I’m a horrible trainer, and that’s a tough thing for a guy like me to admit. After all, I’ve led somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 training sessions and classes during my tour of duty in the fitness business.

Hang on, let me clarify: I can give YOU a great training session, no problem! I’m not going to lay claim to the title of “World’s Greatest Trainer,” but I’m good at my job, I’m a professional, so those people who have suffered through those many thousands of training sessions and classes got their money’s worth.  It’s when I’m posing as MY OWN personal trainer that I absolutely suck, and unless you’re one of those rare, nearly nonexistent people in the world who can effectively design, implement and maintain a systematic and progressive training protocol for yourself, you’re not so good either. (Note: In the picture above in which I’m red-faced, sweaty and delirious; I didn’t train myself).

If you have the discipline to show up at the gym and train five days a week you deserve credit.  You have great intentions, your effort is admirable and your resolve is to be commended.  But, believe me, if you’re operating as your own personal trainer, your training program is in trouble.  Before you get bent out of shape, understand this; it has nothing to do with experience.  If it did, I’d be awesome at training myself (I, however, am not).  It has nothing to do with knowledge, either, because even the trainer with the most encyclopedic archive of training wisdom flails when he trains himself.  It has to do with human nature, with behavior, and most of our behavior does not lend itself to being the best choice for overseeing our own training program.

First of all, it’s in our instinctive makeup to seek out comfort and avoid pain and misery.  Effective fitness training (and by “effective,” I mean progressive, challenging, hair-on-fire kind of training) seeks out and embraces the things that will be most stressful and difficult for us so that we are forced, physiologically, to adapt, get stronger and more fit.  Anything less than that does not honor the inarguable laws of physiology and progressive overload, and is….well…pretty much a waste of time.

When no one’s looking we don’t dive into the most difficult stuff, we avoid it.  We do the pec-deck instead of ballistic push ups and burpees, seated bicep curls instead of squats and box jumps, and crunches instead of planks.  We do what we LIKE, what we’re comfortable and familiar with. We don’t do what we hate but know will best serve us.  We do the useless stuff because it’s easy, focuses on the body parts we want to emphasize, and lulls us into thinking we’re actually working out. (Note to reader: There is a difference between “training” and “working out, but that’s a conversation for another time).

This sort of weak-ass “training” leads to Chicken Leg Syndrome, physiques that are “all-show-and-no-go” (they look good, but can’t make it up a flight of stairs without having to take a standing eight-count), and the use of the “inner and outer thigh machine” (perhaps the most egregious fraud ever perpetrated upon the female gym population).

Second, we will sell ourselves out in a New York minute if no one else is watching.  We go into the gym with the vision of doing four circuits of exercises and do two instead.  We start hitting the heavy bag, all fired up and swearing to do 12 rounds, but kind of slink away after 6 and do crunches and curls instead.  We stroll on the treadmill for 8 minutes, do a set of push ups and, because no one is watching, we LEAVE.  Admit it.  You’ve done it.


There have been a million times that we have shorted our workouts, and why?  Because we could.  If there had been a personal trainer or no-nonsense training partner present during our workout, we would have stepped it up and pushed ourselves much harder, because we don’t like to look bad!  But there wasn’t anyone there, and because no one was watching, we sold ourselves out.  We can deal with self-loathing as long as it’s in private.

Third, we’ll do the same things over and over because we like the familiarity.  Sure, that may include a variety of exercises, but no TRUE variation.  If someone else was calling the shots, we’d be doing burpees in a weight vest, carrying sandbags on the treadmill, doing cleans until we literally couldn’t hold the bar anymore and we’d keep hitting that heavy bag until the bile rose up in our throats because someone else was in charge of the word “STOP.”  But, left to our own devices, we will loiter, then disappear.  And we won’t even feel that bad about it because no one was there to witness our shamelessness!

Before you say, “Look, man, I don’t have a thousand extra dollars a month to pay for a personal trainer,” stop.  That’s not what this is about.  Most of us don’t have a thousand dollars a month for a trainer.  This isn’t about money, this isn’t even about personal training.  This is about finding a way to put someone else in charge of at least part of your training program.  You need to NOT be the one calling the shots all the time, or your training program will suck.  You need to think SOLUTION, you need to think creatively.

If you can hire a private trainer, great, go for it.  Even if you only do it occasionally it’s a great way to remain honest and make sure you’re exposing yourself to someone else’s perspective once in a while.  That’s a great and obvious (and costly) option, but if you have the wherewithal to do it, do it.  Or, try the more cost-effective but equally beneficial semi-private training, aka small group personal training.

Jump into a group training class.  Group exercise is great because it’s structured, rigorous, and the group dynamic pushes you to push yourself.  Try a boot camp class, mat Pilates, yoga, Cross Fit, some sort of Total Body Conditioning circuit or kickboxing.  Most boutique studios have options for a single class or a small package of classes. You can throw this into the mix sometimes.

Check out YouTube for exercise videos and work out in your living room.  You don’t need to spend money to get a great workout. The magic of the internet can bring awesome workouts right to your front door. Look at fitness pages like these on Facebook.

Follow fitness Twitter feeds, sign up for MyFitnessPal with some friends and hold each other accountable to healthy eating! Fitness networking through social media is really simple and effective these days.

Cut out a workout from Muscle & Fitness and do it.

Find a friend who likes to train, and train with him or her. You design the workouts one week, he or she designs them the next. Or, even if you don’t train WITH them, just exchange workouts and do them on your own.

The point is this; you are not your best option as a personal trainer.  Just own it.  But you don’t have to be.  You just have to be willing to seek out better options, and your training options are limited only by your creativity and commitment.

Every trainer I know has a trainer, or takes other people’s group fitness classes.  And they know what it takes to progress in training.  If they are willing to do it, and they’re the experts, why wouldn’t you be?

There are exceptions to every rule.  Every once in a while I’ll come across someone who is so driven and so dedicated, they train themselves as intensely as they would if they were being trained.  Those people, though rare, do exist.  But you’re not one of them.  Neither am I. And that’s okay.

Jonathan Aluzas is the owner of Arena Fitness; personal training, semi private training and group fitness training facilities in Encino and Northridge, Ca.

For more info visit Arenafitness.com