Keep your damn hands off my pull ups…

I don’t have a hardcore position against occupational licensing, but I don’t think we need state-licensed personal trainers. I don’t think there’s any widespread threat of this happening any time soon, but I am a fan of Mark Rippetoe’s articles so I thought I’d share.  Your mileage may vary.

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21 thoughts on “Keep your damn hands off my pull ups…

    • God I would hope so. Do you know how easy it is to do permanent damage to the human body if you exercise wrong? Wrong form, wrong exercise, existing injuries, over-use….

      I figured personal trainers had some background — I mean not all the stuff physical therapists do (which is, IIRC, a full degree), but that there was some certification or education requirement beyond “I like to hang out at the gym”.

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  1. Given that a bad personal trainer could lead to a client seriously hurting themselves i can see a valid purpose for a license. Not in how to train as the article suggested but in basic safety precautions and physiology. A PT should be able to teach someone in their own way without hurting them. I’ve certainly heard of trainers who coached people to do things that were really likely to lead to injuries. I’ve also seen trainers that didn’t seem to know their ass from their elbow.

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    • You’d think the chain gyms would require education and certification just for butt-covering purposes and/or insurance purposes.

      Heck, the guys that held martial arts tournament (entirely within one style, but probably 200 or so people — split into adult and child divisions) mentioned the minimum insurance they had to buy for an event was a million bucks of coverage, just in case of serious injury that the organizers might be at fault for. (Not sure how that was determined).

      This was a heavily padded, light-to-touch contact sparing event. The only people hitting even remotely hard were brown belts and up, who could generally be counted on to wear protective gear properly.

      (Seriously, there’s always at least one person who won’t wear all the gear because it ‘gets in the way’. That tends to last until the first major contact. Cups, mouth guards, shin guards, and chest protectors for women were the major ‘I don’t need to wear that’ culprit. The chest protector was the only optional piece for tournaments, but informal dojo stuff was less strict).

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      • I don’t have a lot of experience with chain gyms. But from the little i’ve seen they are really hit or miss. Some have highly motivated trainers and some have people that look good in exercise gear and can name all the machines.

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        • Honestly, I only ever joined them (and am considering again) for the machines and the pool — the simple resistance circuit ones are generally worth it in terms of just general health and muscle tone, and I’ve get to find a better overall workout than swimming. (That’s how I’ve felt at least).

          Not to mention those machines are pretty much idiot proof. They only move the way they’re supposed to, and the weight is set automatically for reps by your own initial effort. Barring a pre-existing injury or medical problem, it’s pretty hard to hurt yourself on them.

          Honestly, I’d prefer a nutritionist to a personal trainer.

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          • Yeah, most people if they want a basic workout can learn what they need on their own and will be better off in most ways. There aren’t many ways to go wrong on the various machines although it is possible. Mostly its people wanting to far to much and to fast.

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  2. Totally off topic, but as a father on the tail end of potty training a 3 year old, the title of this post initially had a much different meaning for me.

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  3. I’d hope there is some professional organisation with a certificate. But that doesn’t need to be enshrined in the law books and require 120 credit hours, 6 months of apprentice work, and a 8 hour exam.

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    • I agree with the sentiment. My reservation would center on the certifying organization itself.

      Say you were contemplating engaging the services of a personal trainer and she trotted out a certificate from [made up name] Professional Personal Trainers of America (PPTA). So who are they and what does their certificate mean? Does it signify that the holder actually knows what they’re doing or just that they were able to scrape together $50 to send in to some website like becoming a pastor in the Universal Life Church?

      I wonder if the proper role for government in this sort of thing might be to certify the certifiers. It’s just something that occurred to me and I don’t really know how that would work. Just something to think about if we want to strike some balance in this whole occupational licensure debate.

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      • You’d be surprised how many cert groups are private. In most industries with one or two main bodies (sometimes with local/regional chapters). If someone isn’t a member of one of these, it’s worth asking why. And if they are, you’ll want to research the grievance process.

