How I Became A Personal Trainer – Coaching Background & Philosophy

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about both my training philosophy and how I became a personal trainer.

The first time I got interested in physical preparation and fitness was about 13 years ago. I was in the weight room of my local rugby club (RC Nyon, in Switzerland) and I starting thinking about ways to improve my fitness so that I could be better on the field.

I started reading a few books and got some conditioning tips from the more experienced players on the team. I then went on to play Swiss u18 and u20 rugby, won a national championship with the RC Nyon, and later on won the 1st Div championship in Vancouver, BC with the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club.

After a year of rugby in Canada I transitioned away from the sport in order to avoid injuries and retain the student visa while attending the Pipefitting pre-apprenticeship course at BCIT. Shortly before leaving Switzerland I had discovered CrossFit and was really intrigued. After retiring from rugby, I sought out a CrossFit gym in Vancouver and started putting together a home gym that I could use for my own training.

While following the CrossFit methodology, I read everything that I could put my hands on whether it came from CrossFit HQ or other organizations and coaches in the sport. CrossFit also introduced me to a sport that peaked my interest: Olympic Weightlifting.

A year later I stopped CrossFit and started Olympic Weightlifting, which I trained for and competed in for two years.

I qualified for the BC provincial championship, trained hard and just as I did during my CrossFit days, I kept on reading and learning about training through books, podcasts,online articles, etc… All my energy went into it.

Eventually my wife, said “you need to get paid for all this work Sean!”. That’s when I realized how dedicated I was and this pushed me to get my Personal Trainer Certification.

As soon as I got certified I started training a few friends as well as my first clients.

Coaching Biases

Looking back on that time, my coaching biases were very evident. I had learnt through CrossFit and Weightlifting that barbells were the gold standard of fitness. So I naturally thought that everything needed to revolve around them.

I was also extremely focused on not getting my clients injured. This stemmed from me getting injured during my weightlifting training. These injuries resulted in some hip, back, and shoulder problems that plagued me for many months after I stopped competing.

As I became a better coach and furthered my education, the focus on not getting people hurt remained a central part of my philosophy. I still don’t see any reason for a non-competitive individual to put himself/herself at risk for injury during training.  

The second bias that I started off with gradually went away. The excessive focus I had on barbells slowly morphed to the point where I now see every piece of equipment as a tool, each one serving a specific purpose toward a given goal. There are no good or bad tools, just a better (or best) tool to accomplish a certain task.

Early on in my coaching career, I was lucky to be exposed to some of the best coaches in the industry who helped me question my own belief systems and think more critically about what I was doing. They highlighted the importance of sound training principles along with a true appreciation for the value of context.

The importance of questioning the status quo has become an integral part of both my coaching and my personal development journey: I accept the fact that I don’t know everything and that what I currently believe to be true might be wrong.

I’ve been shown to be wrong many times already, and it will happen again many times in the future.

When I think about my coaching philosophy today, 4 main points come to mind.

Individual Coaching

The first and most important facet of my coaching philosophy is the emphasis I put on each client as an individual.

Every person that comes to me has different needs, expectations, past experiences, abilities, limitations, preferences, and so forth. I believe in a personalized approach to both coaching and program design.

I make a point of writing individual programs for all my clients to make sure that they reach their goals in the safest, most effective and most efficient way possible.

When talking with a new client, I always do my best to put my preferences and biases aside to help me find out what they really need in the most objective way possible.

The second point focuses on movement quality and lifting technique.

The Importance Of Movement And Technique

Good movement and sound technique are both essential parts of any good fitness program. Together, they allow you to better express your fitness while greatly reducing your potential for injury.

You will always lift well before you lift heavy.

This leads me directly into the third point that i like to call “driving fitness”.

Driving Fitness

Extensive stretching routines and mobility work are absolutely valuable and I am happy to provide you with details regarding those components of training. But when you show up to the gym, you’re there to do one thing: drive fitness and improve. So we will do exactly that.

This will look different for each individual person, but you can expect to work hard and push your limits a little bit every time you train.

Needless to say that some circumstances warrant slightly “lighter” training sessions. I’m never opposed to taking the foot off the gas slightly when it is required. Simply know that the average sessions will include its share of sweat and hard work!

The fourth and last point that I emphasize in my coaching philosophy is the importance of lifestyle factors when it comes to reaching health and fitness goals.

A Holistic View Of Fitness

By lifestyle factors I mean every behaviour that will help you (or hold you back) on your journey to achieving your goals. In general, sleep, stress, and nutrition are the top 3 factors to consider.

I encourage my clients to invest time, effort, and money into learning how to improve their lifestyle so that they can be more successful throughout their fitness journey.

The four points I just outlined have evolved over time and are likely to keep shifting as I keep evolving as a coach. Like I said earlier, nothing is set in stone.

When it comes to training, I focus on and specialize in strength training for beginners. If you’ve never lifted weights before and want to learn the ropes, feel free to give me a shout!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you look for in a personal trainer, so make sure to leave your answer in the comments below.

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