We have bigger health problems than you think- the dark side of being in the industry
1. Your competency and whether someone is more likely willing to be trained by you is determined by how you look physically
Six pack abs. Sculpted shoulders. Rounded Booty. Big biceps and chest. Defined calves.
Shallow as it may seem, subconsciously these are the physical traits that we would look for in somebody when they tell you they’re a fitness trainer.
The current Health and wellness industry is so focused on defining health as how one should look rather than how one should feel; or health as just a physical aspect rather than an overall holistic approach that encompasses the intellectual, financial, social, mental, spiritual aspect as well.
There is this huge divergence between what health is and what fitness is.
We see fitness coaches and influencers on social media taking pics of their physical bodies, joining muscle building/bikini competitions; hashtagging #health #fitness etc. and we assume that is what we need in order to be healthy; that these aesthetic goals are the ultimate health goal that we should all be striving for. Little did we know how much sacrifices they have to make to their other aspects of life in order to achieve that (see point 5). We assumed that these people are the ones who know and get their shit together, but most often times people that are obsessed with the aesthetics are subconsciously trying to hide some form of insecurities in other aspects of their lives.
This perception creates competition and pressure for fitness coaches to look a certain way and keep it that way for the rest of their career if they want to be successful. So they constantly work on their aesthetics rather than try to improve more on their people skills or their own personal growth. Even most importantly, the skill to be able to guide people to sustainable habit change.
You’re less likely to be regarded for your capability to advise and coach if you do not have the above physical attributes, even though you have a strong desire and knowledge to help them with their overall health journey and wellbeing.
2. You’re pressured to be someone who can crank out a split as well as bench press 5x your bodyweight (essentially crazy strong and crazy flexible at the same time)
No doubt, a fitness trainer should be well-rounded in their overall physical ability (strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, agility).
However, to be at the top of the industry you gotta be at the top with all your physical capabilities in order to stand out and ‘do well’.
Oh ya and don't forget that you gotta post on your IG a video of you busting out your newest 1RM, then stretching after with that oversplits, and lastly a before shower half naked pic with #sixpackabs or else it's not valid=/
3. You’re expected to be someone who can solve every physical health issue and pains instantly
Physical health issues and pains are more complicated than you think.
For example: knee pain is not as simple as giving advice like ‘don’t run too much because it creates a high impact on the knees’. Often times the issues might not even be the knees itself but other issues such as weak muscles around the knees, or a genetic issue etc. And how do we even define which muscles exactly, or what is ‘too much’ for each and every individual?
We try our best to help alleviate but don’t expect us to be your panacea.
Heck sometimes we’re even confused with how our own body works and we’re constantly striving to understand more about ourselves everyday as well.
4. You’re likely to be spending a lot of money on pills and supplements in order to maintain your fitness regime and physique
Protein powders. BCAAs. Glutamine. Probiotics. Amino Acids. Magnesium. Vitamin A, B, C, D……. you know where this goes.
That’s approximately $100 a month, or if you have some member’s privilege or discounts with a supplement store perhaps give or take $80-$90(Woohoo!)
And that’s not including the amount we have to spend on organic foods, superfoods, specialized ingredients we need to maintain our keto/paleo/Atkins etc. diets and the minimum amount of macronutrient and micronutrients we need to actually keep us alive.
So there’s a reason why we charge ‘exorbitant’ fees for our coaching session. But we still don’t drive. And we’re still living with our parents. Some of us even in debt. Cut us some slack please.
5. You’re seen as this epitome of health, someone who finds it easy to keep their health (diet, exercise, sleep) in check 24/7
We try, but it’s NOT easy. In fact, it’s even harder than the average joe.
Understand that we actually have one of the most erratic schedules since we have to work early mornings or after working hours because that’s when generally people are available to workout. So If we wanna truly earn enough for subsistence sometimes we need to compromise on sleep, social life, and other hobbies just so YOU can get your butt off your couch and exercise.
The worst thing is when we know what is good for us in terms of achieving longevity and we advocate that to our clients but secretly we are hypocrites ourselves and we don’t always practice what we preach.
Hence, when we have to compromise other aspects of health, we get conflicted with our priorities and we get stuck in toxic mental cycles (see points 6,7 and 8).
