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Do You Have to be Ripped to be a Personal Trainer?


I used to work with a fat trainer.

He wasn’t a little chunky like he enjoyed a beer or 7 on the weekend — this dude had a belly on him. He was bald with a pudgy face. Every time that he spotted a client on the bench press, he had to contort his body into an awkward anterior pelvic tilt so his belly wouldn’t get in the way.

I worked with this individual early on in my career. Admittedly, I was immature and negative in my thinking. I couldn’t understand why anybody in their right mind would want to train with this guy — he wasn’t particularly attractive and in no way exuded a healthy lifestyle.

To top it off, he would come into the gym with a take out container from Nando’s Chicken and quickly sneak in a few bites between clients. Looking back, his floor demeanor seemed good but I remember him constantly complaining of fatigue in the staff room.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the sugary purple drink he sipped throughout the day. It just didn’t seem like he cared about his health — yet, his schedule was chocked full of clients paying good money to get into shape. In my eyes, it was irresponsible.

The Coaches Responsibility

Dan John, in his timeless classic Never Let Go, spoke about the importance of coaches walking the walk. If you follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/therealjongoodman), you will know that I’ve struggled with everything from exhaustion, malnourishment, narcolepsy, and anxiety in building up all of my various web ventures. 2012 was a busy year for me.

Both my workouts and health suffered and it got me reflecting back to the story from above. Admittedly, I was not in shape to train my clients. I want to revisit my experiences with this trainer from early on in my career. In addition, I want to give you my answer of whether it is irresponsible for a trainer to train clients unless they are ripped.

The Frustration That Every Personal Trainer Goes Through

I was a personal trainer, but I was also a human being. As a human being, I freakin’ love key lime pie. One of my first jobs pretty much anywhere that I travel is to find a hook up for key lime pie. Seriously, I’m not kidding.

ripped personal trainer

Yeah, this happened…

It got under my skin whenever anybody would make a snide remark the second I reached for a piece of dessert. If I asked for dressing on the side for my salad, you bet I would hear the token “always being healthy Jon — live a little”. Like everybody else, my workouts always experienced an ebb and flow. True, I’m healthier than most but others didn’t seem to understand that I occasionally gave in to temptation and I got ridiculed for it.

Are we supposed to be ripped superhumans? Is this what the public looks for when they choose a personal trainer? Do you have to be ripped to be a personal trainer?

Things aren’t always as they seem

Remember the trainer above with his purple drink and Nando’s? I found out years later that he was in remission from cancer.

Before the cancer struck, he was a bodybuilder — ripped to shreds. That, and he had 15 years experience personal training.

Admittedly he took some PED’s (performance enhancing drugs) in the past. Not enough to make a major league baseball team, but some. He was the stereotypical model of fitness. Strangers would stop him on the street and ask him what his secret was. Then, out of nowhere, cancer struck, and he found himself undergoing chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy took its toll and he had to take strong drugs to deal with the side effects. A side effect of the drugs was irritation of the intestinal track that caused his stomach to balloon out. The purple drink? It so happened that the mysterious purple drink was an electrolyte mixture meant to help with his constant nausea. The fatigue makes sense now doesn’t it?

how to be a ripped personal trainer

It took me 3 months to learn what this man was going through. That whole time I harbored negative feelings towards him because he was successful. I always thought that, because he wasn’t a ripped personal trainer, he didn’t deserve to have a full client roster. Clients loved him and begged to train with him while I struggled.

I ignore that the guy had 15 years experience and both a great theoretical and practical education.

Why Did You Become a Personal Trainer?

Many trainers enter the profession because of powerful obstacles they’ve overcome. They want to help others make the same life changes that they made. A personal trainer doesn’t have to be ripped. Maybe they lost 50lbs and live a vital happy life and have no desire to go to the lengths needed to attain and maintain a six pack.

More importantly, trainers that have been through challenges themselves have the passion required to empower others. Albert Bandura’s expanded social cognitive theory shows the powerful affect that this type of modelling can have in developing clients self-efficacy.

Do Trainers Have to Have Visible Abs?

No. Abs don’t define fitness. Six pack abs are a result of low bodyfat.

Thankfully the anorexic teen look is out. Get some meat on dem bones.

do you have to be ripped to be apersonal trainer

A Personal Trainer Is a Role Model

Personal trainers are role models and shouldn’t be harboring negative feelings towards other professionals as I did with my co-worker above.

Instead of being jealous, I should have tried to learn from him. He was at a disadvantage with his physique, yet was chock full of clients at a time when I was struggling. He was fighting cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, and constantly fatigued yet had to support his family. So he fought through it every step of the way. Even though he wasn’t a ripped personal trainer, he was a role model all of us should aspire to be.

Do You Have to be Ripped to be a Personal Trainer?

The answer doesn’t lie in physique or whatever your definition of ripped is. The answer lies in setting a good example. Whenever anybody is looking for a personal trainer, I suggest looking past the superficial and focus on finding somebody with these traits:

1. Health and vitality – A trainer can’t look worn out. My ex co-worker above always had a big smile on his face and endless energy for his clients. It’s because he took care of himself  before, during, and after the treatment even though it wasn’t easy.

I was never a ripped personal trainer but I was always healthy and energetic. The biggest reason why I grudgingly quit personal training was because my other responsibilities were draining my energy. I found myself constantly tired and not setting a good example, so I stepped down from the job and allowed another skilled trainer to take over.

