A Booming Market for Fitness Trainers

By Guy Higgins

I completed a full workout this morning, and I feel like a spent round. I’m tired, and I can feel all the muscles I used. It was a hard and satisfying workout. I gained benefit from the entire workout even though I had to force myself to complete all the reps in all the sets. While I don’t work with a personal trainer, there are half a dozen or so trainers at my gym, and they always seem to be busy. Personal trainers aren’t cheap – they charge about as much as master plumbers. Why do people hire personal trainers when they can go to the library and check out a book on fitness that tells you everything that the trainer will tell you? Good question.

While the book from the library will tell you everything that can be written down, it cannot tell you everything you need to know. That’s because there are different kinds of knowledge:

  • Explicit information – this is what’s written in the book from the library. In the old “tell, me, show me, let me do it myself” adage, this is the “tell me.”
  • Implicit information – this is what’s often (but not always) captured in a YouTube video. This is the “show me.” Recognize, though, that there is no feedback in instructional videos, and feedback is essential in what has recently come to be called Deliberate Practice. Deliberate Practice includes having an expert observe the activity and provide critical feedback and recommendations for improvement.
  • Tacit information – this is the information or learning that you gain by correctly performing the activity yourself (and yes, thinking is an activity).

So, what does a personal trainer do and why do we, as leaders (as opposed to body builders or professional athletes) care?

Personal trainers provide the implicit knowledge necessary to execute the explicitly described activity properly. They also provide the real-time feedback necessary for deliberate practice as we execute the activity. Personal trainers help us perform exercises with the proper technique. I have watched people in the gym doing curls with 40-pound dumbbells (while swinging their arms to get the momentum they need to complete the rep) and get much less benefit than if they used 20-pound dumbbells with proper technique. The trainers also give us constant feedback to ensure we maintain that proper technique (it’s hard, folks, your body wants to use less effort which means cheating on the technique).

That description of the value of a personal trainer is identical to the description of the value of engaging a third party expert to improve your personal performance as a leader and to improve the performance of your company. We all, leaders and team members alike, are vulnerable to the natural inclination to use less effort – why do things the hard way? That natural inclination leads us in the direction of conducting training, conducting emergency exercises (for example, school fire drills during classes when everything is orderly rather than during lunch), and even doing routine budget planning in a routine and potentially unfruitful manner.

A third party (with the proper knowledge and expertise) can help you raise the level of your or your company’s/organization’s performance – it’s a matter of deliberate practice. Taking advantage of the explicit knowledge that you already have (or at least have access to), combined with the implicit knowledge that coaching by the third party provides, enables you to then develop the tacit knowledge acquired by “doing it yourself” using the “proper technique.”

Like any tool, consulting/coaching by a third party is valuable when properly used – it is not a panacea for all your problems. You still have to do the three sets of 12 reps with those #%^** dumbbells if you want the awesome biceps.


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