Written by Lee Bell
How the preconceptions associated with PTs shouldn’t impact you studying for this very accessible, condensed but challenging course.
Personal trainers and fitness instructors have an expected aesthetic. Many of us believe that If you’re shouting at people telling them how many burpees to do in a bootcamp class, you should be built like The Rock.
And this is perhaps one of the biggest problems with the fitness industry right now. Not helped by the rise of the Instagram-grown ‘fitfluencer’, people are obsessed with aesthetics. This means they’re more open to making judgements on skill level based on looks alone. Often, this means that clients will resonate more with trainers who flaunt bigger frames, more lean muscle and lower body fat when it comes to choosing the PT for them.
But because you hold the knowledge to get in shape, doesn’t automatically mean you should be the size of a garden shed, or intimidate anyone that crosses your path (as the cliche would suggest).
In fact, good PTs must be multifaceted, and acquire a skill set that can be used in all fields of sport, health and fitness, whether that’s instructing an outdoor HIIT class or writing training programmes for all kinds of athletes.
Becoming a PT: harder than you think
As I’ve gotten increasingly into fitness over the years, it’s felt like a natural progression to push myself into the direction of broadening my knowledge and aiding others in becoming more knowledgeable about health, too.
But it took me a good few years to get to this point due to the stereotypes of those in the industry. It was that ‘stacked’, alpha male cliche that always put me off becoming a PT, despite knowing it would be a profession I’d enjoy and be good at. Due to the preconceptions I had, I felt I didn’t fit the mould of what people would expect of me as a fitness instructor.
However, after some careful consideration and eventually deciding I no longer cared what others in the industry thought of me, I enrolled in an intensive Level 3 PT course. This was with an independent company based in London called No1Fitness Education, which I studied in my free time alongside my full-time job over the course of five weeks.
What’s involved? My experience
The course comprised Level 2 and Level 3 PT qualifications, the first of which gives you the skills required to be a “gym instructor” (for example, teaching basic fitness and exercise techniques to groups of individuals) and the second a fully-fledged PT, so you can train one-on-one with the knowledge to put a comprehensive 12 week programme together for a client whatever their criteria and goals.
Because it was an intensive programme aimed at those with busy schedules, it was made up of 65 hours e-learning, which had to be completed online, at home via a portal, as well as 14 hours of practical learning on the weekends.
The sheer amount of theory you need to know will come as a bit of a shock at first, even just to pass the level 2 part of the course. Anatomy and physiology take up a huge section of the qualification. Scientific terms such as the names of skeletal bones and muscles – and how they all work – can also take some time to sink in, especially if this type of learning is alien to you (as it was for me).
When starting the course, I quickly realised that five weeks is a very short time indeed to take in this amount of information, especially when working a separate job 40 hours a week. This means you don’t really get a day off, either, as your weekends are taken up by the practical stuff. Saying that; this gym-based learning is by far the best part of the course and was also a lot of fun. If you’re like me and learn best in a classroom environment, you’re likely to find the theory sessions rewarding, too.
Some of the formal topics you’ll cover in the theory include subjects like Kinesiology, Human Kinetics, Biomechanics, Anatomy or Physiology, whereas the practical entails more learn of the composition of the gym-floor, how different machine work, best practice, what different areas if the body they work and how they should be used.
Examinations and qualifications
Both Level 2 and Level 3 examinations are made up of theory, practical tests and your ability to put together an appropriate training programme for a prospective client (chosen at random by your assessor on the day of your exam).
When it reached the time to take the tests – even though it was just a few weeks after starting the course – I did feel well prepared. Theory exams are multiple choice but can be very specific in nature, so if you haven’t learned your osteoblasts from your osteoclasts, you’re going to be in trouble.
Practical exams are much more engaging but still challenging. They require guiding a fellow student through a number of bodyweight, cable-based and machine-based exercises, giving teaching points and adjusting them if necessary, explaining what muscles are being worked and why this is beneficial to the client – all while an assessor listens in and takes notes on your performance.
Level 3 basically involved more complex exercises than Level 2, with more detailed explanations required throughout.
The course – while super condensed – was thoroughly interesting and I felt I learned an incredible amount of valuable knowledge throughout my five weeks on the course, sometimes so much that it was extremely tiring. It’s something you really need to prepare for. I’d even suggest taking some time off work, especially around the time leading up to exams so you can really focus on learning. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a rewarding process, especially at the end once you’ve passed!
Now that I’m a fully-fledged PT, Ideally, I’d like to teach outdoor HIIT classes, using bodyweight as the primary form of exercise. However, while I’m completely qualified, I still don’t feel ready to go straight into teaching classes. To get there, I think the first steps need to be very small ones, building up my confidence with smaller classes, prepping classes thoroughly, and gradually working up to a bigger and more experienced client base.
Oh, and a word of advice from a newly qualified PT: before booking your next one-on-one training session, check their qualifications. If it’s a one-on-one session you’re after, and guidance through a programme over a period of time, ensure they’re trained up to Level 3 and not just how well they fill out their t-shirt…