As a result of being in the fitness industry I have come across many different trainers / nutritionists / PT’s and their varying styles. This hasn’t always been a great experience and I’ve come across a fair few horror stories of trainers advising their clients do endless hours of cardio, cut calories to silly amounts and eat the same meals 6 times per day with no variety, all in the name of competition. All of this to portray to the masses a healthy well balanced lifestyle…slightly ironic I think. As someone that has explored a fair few different paths and spoken to many people on the subject I think it’s something to share to show those that are new to the sport what is good and what is most definitely bad. As a result I hope that the people stepping on stage in the seasons to come will portray something that’s achievable, healthy and well balanced, which is what it’s all about right!?
When I first got in to fitness it was as a result of wanting to compete in a 10k run. My first steps were to join a gym and as part of that membership I got three free sessions with a PT. This was my first experience of ever having anyone in charge of what I was doing in the gym. This was great for my motivation and gave me the right head start I needed to achieve my fitness goals. I subsequently came second in that race. I then struggled with motivation in the gym and as I’d always loved lifting weights I made a bit of a transition from endurance and made lifting the core of my sessions.
I then set myself new goals to become a fitness competitor as the physiques I admired and aspired to be were all female fitness competitors that lifted! I subsequently identified that I needed nutritional advice too. I then recruited a coach who I was with for 9 months and took me through my first two competitions. My overall experience of this was a good one, however throughout my journey I came across numerous individuals that weren’t having such a good time. One Bikini competitor had to sack her coach two weeks out from competition because he claimed he knew what he was doing with regards to nutrition (it’s not all about lifting weights and exercise!) and it turned out that he knew a lot less than he let on! The stress of competition is huge and having no coach two weeks out I can only imagine what she was going through.
It’s not just the journey to competition that a good coach (this encompasses training and nutrition) should be looking at, it’s also post competition. You’re at your most vulnerable in terms of falling off the wagon with your nutrition and falling out of love with training itself. The wellbeing of a competitor that wants to remain in the game for a long time and to be fit and healthy for their whole lives is paramount before and after competition and guidance on how to cope should be on the list of any good coaches to do list.
Throughout my experiences I have seen competitors suffering from Bulimia e.g. Ruthie Harrison (IFBB Pro Bikini Athlete) and countless individuals who have suffered with what some people might call ‘Metabolic Damage’. It makes me sad, frustrated and ultimately angry that individuals have been put through such stressful situations and their lives damaged as a result of other peoples ambition and careless attitude. This really doesn’t need to happen!! If everything is done right and your coach is truly interested in the well being of his client this should be a great experience and one to cherish. It’s an opportunity to raise the profile of the sport and inspire others and it’s the responsibility of competitors to show people that it can be done in a responsible way.
There are several things to look out for or consider when choosing a coach and I guess personal opinion plays in to this too so what’s right for one person may not be right for another, however there are some essentials to bare in mind;
• Find a coach that believes in the same things you do –
You have to be on the same page and compatible in terms of personality, methods of training, opinions. This means being self aware and understanding how you work best. For example I’m an incredibly organised person, I enjoy structure and control so it’s imperative that you find someone you can work in partnership with.
• This brings me on to my next point….Trust! –
This is a massive part of finding the right coach. This person that you’ve employed is looking after your emotional and physical state; it’s an important relationship to get right. You need to trust the decisions they make and fully understand why they’ve made them. Remember you’re there to learn and if you don’t understand why you’re doing something then how do you know it’s the right thing! Blind faith isn’t a positive and if they can’t answer your queries then I’d start questioning their intentions.
• Do your research! –
I approached a fellow fitness competitor (Jessica Bennett) in relation to this article and her thoughts were to not always go for the high profile coaches and I agree with her. There are plenty of hard working individuals out there that are great at their job and don’t have that high profile within the industry that would happily work with a fitness competitor or any individual wanting to have a better lifestyle and be good at it too. You don’t need to be an extrovert to be good at your job. Ask for referrals, ask plenty of questions, visit forums and speak to the people they coach (don’t always rely on testimonials, I mean these are surely just the good ones!).
• Understand each party’s expectations, do they fit with yours? -
This is something that I feel is hugely underestimated in this industry and where relationships can fall down. I would agree that setting up an outline agreement between you and your coach is the way forward. Make sure it’s clear what kind of support you expect and what it is that you want from your coach and equally what it is they can provide and how much time they can devote to you. That way there’s no disappointment and it holds each party accountable.
• A good coach will always be honest and provide you with an honest opinion about what you need, not necessarily what you want. –
I may want to compete in 6 weeks. Could I get there, yes I could, would it be healthy? No it wouldn’t. It would damage my body in the long and short term. It would affect my lifestyle, my overall happiness, my mentality and my relationships. I could find plenty of coaches out there that would be prepared to work with me on this, however the right coach should say no, you’re not ready, your health isn’t in the right place, there’s too much at stake and you have to be prepared for that. Understanding the difference between what you want and what you need is extremely important.
I now have a new coach and I have to say that all the boxes are ticked for me, which is really positive and I’m looking forward to fixing my body, feeling happy and healthy again and enjoying my life.
Remember a good coach will not compromise your principles or your health. There is no quick fix, just hard work, clean eating and consistency. Any coach suggesting hours of cardio, no carbs and low calories is not looking after your best interest. They should allow you to think for yourself and be happy with any challenges you make, they are your mentor. This is a journey to greater health and well being; don’t compromise that. Be careful, research your coach and choose somebody you can work with.