Here’s a common experience that new fitness trainers have:
They get their training certification (qualification if you are one of our UK friends) then they step out on the training floor to start working with people…and they feel like a total imposter.
They don’t actually feel like they know what they are doing. It provokes a lot of unsettling anxiety—limiting any newfound confidence he or she may have had after achieving their certificate. It’s a vicious cycle—they have a hard time confidently making decisions and the lack of confident decisions hinders their ability to grow confident. And it all culminates in an inability to produce a consistently positive result for their clients.
Through my work with Strength Faction, I talk to a lot of new trainers on the phone. This week so far I’ve had phone calls with four—and I’m writing this on a Tuesday. The common refrain goes a little something like this, “I’m just not sure if I’m doing the right things.” That’s totally fair.
Earlier today I spoke with a woman that is transitioning careers (also a common theme among folks I talk to) shifting from an office job into training full time. She echoed the same sentiments I’ve been hearing for years. She said, “I was like, ok, I’m certified…now what? I know where muscles are and what they are supposed to do, but I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.”
Good for her. Seriously. First, she’s brave enough to work to switch careers and do something she truly enjoys and cares about. Second, she has the awareness to know that she doesn’t know enough to be truly effective…and she’s seeking out the means to be truly effective. Each is commendable. It’s one of the cases in which imposter syndrome is a good thing. It’s not limiting her from acting as confidently as she should be, it’s causing her to seek answers. This is good.
The converse is not good—and I usually, but not always, see it from folks with four-year kinesiology or exercise science degrees. Academia’s ivory tower emboldens them with an unwarranted confidence and they enter their first training jobs cocky and unaware that they truly aren’t prepared to train real people. School’s ideas and theories are nice; but learning from folks that have spent their careers in classrooms, and not on training floors, sets them up for a big right hook from reality. The good ones take that hook on the jaw and realize that they need to learn, or they aren’t going to dodge the next one. Unfortunately, there’s also a large contingent that never learn how to move their head. Their academic-sponsored rigidity gets them pelted in the dome. Frustrated, but still too sure of themselves, they struggle to make progress.
Certified, recently graduated, or both…what’s a new trainer to do?
Let’s hash out a few ideas.
First, Learn About People
Mainstream training certifications’ and schools’ most grievous error is not actually teaching folks how to coach…or build relationships. IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT GODDAMNED THING THAT WE DO! But these certs and classes are over-focused on things like the functions of the scalenes. Sure, we need a scientific understanding of how the body actually works so that we can call bullshit when we see it, but I have a Master’s degree and I couldn’t tell you the last time I thought about any of that shit. (Maybe the last time I treated a manual therapy client…but even then, I don’t think in those kinds of specifics.) What I do think about during every shift that I coach is how to best connect with the people that I’m working with.
Here’s a broken record saying that Chris, Mike, and I can’t help but to continually spout (because it’s that important): play the long game. That means keep people showing up. That means people need to want to be around you. That means you need to understand people. That means you need to do a lot of learning, paying attention, and genuinely caring.
Rather than reading 10,000 articles arguing about left pinky toe placement during the single-leg, inverted, buffalo shit, deadlift, read books about conversation, relationships, and how to connect with people. Read about Carl Rogers and his humanistic psychology. Read about self-determination theory. Read about how to actually help people set goals that are truly their own.
Yes, we need to know how to write programs and coach movement. But if we don’t know how to connect the person to the program it won’t matter all that much.
Second, Find Mentors
“People that do should teach, people that teach should do.”
That’s one of my favorite quotes—and it directly applies to mentoring and finding mentors. Training, as science-based as it is, isn’t a textbook profession, it’s a practical one. Apprenticing ourselves to those more experienced than we are will do more to help us grow than pretty much any other educational endeavor we can seek—besides acting and paying attention (more on that in a second.)
When I say apprenticing, I don’t necessarily mean an apprenticeship in the traditional sense—although it’s not such a bad idea. What I do mean is seeking counseling, tutelage, and guidance from folks a little farther down the path. It could be in the form of an internship, a professional or personal friendship, or a coaching community such as the one we’ve created in Strength Faction. It could be getting a job at a great training facility and, even if you’re not being paid fantastically, considering the amount of practical knowledge that you’re osmotically consuming as part of your salary.
Learning from people that actually do, and are willing to help you, is absolutely paramount. They’ll usually know how to guide you while also allowing you to walk your own path. And they’ll likely help decrease the severity of your mistakes, helping you to jump a little farther down the path than from where they started.
How do you know someone, or a group of folks, would serve as a good mentor to you? Examine them critically using these questioning criteria:
-Are they actively working to learn, evolve, and grow?
-Do they have a lot of rich relationships and connections with other people?
-Have they solved the problems that you’re trying to solve?
Third, Act and Pay Attention
Imposter syndrome can stifle a new trainer into sitting on their hands and waiting for the right answer to stroll on by with a big sign on that says…well…”I’m the right answer.” While appealing to the nerves, this strategy will keep a person sitting and waiting for just about ever without getting an answer that approximates anything valuable. It just doesn’t work. We have to act for answers to become clear.
Here’s the deal—you know some stuff. Stuff being the eloquently technical term for your training and coaching knowledge. Act with that stuff…and pay attention to what happens. Don’t get caught up in producing a perfect outcome. It’s not likely that you will. But if you act on what you know, and pay attention to the outcome of that action without a strong attachment to it being perfect, you’ll learn. If you observe your actions with as much objectivity as possible, you’ll note what worked and what didn’t. You can tailor your future actions accordingly.
But you have to act. Take what you know and get moving. And as you’re moving, pay attention to what happens with an intense curiosity. Let that curiosity drive your learning.
Fourth, Attack What You’re Butting Up Against
As you act, you’re going to butt up against problems that you don’t have a solution for. Good. As my mentor, Bill Hartman, says, “Learning happens at the point of struggle.”
Now you know where you need to direct your study, your questions of your mentor(s), your learning. When you feel that pang of uncertainty, don’t avoid it. That pang is trying to tell you that you’re at the limits of your competency, and for you to alleviate that pang, and subsequently the feelings of being an imposter, you need to get answers.
The two biggest pangs that Strength Faction folks come to us with are program design and helping clients set goals. Each is much simpler than the outward appearance—that means the answers are simple. But fear often drives folks to over-complicate things. When we attack something and set the goal of making that thing simple, understandable, and actionable, the fear subsides and we can do.
But you have to attack what you’re butting up against.
Do! And if you’d like help with that doing, that’s what Strength Faction does. We created simple systems that help you solve the common problems that trainers butt up against—all while connecting you to coaches from around the world that you can lean on with your questions.
Click the link below to learn more and to enroll:
Strength Faction Super Early Bird Enrollment
(Today, Wednesday April 17th is THE LAST DAY FOR SUPER EARLY BIRD ENROLLMENT, tomorrow the price jumps!)