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  4. My apologies for the delay. I’ve been enjoying a three-day weekend, but I figure I’ll respond in between pull sets (yes, I’m bad):

    You’d think the chain gyms would require education and certification just for butt-covering purposes and/or insurance purposes.

    The major gyms definitely do, whether it’s from the NSCA, ASCM or NASM I don’t know, but there are certification requirements and it does time and effort to get them (although nothing like a four year degree).

    When you get past the major gyms and go towards facilities that cater towards strength and conditioning (either specific towards something like a form of weightlifting or for training athletes), the people there generally have at least a four-year degree in a related field (exercise science, kinesiology, physiology, perhaps an advanced degree in Athletic Training (as my brother in law does) and have more advanced-level certs (i.e the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA).

    Then there all sorts of private groups as mentions, so much so it makes my head spin (for spin, TRX, CrossFit, boot camps, etc. etc.). The issue is that for a lot of people, especially those untrained/lightly trained or uninformed (me included at one point), cert = competency. It is a problem in the fitness industry and one that I don’t think “the market” can necessarily flush out without mitigating the risk issues while it happens. It takes some time to root out the bad trainers, but in the meantime, they’re still exposing people to risk. Personally, I think it’s extraordinarily irresponsible to expect people, especially “newbies” to be competent enough to sit down with a trainer and know whether or not that person is good for them.

    One of my biggest concerns about state certification is that some of the strongest proponents come out of the academic school of exercise science and/or strength and conditioning. Given the controversies between the academic and, for lack of a better term “applied” schools, I’m not sure they are the best people to consult, at least without consulting people from a far broader perspective.

    Also, recent if not drastic changes in the fitness industry as a whole make me skeptical about trying to impose state-mandated standards for fitness trainers, not only for certification but also what they are or are not allowed to teach. When I was a gym rat in my early 20’s, most of what people were doing were a combination of isolation machines and/or medium-type cardio work. Today, I see more people squatting, doing dead lifts, military press with barbells in addition to all sorts of different kinds of high intensity interval training.

    The modern fitness industry as I understand it came about in the 1970’s. It’s a relatively new industry and susceptible to dynamic changes in the way we view fitness, as recent history shows. As such, if there’s any concern I have aside from safety (which I do care about), it’s how a certification process can adjust itself to changing fitness paradigms that could drastically be different than what we know today.

    Granted, people can hurt themselves, but they can do that on their own. In fact, looking at most gym videos on YouTube, they are generally unsupervised and doing lifts that most personal trainers wouldn’t begin to know how to teach let alone recommend to most clients, especially newbies.

    I wonder if the proper role for government in this sort of thing might be to certify the certifiers. It’s just something that occurred to me and I don’t really know how that would work

    This happens know with the NCCA and ANSI but all those mean is that someone has looked at the organizations and sees them as legitimate enterprises. They know very little about what it is they’re actually certifying. They know nothing about squat mechanics, periodization, etc. etc. I’ll post a quote from the article:

    At no point during the process were we asked about full squats – or anything having to do with exercise, training, safety, equipment, science, biomechanics, physiology, kinesiology, physical education, or any other aspect of any activity in which our credentialed professionals are actually engaged. Nothing.

    I think we run into the same roadblock though. If a program, say XYZ, doesn’t fall within the “accepted parameters”, then anyone certified to teach it through a private organization doesn’t get the blessing of the accrediting agency and can’t teach it.

    A PT should be able to teach someone in their own way without hurting them. I’ve certainly heard of trainers who coached people to do things that were really likely to lead to injuries.

    Every time I see someone doing exercises on a bosu ball with a trainer supervising them, I want to throw a bumper plate at that trainer. I see bad things happening, but I’m less concerned about the risk of injury (given the very light loads – its low) and more concerned about giving clients a base to build on for something long-term and sustainable. Then again, most trainers want repeat clients so the less the clients know the better.