We’re also people that have acquired too much information from various resources about what is “right” within the industry to the point that ideas start to contradict each other and we ourselves get confused e.g. keto diet is better than paleo or vice versa, rest days or no rest days etc. Sure we can test every idea out there but then again, we’re only human just like you and our bodies can only take on so many experiments in our lifetime. Moreover, know that what I find is right for me might not even be right for you. Think of us as someone who has made your life slightly easier by minimizing the ambiguity of all the crazy things you’ve been told in regards to “health” and making it a little more concrete and comprehensible.
We’re just your outer teacher guiding you towards deepening your relationship with your inner teacher (physical sensation, emotional state, intuition). In the end, it’s your own body that shall be your ultimate teacher to determine what’s “healthy” for you.
6. You likely have a roller-coaster relationship with food and exercise
Food and exercise occupy a large part of our daily thoughts.
Sure, that goes for most people as well. However, how we analyze and interpret situations might differ.
“It’s my birthday and mum baked me a cake. I should eat it to show my appreciation. And it’s a chocolate cake OMG my favorite. Fine I just love sweets in general. But that’s unhealthy. How can I be a fitness coach If I can’t even control my own cravings? Hmm, maybe one bite won’t hurt. But if I just take one bite she’ll see it as me not liking what she’s made after trying it and she might get upset. Alright, I can just exercise later so I don’t feel so bad about myself for eating. This cake looks like it has approximately 500kcal in it so perhaps I should exercise later but it's supposed to be my rest day……”
Is that how one would normally see food and exercise? Please tell me that it is so I don’t feel so guilty.
And the above was just an example. Think of the times when we grocery shop for our food. When we order food in restaurants. When we’re cooking at home. The amount of thought process that goes into every situation involving food and exercise that bombards our mental capacity.
Eat or not eat. Eat this or eat that. Eat because I should out of courtesy or not eat for my own selfish reason. Don’t finish the food, no, don’t waste food.
Rest or no rest days. I tell clients they should rest but I think I’m fit enough to skip that. Should I still train with an injury but If I don’t I’ll lose muscle mass and I’ll let people down, my career will then be jeopardized.
If I can’t do the things that I’ve set to achieve and the promises I’ve made for myself in regards to food and exercise how am I gonna teach it to others. I suck as a fitness coach. I don’t deserve to be one.
Our relationship with food and exercise ultimately affects our relationship with ourselves and others.
We advocate the importance of balance but we often struggle to find that balance ourselves.
We want to fit into the community and connect so we try to show people that we’re not “too extreme or obsessed”. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not but we know we actually are. Or we then justify that we need to because that’s what our industry requires us to but we can’t be too obvious about it. Afterall aren’t we supposed to be this representation of “health”?
Trust me as I'm typing this I think it's ridiculous that it’s so hard for me to practice what I preach. For example, as I'm typing this post I’m thinking of the time spent doing this could have been used to blasting out sprints on the treadmill instead because I’m meeting a friend for lunch later and I might give in to that dessert I’ve had my eye on for a while now.
7. You likely have a roller-coaster relationship with your friends and family
See the above point.
You might also get frustrated when the ones closest to you don’t support you and your career choice or understand the reasons for your mood swings especially when others are the one seeing you as “an obsessed health freak”.
That being said, it can get pretty lonely.
8. You’re likely to be suffering more from mental and emotional pain than physical pain
As you can probably tell already, these are my personal experiences; and I’m a fitness coach. Or that’s what my intention is to be anyway based on my own definition. I don’t have six pack abs pics on my Insta feed, but that doesn't mean I don’t care about my health and yours as well; I’m sure I say the same for some if not all of the fitness coaches out there too.
In essence, health and wellness is not a look, shape or size, it’s a combination of good feelings- peace, aware, energetic, connected, understood, happiness, freedom, confidence.
Being healthy is all about how you choose to care for your body, mind, and spirit. Its when the mind, body, and environment is in a dynamic state of balance.
So don’t judge us by how we look, don’t judge us by our Insta page, don’t judge us by how many pull-ups we can attempt in 1 minute……
Just see us as humans who also struggle with our own health problems and truly wants to take what we can understand and have resolved from that to share and connect with you all.
Thanks for reading! Would really appreciate If you could share it so I can eat my ice cream in peace=)
Oh, also follow me on Medium and Instagram If you wanna support my #justlikeyou #healthywithoutabs movement!
The struggles of being a health and fitness coach/trainer was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.