What I’m thinking as a trainer while I’m working with your body

My own personal trainer is a lean, mean, muscled machine, as is my boxing coach. Both are very fit and experienced competitive fighters who can look pretty intimidating. Was I nervous when I started training with them? Absolutely! I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of being trained, worrying about knowing nothing about lifting weights or throwing punches and feeling distinctly underpowered in the cardio department while they both run rings around me during padwork drills.

There’s always someone fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable out there than you, and that’s why I have my own coaches to keep me challenged and progressing and accountable; it’s why most people sign up for personal training and I also feel that every trainer should have their own coach to push them on. We all need someone else to motivate us. But we start where we start, and it’s the responsibility of a good trainer to meet the client where they are and not pass judgement. I know that when I train with my coaches, I’ll be getting valuable feedback on my skills and not on the size of my thighs.


(Training my client Helen at Powersports.)

I think worrying about being judged as weak/fat/clumsy can put people off signing up with a PT, and that’s a real shame. A good trainer isn’t the same as a shouty military  instructor who motivates through humiliation (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case be my guest and find someone who isn’t me). A skilled personal trainer is an empathetic listener, an excellent coach and flexible according to the needs of their client. If someone arrives fighting off the flu, then the tough HIIT session I planned is going to be dropped in favour of light training and a stretch-based session. Working 1:1 on fitness is about far more than writing someone a programme full of sets and reps. You can be someone’s agony aunt in times of trouble, you will be asked for a lot of advice on areas well outside of health and nutrition, so be prepared to go way beyond what you think is required if you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer!


(Working with Ella and her arthritis at Sweaty Betty Bristol – training isn’t just for the athletic elite.)

My client base is predominantly female (I have three male 1:1 clients and a handful more in my yoga and HIIT classes) and I have been very conscious about how I speak in my work about women’s bodies. There’s enough shaming going on across social media; I want everyone who comes through my door to know they are not judged. Just being in a class for the more anxious members of my client base is a big achievement, as is training in front of other people in a shared space. For many people who have not exercised for some time, are injured, experiencing personal problems, are pregnant or carrying a lot of weight, training is a matter of getting through it, and I commend my clients for their efforts. People’s lives and their motivations are often far more complicated than we can appreciate.

We talk about form and technique in my classes and 1:1s, not about being skinny. My clients literally applaud each other’s efforts and we have fostered a reputation for being one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around, of which I am very proud. I know when someone new arrives, my fitness tribe will make them feel comfortable and motivate them through the class, whatever their size, whoever they are and whatever they can do.


(With Pearl and Shirlee, left, and Meg, right, at my group classes. We’re a friendly bunch!)

And when I am watching my clients working out, what goes through my mind? To be honest, it’s very technical. I’ve been trained through my studies to look at the body in terms of balance, form and alignment so I’m absolutely focused on how you are performing a movement and nothing else. I’m looking for the best, safest form you can achieve, and then working out ways to modify something you may be struggling with or progressing an exercise if you are looking strong. I will notice your mood and your energy and how that is affecting your training, and I might ask you some questions to see how I can help if you seem a bit off. I’m looking at your static posture as well as your dynamic movement patterns to see if something needs correcting, not because it makes me feel clever but because incorrect information is being fed to your brain and central nervous system when something is out of alignment. That’s a potential injury waiting to happen and it won’t get you closer to your goals.

I pay my clients compliments on their form and give praise where it’s due. I’m honest if I think you need to work differently or you could try harder on your nutrition, because that’s my job and I would be doing you a disservice as a coach and maybe even compromise your safety if I don’t speak up or call bulls**t where necessary. Telling someone they are not ready to perform a certain exercise or why they not losing weight isn’t fun, but I will always explain what you need to do to get there over time and with practice.

