It isn't hard to call yourself a personal trainer these days. Taking a weekend certification course leaves the door open for so called "fitness enthusiasts" or guys who have over time fallen in love with "chest and tri's day" to waltz right in and claim to know what they're doing because they're somewhat fit. Many of these people know they have a lot to learn and try to educate themselves so they can get results for their clients. Others fill their clients' heads up with poor ideas of how to get in shape. But the real question is, where are they getting their ideas and philosophies from?

Let's be honest, many guys, myself included, entered the iron game learning a lot from the bodybuilding world and magazines like FLEX and Muscle & Fitness. Most of the information is advertisements and pipe dreams that are unattainable without special pharmaceuticals, but there are some valid and interesting training principles.

Recently, with the popularity of MMA style conditioning and "CrossFit kick your butt" training, some trainers prefer to make their own distorted versions and just crush their clients with random chaotic circuits that have neither rhyme nor reason (50 box jumps, 50 clean and presses, 50 burpees = 50 blind followers). Once in a while, they make an attempt at a modified George St. Pierre style training session—great for conditioning— for everyday Joey P. Corporate. It's unnecessary and probably not very conducive to the real goals. It seems some trainers also get their ideas from the “celebrity trainers” in Star magazine who have helped Brittney Spears cut weight more times than a high school wrestler. What more fitness professionals, trainers, and coaches should do is seek out the invaluable, hands on experience that comes from training with a respected and well-known coach or trainer.


Training with a great coach: Why is it valuable?

At a recent Perform Better seminar, accomplished strength coach Mike Boyle told us to steal from great coaches and trainers. Although the word "stealing" has a negative connotation, in essence, what newer, less experienced trainers/ coaches should be doing is taking what veterans with more years in the game are doing, learn it, and try to apply it. The best way to learn is through experience.

Of course, any seasoned, villainous thief would tell you that a great way to steal something valuable from someone is to befriend them, go to their house or work, gain their trust, and find out as much as possible over time. I can't think of a better way to learn ideas, exercises, warm ups, drills, teaching cues, and philosophies.

Think of it this way—most athletes grew up watching and attempting to mimic the superstars who play their sport. A high school linebacker with half a brain would jump at the chance to toss the ball around with Ray Lewis. Why wouldn’t personal trainers try to learn the same way? If ever presented with the opportunity to learn from someone who is great at what you would like to be great at, only a fool would let it pass by. So if you want to have a successful career as a respected strength coach or fitness professional, I highly recommend getting the best and full experience one of these people can provide—a training session.

Do you really have to go and train with a more experienced trainer? No, you don't. You can read the magazines and the interviews instead, but it isn't any replacement for the real thing. Reading about how Zach Even-Esh conditions his wrestlers is beneficial, but nothing will compare to asking if you can join in one of their workouts. Dave Tate and Jim Wendler can write a million articles about squat/deadlift training (which they very well may have by now), but if I were in a 75-mile radius of the EliteFTS compound, I would be there as often as I could—to become not only a better strength athlete but a more valuable personal trainer to my clients.

My story and what I gained from training

After moving to New York city in January from upstate New York to continue my career as a personal trainer, I decided to start competing on a regular basis in powerlifting and Strongman. Up until this point, I had only competed once in 2008.

I’d heard a lot about DeFranco's Training in New Jersey in the past, saw (and loved) the Strong movie, and watched countless YouTube videos of his athletes training. I convinced two of my fellow personal trainers from Equinox on Park Ave. to take the trip with me and join in one of their “Strongman Saturdays." Joe, his staff, and athletes are an awesome group that created the best training atmosphere. There are few things better than flipping, dragging, and carrying heavy ass objects with a big group of hard working, motivated athletes on a sunny 85-degree day in New Jersey. Maybe it's just me. I'm sure there are some dudes who do "arms and abs" for the third time that week and then hit the Jersey Shore who might disagree.