When I did train clients, I slept and ate well (except when my clients brought me chocolate, then I slept well and ate lots of chocolate). I exuded energy. I laughed all day long and smiled as hard as I could at everybody I saw.

Most personal training clients are not looking to get six pack abs because they’re not willing to make the effort it takes to maintain such a low body fat. Instead, they want to be healthy and active for as long as possible. What good is being ripped if you can’t enjoy life. We’re all human and we all have different goals in mind.

2. Experience working with people like you - Let’s file this under physique. Do you want to be a bodybuilder? Then you should probably be ripped. Are you a post-menopausal women who has had at least one child and lead a busy family and professional life? You’re perfect to train busy active mothers, but you don’t need a six pack. What you need is to be healthy and to lead a good example.  (Note: Neghar Fonooni wrote a great piece a while back on how to cope with training for busy mothers. Check it out here)

What it comes down to is this. A personal trainer doesn’t have to be ripped unless they are training you for high level aesthetic goals like PTDC coach Nick Mitchell does at Ultimate Performance. Your physique should resemble the desired physique of your population and your lifestyle should follow suit. If you’re a strong man you probably aren’t ripped. But holy hell you’re strong.

ripped personal trainer

He might not have six pack abs but you can bet you ass he can show you how to be strong.

There is no ideal physique for personal trainers. We come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Our background, desires, and experiences shape us. Getting ripped is a goal of some clients and if you train those clients your body should show it.

Most of the time, clients want to be healthy and vital and, as a trainer, there’s no excuse for you not to be. Maybe the next time you foster negative thoughts towards your co-workers, you should look past the purple drink and try to understand what’s really going on.

What do you think trainers should look like? Do you have a story of overcoming adversity that led you to become a trainer that you want to share? Comment below and, as always, please share.

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Mentioned in This Article:

Gym Before Work? 10 Habits that Help a Busy Mom Cope with Training, Coaching and Life – Neghar Fonooni

Never Let Go – Dan John

Photo Credits:

highstrungloner Ian Spanier Photography 2012




Written by Jonathan

Jonathan Goodman CSCS is the author of Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Trainer Career and Race to the Top: How to Take Over the Social Media Feed. He'd love it if you added him on Facebook and/or joined him on Twitter. He also explores the psychology of social media over at Viralnomics

  • http://www.facebook.com/eduardo.barrecheguren Eduardo Barrecheguren

    “Your physique should resemble the desired physique of your population and your lifestyle should follow suit.” Totally agree, great article.

    • Jon_PTDC

      Thanks Eduardo for the continued support man. I’m glad you liked it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.juggernaut Nick Burman

    Hell no. I am a fighter and a trainer. I only go down to be absolutely ripped when I have to make weight before a fight. BECAUSE I don’t want a smaller fight purse LOL. But most of the other times I love to eat good and stay healthy and lift heavy. What’s the point of all the hard work if I am not enjoying my time on this planet?

    • Jon_PTDC

      Exactly. Life is about enjoying yourself. It’s easier to enjoy life if you’re in good shape, but it shouldn’t be punishing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ReleaseTheFire Barb Millar

    great read there, thanks! I actually lost about 30lbs and then got qualified as a group fitness instructor I probably have about another 30lbs I should be loosing but honestly Im mostly happy with my weight the now (although 10lbs would be nice to see gone) and I resent the fact I feel like im supposed to look a certain way. I hate that we are often jusdged by how we look.

    • Jon_PTDC

      If you’re happy, that’s all that matters for you.

  • Dan from The HFP

    I think a trainer should have the physique that represents the type of training or sport he enjoys doing. This will attract clients that want the same thing and the personal trainer will be more energetic and enthusiastic about training the client. Instant rapport. I’m probably talking about a perfect world though ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1452945499 Melissa Austin

    Thank you for this post!!! I am a Personal Trainer. I decided to become a Personal Trainer after losing over 100 pounds, thanks to a WONDERFUL personal trainer that I had. Yes, I still have some weight to lose. But, it is what it is. I walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

    A couple of months ago, in a meeting for a new Health and Fitness Program that was coming to our community, in a room full of bigwigs and people that I wanted to work for (I had been preparing for this moment since August 2012) The CEO of the only gym (The YMCA) in town, looked me dead in the eye and told me that he hadn’t hired me as a personal trainer not because of the my lack of qualifications. But, because I didn’t look the part.

    I was devastated. I had spent two years overcoming an eating disorder and losing weight. Here I was, in a room full of people, including the corporation sponsoring this 5 year program (and the people who I wanted to work for) and there was nothing I could do.

    However, my passion for what I do shines through and I not only landed the job working on this program, but I am the ONLY certified Personal Trainer in the area, and have the opportunity to work with many other organizations.

    But, his words still stick with me. It still stings. But, it is what it is. I chose my first personal trainer 3 years ago, not because he was “fit” but because he had walked a path similar to mine (morbid obesity, food addiction) and I could relate to him.

  • Benny

    “smiled as hard as I could at everybody I saw…” This is the best line. I do this until my face breaks.

  • Kjell

    Such a great article!!!! Thank you for sharing.
    I had a similar experience with an overweight trainer I used to work with,. It bothered me sooooo much that he was in the industry and wasn’t looking the part. I never did learn his story.

    I have struggled with this concept for awhile. Sometimes I feel because I don’t have the 6pack abs that I shouldn’t be training others, but deep down I know that’s a bunch of crap. I’m strong and fit, but don’t have the visible abs, Who cares. I have passion, knowledge, and the drive to help others.

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