    Yeah, most people if they want a basic workout can learn what they need on their own and will be better off in most ways.

    Since when do liberals preach personal responsibility? (kidding) ;) I have only used a trainer once in 2 1/2 years, and that was for mobility work. I’ve learned way too much on my own.

    There aren’t many ways to go wrong on the various machines although it is possible.

    The only way is to actually use them. Ok, that’s a bit unfair, but I’ll clarify with when I riff off of this comment from

    — the simple resistance circuit ones are generally worth it in terms of just general health and muscle tone,

    Generally, I agree, especially for people that want to get some exercise, lift some weights and focus more on general fitness without the risks associated with barbell or dumb bell work. One can walk a circuit, hit the stations, rest 30-60 seconds, and in 20-30 minutes, hit all the muscle groups and have a good burn. It won’t make people big and strong, but a muscle burn doesn’t hurt anyone. That said, to the extent, there are machines that give weight assistance for exercises such as pull ups and dips, especially if one is standing or kneeling on a platform, those are good for people without the strength to do a lot of unassisted repetitions.

    You may like science, but do you like broscience?

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      • I think bosu balls work well for exercises like planks and push ups where the instability helps with core strength. However, I see people putting people on them, handing them dumbbells and telling them to do curls. That’s a bit much.

        Trainers should not put people just getting back into working out on unstable surfaces believing that they’re introducing clients to functional fitness. I see someone at my gym doing slow curls and slow squats on a bosu ball. Why? So much time is spent balancing that the exercises that are being done aren’t being done in a meaningful enough way to have any long-term effect.

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        • Ah… got it. Yes, I use the bosu for core strengthening exercises.

          When my usual routine has me plateauing and my alternate routine isn’t alternate enough, I’ll sometimes add some instability using a yoga ball. But this is when I’m in pretty good form AND the yoga ball (or whatever it is called) is much more stable than a bosu. So, for instance, I might do a dumbbell chest or shoulder press with a low weight on the ball. Would you consider that problematic for any reason?

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    • “Since when do liberals preach personal responsibility? ”
      Well we did just have a blue moon.

      While there is one way to use most nautilus type machines and they are generally safe, i’ve seen some people come close to ripping their spines out. They are mostly fool proof, but nothing is truly ever completely so.

      fwiw, i have never used a trainer. But i’ve read extensively about the things i enjoy, distance running, x c skiing and road and mountain biking. Youtube is great for learning.

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      • Using nautilus machines safely will give plenty of people everything they need to get a basic workout of the muscle groups. Besides situations where people try to push up too much weight. where I’ve seen the most trouble is with the pulling machines (i.e. lat pull downs and cable rows).

        If you really want to get creative with equipment, look at all the creative ways gym bros use equipment to bulk up the only muscle group that matters – the biceps. ;)

        But i’ve read extensively about the things i enjoy, distance running, x c skiing and road and mountain biking. Youtube is great for learning.

        YouTube has helped me too, but mostly in conjunction with my reading. It’s great if you know what to find, but can lead people astray. I can watch 10 videos telling me 11 different ways to do pull ups.

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        • I’ve been considering a gym membership (again!) since I’m hitting 40 and way out of shape. I’ve been doing treadmill work intermittently for a year or so. I can’t seem to really “jog” the whole workout, but I’m getting better.

          I’m aiming to be able, ultimately, to jog 3 miles twice a week and 5 once a week — 11 miles a week at a relatively light jog. I can do that with the walk/run thing, but I’d like to jog the whole way. I figure that’s a good goal.

          But I’d like to do some muscle tone stuff, since running doesn’t do much for anything else. :) Hence the basic resistance machines. Simple, fairly idiot proof, quick (the 30 minute cycle) and exactly what I want.

          Or I might do home yoga. When you’re my size and as out of shape as I am, even holding downward dog is a pretty good arm workout! :)

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