As an athlete:

  1. I've hit big PRs in the squat leading up to my first full power meet while training with Joe's NFL combine prep group.
  2. John Impallomeni gave me great coaching points for the log press, helping me win third in Long Island's Strongest Man.
  3. John and Joe also advised me well on pre-competition deloading. Joe taught me something valuable when he said, "There's nothing you can do in the few days leading up to game time that will make you better, but it can definitely make you worse."
  4. Joe and John have both helped me immensely with Strongman training by setting up mock timed events that were almost identical to the shows themselves.
  5. Great coaching is always accompanied by the hardcore, intense, and extremely motivating atmosphere that Joe, his coaches, and athletes create every time I have been there. It's the kind of environment where the tough thrive and the weak need not apply.
  6. Just ask Guadango nicely to put on some Young Jeezy and he will hook you up! That is if you meet the strength requirements of course.


As a professional:

  1. I've learned so much about the conjugate method and how Joe has successfully adopted and modified it. As a result, many of my clients are seeing the benefits as well.
  2. I learned many great warm-up drills that I immediately had my clients use—drills and exercises that build mobility and stability without having to resort to the "functional corrective" floor exercises that I can't help but find lame unless you're 65 or older.
  3. After training sessions, Joe shared with me so much about how he started and came to be in the respected position he is in now.

Running and owning a hardcore warehouse gym where motivated athletes come to train and making it a place that generates enough revenue to earn a living is extremely difficult and it's not for everyone. While it would be incredible to do what he does, after he shared stories of unfair hourly splits between trainers and facility owners, Joe helped me see how my current position in the commercial fitness setting is great compared to where he started. On top of that, we agreed training the non-athlete population is often a very rewarding experience.

Finding your own trainer: Where to go from here

OK, so let's say you’re now convinced that you want to find a great coach/trainer to help you as an athlete and professional. Here are a few considerations for choosing the right trainer for your goals:


  • Choose someone who excels in your sport—and be willing to travel. You will probably want to find a strength coach/trainer and facility that is well versed in your athletic pursuit of choice whether it's grappling, MMA, Strongman, powerlifting, or bodybuilding. Or maybe you just want to be the baddest dude to have ever played the game of flag football.If you’re an avid reader of articles and books in the strength training and fitness field, you should already know plenty of big names and training facilities. If none of the top coaches are close by, you’ll need to investigate the options in your area. Through reading and keeping up with the field, I can think of a hardcore gym with a knowledgeable owner/coach in almost every region of the US. I'm assuming you care, and considering what they say about assuming, if I'm wrong, it only makes an ass out of you this time.How far you choose to travel is up to you. DeFranco's Training in New Jersey is two and a half hours door to door from where I live in Brooklyn. That's nothing compared to the professional rugby player from Australia staying in Jersey right now just to train. Point being, if you live in California and can travel to train with Chad Wesley Smith at Juggernaut Training, I assure you it will be worth it. If you don't have any real passions, pursuits, or at least hobbies that fall into the realm of the athletic or active lifestyle, I recommend that you reevaluate why you're training or coaching others.
  • Will you be able to hang? Maybe you aren't confident that you could hang with a group of athletes during a training session. So for this I have two possible explanations or solutions. A) Your current program (or lack thereof) that you likely made up yourself sucks. As a result, you're weak and out of shape. I'm even assuming that you're training, but the idea of trainers and coaches who don't actually work out is a whole other discussion. Regardless, put on your "humble hoodie" and "hard work hat" if you own one. Get tough and give it your best shot. If you don't have that in you, why should anyone else pay to train with you?Bear in mind that you're seeking out the best coaches/trainers in the industry. If they live up to their reputation, they will—without a doubt—have the ability to modify a workout to fit your fitness level or abilities.
  • Humility and thirst for knowledge—find some. There are two types of people who need guidance—people who know they need it and people who don't think they need it, the latter requiring much more. Psychiatrists and therapists go to therapy themselves. They're not all necessarily crazy. They just know it would be crazy not to seek out the guidance and help of one of their more respected and experienced peers. They know there is so much to gain both personally and professionally.

Final thoughts...

I read once that as a trainer, coach, or fitness professional, you should ask yourself if you're in as good of shape as you want to be in and are you willing to pay for training?

If the answer is "no" to both those questions, you either don't see the value in what you do as a professional or you simply don't care. Now, ask yourself why people should pay to train with someone who isn't enthusiastic about their own personal and professional development.