Am I thinking you look fat/thin/too muscly/too anything? Nope. I really am a dispassionate observer trying to help you achieve what you told me you want to do. If I pay you a compliment, it’s because you’re working hard to get closer to where you want to be, and you deserve it. I feel that my yoga teacher training and practice makes me a more compassionate trainer, but I also feel that is an essential quality for any decent trainer working with clients putting their mental and physical wellbeing in their hands. It’s a matter of basic respect and helping someone feel better about themselves. If you’re not willing to be motivational and take joy in your client’s gains, no matter how small, then it’s not the job for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I think trainers should responsibly coach their clients, then have a look at this article I wrote for the Personal Trainer Development Centre.

If you are interested in working with me 1:1 or coming to my group classes, then visit my website – link below. We also have a fitness half day event coming up on October 14th where you can get a taste of several areas of my work: HIIT, yoga and coaching.

I’m always happy to see a new face looking for a warm welcome!


www.befitbristolfit.com My episodes show me in group training and with 1:1 clients.

The 40+ body in the fitness business

I am, apparently, recognisable by my shoulders. This is according to the film crew at Troy TV who drove up behind me on the way to a shoot and spotted me by this rather well developed part of my anatomy. People usually recognise me by my bum but, hey, things change…

As a personal trainer, I’ve realised that people comment on my body more than they used to. I wasn’t offended by the point about my shoulders: in fact, even my clients are becoming recognisable by their unique shoulder definition! However, in an age where body comparison and paranoia  is rife thanks to social media – see my earlier post on this one – I feel even more under scrutiny being a fitness professional, especially being over 40. I guess people see the body of a trainer as a useful point of comparison for their own development, although I do occasionally get people asking how the ‘bodybuilding’ is going, with a bit of a smirk,  or men telling me that having muscles is ‘unfeminine’. I thought we were beyond all of that, but apparently not.

It’s my job to be fit and have a body that looks that way; I have to be a good advertisement for my job. Instagram is full of photos of young trainers baring their six packs, vascular thighs and bulging biceps, but are they the appropriate criteria on which to judge how well they can train a client, and not just themselves? Can they adapt their training to suit someone with far less ambitious body goals? I don’t have a six pack but am in good shape for a 45 year old. However, part of me still remains a little pressured by the fitness industry norms to get leaner so that I ‘look like a trainer’.


With the right lighting and from a good angle, I can Insta with the best of them but I have to remind myself of two things when I start all the negative comparisons: one, I’m 45 not 25, and two, being a good personal trainer is more about being a good coach than having a great body (and who decides what a great body looks like?) and that coaching is what I do best.

Personal trainers and fitness models are not the same thing, although social media may convince you otherwise. My body helps to sell my business but what keeps my clients with me is my ability to build a strong working relationship with them. My goals are not your goals. Training myself is not an indicator that I can also train you.

My job is to help you identify your fitness targets and motivate you to achieve them with my skills and knowledge base. My formerly unhealthy past of being chronically ill and a bit chubby actually helps me work more effectively with my clients, as I know how hard it is to make a change. And being older? I’ve been around the block many times so when clients need to unload about their personal life (if you’re thinking about becoming a trainer, sharpen up your counselling skills because it’s not all about reps and sets) I’m sympathetic and pretty unshockable.

I’m already planning ahead for my future career as I have a limited time frame as to how long my body will be able to work at such physical intensity. I have an appointment with my physio this week to sort out a range of aches and pains. Switching to a more coaching-led practice is one way forward, as is specialising in working with an older age group. I’ve also just started a course that will qualify me as a specialist in corrective exercise, as I want to deepen my anatomical knowledge and I enjoy the challenge of working with clients with postural issues and injuries – that would be most of you!

For now, I’m working on myself to stay healthy and fit so that I can enjoy my job, and to make progress with my own strength goals. We have to look inside and focus on what we want to achieve for ourselves, not to fit other people’s conceptions of how our bodies should look. So for anyone who has been called unfeminine, too muscly, too skinny, too big or too much of anything – screw ’em. Do the best for you, right now, to get yourself one step closer to whatever you are trying to achieve: a pull up, a Parkrun, a walk around the block without getting out of breath. And, if you need a motivational trainer with a sympathetic ear who’s already been there, you know where to come…