There are a lot of freelance personal trainers in London without any qualifications, so its worth checking qualifications before you hire a PT. Don't assume that all personal trainers in London are qualified, and if they are, don't assume it's a good qualification. What constitutes a good qualification? Read on....
So beware the unqualified personal trainers in London who exaggerate their credentials, or poorly qualified trainers who did some 3 day internet course and printed off their certificate without even having to pass an exam or practical assessment. It's also worth checking that your prospective personal trainer is qualified in first aid, and fully insured for public liability. An unqualified personal trainer may not take your medical conditions, joint problems, or goals propertly into account when they put together your exercise programme. This could lead to injury, and/or no positive results in terms of weight loss, muscle gain, or fitness levels.
What constitutes a good PT qualification? I strongly recommend you only hire a personal trainer if they have either a diploma in fitness training or a degree in sports science or similar. You're more likely to receive safe & effective workouts, and reach your fitness goals faster. Clients with medical conditions such as diabetes or heart conditions or any problems with their joints or spine are putting themselves at risk in the hands of an unqualified PT.
In my view the three top personal training courses are Premier Training, the YMCA course, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) course. I chose the Premier Training & Development course, which led to my Diploma in Fitness Training and Sports Therapy (my class was based in Islington, north London). Although it's not a degree course (my degree was in Law), it's one of the most rigorous and highly respected qualifications in the fitness industry. Some of the major gym chains like LA Fitness, Fitness First and Virgin Active recruit a lot of Premier Training Diploma students. When you choose a personal trainer in London, ask to see their qualification certificates, so you can be sure they're qualified to train you.
The length and intensity of the various PT courses vary enormously. My FTST Diploma course was three months full time, with study every evening followed by tests first thing the next morning. Having been to the gym regularly for several years before this course, I've been a keen student of exercise and nutrition since the age of 13 (when I received a huge set of dumbbells and fitness books for Christmas), and hired several personal trainers myself during my 20's and 30's. So I had something of a head start when I started my diploma course. A few of my fellow students found the sheer volume of work a struggle.
Three months may not sound much for a qualification, but it was well structured and explored all aspects of physical training in depth. I came top in my class in the final theory examination, but I won't bore you with theory during our personal training sessions, unless you want me to. Some clients like to know the science behind the training, others just want to get on with it and see results without having to know how it works. My course started with 20 eager prospective personal trainers from all over London, but a few dropped out as the course got increasingly challenging.
These were my course modules in outline:
1. Anatomy, Physiology, and Kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement)
Some of my fellow students thought they had accidentally stumbled into a degree course in medicine. We learnt about all the muscles and bones in the body, and how the neuromuscular and skeletal systems function. We then learnt about the circulatory system and resipiratory system, and how they inter-relate. Phase 2 of this module focused on the digestive system, the nervous system, the lymphatic system, the skin (the body's largest organ), the urinary system, the endocrine system (hormones), and the reproductive system.
2. Fitness Assessment & Health Appraisal
This module covered client goal setting, client safety, programme design (resistance training and aerobic capacity), and monitoring of progress. Then we learnt (both theory and practice) the four maini screening tests: heart rate, blood pressure, lung function, and body composition (ie body fat percentage and lean tissue percentage). This was followed by the dynamic fitness tests: muscular strength and endurance, muscular flexibility, and aerobic capacity.
3. Fitness Instruction (Gym-based, home-based, outdoors)
This module covered the personal qualities required of a personal trainer, and the key principles of client care. We then learnt the concepts of health and fitness, the role of warm-up and cool-down, and methods of promoting regular physical activity and exercise adherence. Then we learnt about the body's energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic), and the principles of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, with particular focus on exercise safety. Then we designed workout programmes and tested them out on each other. Finally, we learnt about stretching and flexibility. During this module we spent more time in the gym than in the first two modules.
4. Exercise for special Populations
This includes people with diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, arthritis, obesity, and a range of other conditions. It's vital for a personal trainer to have a working knowledge of the medical and safety implications before taking on a client with any of these conditions.
5. Psychology of exercise, nutrition, and motivation
Motivation is a major factor in achieving any fitness goal. We learnt a range of motivation theories and practical techniques. We also explored the concept of false beliefs and how these can sabotage a client's progress. The ability to help a client rid themselves of false beliefs can be vital to make the health and fitness breakthroughs the client needs. Some of the false beliefs include "diet pills are a good way to lose weight", "commercial diets that severely restrict calories are an effective way to lose weight", "women shouldn't exercise with weights because they'll build bulky muscles", "all carbs are bad", "all fat is bad", the list of false beliefs is very long!
6. Optimum and Sports Nutrition
This was a very detailed and in-depth module. It included an analysis of the major macronutrient food groups (protein, carbohydrates, fats, water) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and an analysis of fibre, glycaemic index (and glycaemic load), and the principles of digestion, absorbtion and utilisation. We then explored the problem of processed food and junk food, and how it contrasts with natural whole-foods. We then studied how a poor diet can contribute to a range of medical conditions, and how healthy eating can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. We also studied pre/post workout nutrition, and how to prescribe a nutrition plan for clients with a range of goals and medical conditions.
7. Body Massage Therapy
We learnt a range of masssage techniques for both Swedish Massage and Sports Massage.
8. First Aid
We learnt all the key principles of first aid, including recovery position, rescue breaths, and CPR. This certificate has to be renewed on a regular basis as a condition of my Public Liability insurance cover, and I attend a first aid refresher course at Safety First Aid Training every three years. My most recent refresher course was in December 2014.
A good personal trainer never stops learning and growing. I considered my Diploma not the end of my studies but just one more step in a continuous process. There's nothing like hands-on experience with clients to really learn the skills of personal training, to see what works and what doesn't, and to recognise that every client is different in their needs, motivations, knowledge, beliefs, and goals.