From Novice to Expert: Career Advancement for Personal Trainers

Jan 16, 2024

Imagine driving a car with the handbrake on - you're moving, but not as fast as you could. That's how many personal trainers feel when navigating their career progression. Their passion, interest, and commitment drive them forward. Yet, confusion, insecurity, and overwhelm hold them back. In the personal training industry, there's no shortage of knowledge. The challenge is knowing where to look, who to trust and how the pieces fit together. In this post, I share insights from my 15+ years in the industry as a coach and educator. I hope to guide you through common barriers so that can you become an expert in the health and fitness field.

Common Barriers that Personal Trainers face

1. Insecurity

The journey begins with facing our insecurities (sorry to be the bearer of bad news!).

Consciously or not, many trainers hold themselves back because they don't feel worthy. Unfortunately no self-help book will ever get to the source of the problem.

Can you guess what the problem is? (I apologize if this hurts...)

👉🏼 You actually don’t know enough.

Here's the thing: In most instances, our insecurities are right! The problem is not whether we have insecurities or feel like an imposter. The problem is not seeing those feelings for what they are and leveraging them. These feelings are like a warning light on the dashboard encouraging you to look deeper. Listening to your insecurities will point you exactly where you need to go. The road of mastery.

2. Confusion & Overwhelm

The next hurdle is knowing where to look and who to trust. In the face of this, confusion and overwhelm ensues. I’m very lucky that I met fantastic mentors early in my career, otherwise I may still be lost to this day. My mentors not only exposed me to world-class information. They encouraged me to think through problems with a level-headedness I didn’t have before. They fostered in me the ability to think through problems. They "taught me how to fish" instead of feeding me for only one day.

Confusion and overwhelm are a given... This is why mentorship is a must.

3. Lack of Mentorship & Guidance

Real-world learning comes from active problem-solving, not memorizing facts. Mentorship is vital in this stage. It provides actionable skills and a safe space to work through problems. Great mentors know the limits of their understanding and the gaps in their thinking. They see that you also have much to offer and that they have much to learn from you as well. Individuals like this are the kinds of people we can trust, and they are rare.

Remember this. When it comes to the process of exercise, the only absolute is that there are no absolutes! The only thing we can say with absolute certainty is that “it depends''. But it depends on what exactly? This is the great question. The answer requires that we examine how we make decisions and the underlying components of exercise and human function.

4. Reaching the Limits of Systems

Unfortunately linear systems only take you so far when applied to dynamic environments, like the human body. Wouldn't it be nice if exercise protocols worked 100% of the time? Wouldn't it be nice if we could guarantee a rehab result from the initial consultation? As you no doubt have noticed personal trainers don't operate with certainty. We operate with probability.

Linear thinking must evolve because linear systems are fragile. They are fragile because they fail to adapt to new and contradictory information. As Nassim Nicholas says in the book  "Antifragile":

"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

What if you developed a clinical thought process that not only navigated difficulty but thrived in it? What if you could stay calm during challenging cases? What if you knew what to prioritize and how to get your clients better results? All of this is available to you when you become a deep generalist.

The solution for Personal Trainers?

Become a Deep Generalist

Becoming a deep generalist is crucial in helping complex organisms like humans.

Deep generalists understand the nuances of human function and how to affect them with exercise. They understand how the humans make decisions and how environments instigate change. This comprehensive understanding allows for a more holistic (and informed) approach to fitness and health. Which is also more effective.

It's not just about knowing more; it's about integration and comprehension. The infographic below shows the need for a deep understanding of individual components. It also highlights the need for a broad perspective across various fields.

Final thoughts...

The journey from novice to expert is challenging and rewarding. It requires facing your insecurities, navigating confusion, and thinking beyond conventional systems. By becoming a deep generalist, personal trainers excel in their careers. Making lasting change in their clients' lives, and a great living. The path has illuminated. Now it's up to you to take the first step.


Stay curious;
Etienne Asselin, mhRTS

Note: Think I missed something? Shoot me an email at [email protected]. Let’s chat!

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