is great for mass building. Good call on that.


  14. Dinlore,

    Training to failure is not bad. It is a useful tool in developing new muscle in the 8-12 rep range. Rusty recommends not training to failure during strength training(3-6 rep range). Strength training is best implemented by people who are happy with their size but are looking to be more defined. Training to failure in the 8 to 12 rep range is perfect for people who want to become larger.

  15. Kane,

    Thanks for the compliment and congrats on the progress. I am holding off on Fitness Blackboard for a bit. I will send an announcement on that soon. I was able to maintain all the muscle and definition just from body weight circuits. I did lose a little strength when I went back to the gym 3 months later, but it didn’t take long to get that back. As far as your chest goes…that will even out over time.


    I should have chosen a slightly different title to my post. I didn’t want to say that personal training wasn’t needed…more like it is something that wouldn’t have to be done forever. A great learning tool, but at some point most people will be able to continue their journey on their own. I also could see your point that some people do want to outsource their fitness…that makes sense.

    The Spaniard,

    I love old Planet of the Ape movies…some of the best stuff ever made.

    Jason G,

    Some trainers do try to make things way more complex than is needed. I also agree on the trainers who aren’t fit. I have a really tough time taking advice from someone who isn’t where I want to be. If I was learning business, I want to learn from Bill Gates or another successful business owner…not necessarily a professor in college.


    Congrats on getting your certification. I can tell that you will eventually perfect your own methodology and will be a great trainer. The best trainers will teach others how to eventually stay fit on their own…that is the main point about the post. I’ll do some more nutritional stuff soon.


    I would be a bad personal trainer, because I would push clients “out of the nest” as quickly as possible. I love to teach, but I like to teach people to be self-sufficient.


    I would recommend Craig Ballantyne’s body weight circuits. I have an example of that if you click the link at the top under the header that says “body weight training for fat loss”.


    I think there is a certain amount of accountability when scheduling and paying for time with a personal trainer. I’m sure that is one of the reasons.


    Awesome…you are the ideal type of personal trainer…a teacher who wants your student to become self-sufficient.


    I am sure there are great female personal trainers, but there are two in my gym that fit your description perfectly. I had one woman walk up to me and tell me that my short HIIT intervals were a waste of time…if I was training above my “target heart rate” I would lose muscle and not burn fat. I just thought…you have to be kidding me. The funny thing was that she has been working at that gym for years and is in terrible shape.


    You are right…people reach their highest potential once they get to know their own bodies.


    A great starting point for sure. Many of us were lucky enough to get this info for free back in school, but I know that isn’t the case with everyone. I had a really good weight lifting coach back in high school.


    I love the pinball reference “TILT! TILT!”….there is probably a whole generation of kids who have no idea what that means. I’ve tilted more than a few pinball machines when I was younger…you don’t want that ball going down the gutter. I think there is value for personal training in the beginning, and possibly a refresher every once in a while…I just don’t think it should be a non-stop deal.


    There are obviously some great PT’s. I’ve made friends with quite a few who have commented on my site these past 2 years. I do disagree that most gyms hire great personal trainers. I think they are rare, but that is just my experience.


    Thanks for referring people to my site! It is so much more enjoyable with tons of interaction…so the more readers the better. I appreciate it buddy.


    Sounds like you know exactly what works for you. I love the idea of getting more done in less time. I guess it is one of those things that really makes a difference as you get older. When I was 20, I thought I had all the time in the world. This year I’m turning 40 and wonder where all that time went.


    I wished I was using these methods when I was 17! I didn’t really “get it” until I was 29. I am pumped for the younger people who latch onto this stuff. They will spend less time working out and look lean and healthy instead of looking “puffy” and bloated for years.


    Cool that you are doing Vic’ 31 day challenge. He has different strategies than me, but the same goals and outcome. Defintiley one of the best sites on the internet.


    You should get a decent amount of replies from your comment. A good personal training manager is tough to find, but with this economy there are many capable people without jobs…so you may find a fit.

    Jason G,

    I got your point on Conan. There are gentically gifted people who will put on muscle no matter what…even doing things wrong. My favorite thing is seeing the roid users give advice. Their methods have no practical value to people who aren’t using.


    Good points. I do agree with what you are saying.


    It is best to stop short of failure in order to continue to gain strength. Failing in a lift sends negative feedback to your nervous system. Eventually your ability to generate strong contractions to that muscle diminishes a bit.


    I think P-90X is a great fat burning overall workout to be done part of the year. I prefer Craig Balantyne’s body weight circuits from Turbulence Training, because it works on similar principles but isn’t complex as P-90X. I like simple and effective.


  16. I thought training to failure was bad? Wouldn’t “one more rep” just add up to failure if it’s pushing you past the point of stopping short of failure? What value is that?

  17. Speaking as a personal trainer myself I would like to add two things here to the posting.

    I personally understand that as a personal trainer my job is to first and foremost, educate, that being, in the long term, I expect to lose clients once they become self sufficient enough and confident enough to go it alone. If im doing my job right, this should be par for the course – at least thats how i see it.

    Secondly, for many clients, they may KNOW how to stay in shape themselves, but they come to me for the motivational aspects.
    Again I think a decent trainer will try to educate here on how best to self motivate.

    It’s all very well saying that personal trainers/training is this or that, but when you lump everyone together under an umberella then I think key points are being missed.

    Not every trainer is the same, some are motivated by cash, others by the desire to educate, as with anything in life, their is the good, the bag and the down right ugly.

    Be well

Comments are closed.