This article was updated on December 3, 2018.
In this digital age, it is essential that you really know your stuff, or at least know where to find people or resources that know their stuff. This information surplus is both a gift and a curse: If you want to get ahead, there is a plethora of information on boosting your personal training career. However, if you don’t learn to effectively filter that same information, you risk losing the most vital gems in a vast sea of mediocre information.
As an avid reader of personal training material, I could spend my whole work day reading training-related material and lifting and call it a great day. In the past, I just read whatever I stumbled across, without really taking a step back to analyze what I was reading and putting it through a filter. I felt like I was learning, but in reality, I just felt overwhelmed.
Finally, I understood the brutal reality: I have only so much time to read, in-between strength coaching, teaching, spending time with family, and writing. I needed to make every reading minute count, so I developed these tips to help me ruthlessly throw out junk information. Here is how you can do the same.
Step 1: Know what you want to read about, based on your niche.
Fitness is broad, so without narrowing your focus to your niche it’s hard to keep up with and consolidate the information that is actually relevant to you. So, ask yourself:
* What do you do?
* What is your specialty?
* And equally important, what do you not want to do?
Questions like these simply help you know what people, blogs, and resources you should look at. For example, if you want to read about training baseball players, Eric Cressey is the man. For one of the foremost experts on hypertrophy, you can turn to Brad Schoenfeld or Greg Nuckols. For fitness business, you might turn to Business4Unicorns and Pete DuPuis.
If you don’t know what your specialty is or what specifically you want or should read about, I have homework for you. It helps to read the following articles:
* Your Niche Will Set You Free by Jonathan Goodman
* Your Ultimate Guide to Finding the Niche to Set Yourself Apart in the Fitness Industry by Elsbeth Vaino
These articles will help you find that niche within the industry and fine-tune your filter to better serve that market.
Step 2: Ask how reading this will make you a better trainer.
This is actually a tip from Jonathan Goodman because it had a huge impact on me when I first read it. Basically, the best way to discern whether something is worth your time is to ask yourself, “How will this make me a better trainer?” If you can’t come up with a good enough answer, it’s probably safe to pass over. There may be a ton of great information, but it still may not be worth your limited time if it won’t help you as a trainer.
Step 3: Stack your reading material based on priority.
You should always be reading, and therefore, should always have books you want to read. (If not, here’s a solid place to start: Best Books for Personal Trainers.)
When you find articles or journals on Facebook, the internet or in your email, or come across any books, place them in a stack and prioritize them by asking yourself:
If I could only read one of these, which one do I want to read?
If you get a new book, it may end up cutting to the head of the queue, and that’s okay. This keeps you excited to read. However, if a certain book consistently stays near the bottom of the stack for a long time, maybe it is time to let it go and move on.
Step 4: Separate professional development from recreational reading.
If you are like me, you actually enjoy reading about training. I’ll even bring training books with me on vacation. We’re all passionate about fitness, but it’s helpful to separate your reading into two types of reading:
1. Professional development reading
2. Recreational fitness reading
The first will always further you as a trainer. With the second, you may learn a cool thing here and there, but it is really about having fun, fueling your passion for exercise, and developing a well-rounded, interesting perspective. (It doesn’t hurt to have some fiction in there, too, if you like!)
To make this happen, your action step here is to set a rule for yourself that there is no recreational reading during work, unless you are deliberately taking a break. It’s key to separate work and leisure stuff. When you are doing your professional development reading, it should feel more like “work.” Do what you need to, not what you want. Likewise, when you are off the clock, go ahead and enjoy reading books or articles for fun, but follow this one rule for recreational reading: You can only read it if you want to read it, not because you think you should read it.
Step 5: Read those who have proven themselves.
With some fancy web design and some PhotoShop images on Instagram, it is easier than ever to appear as a fitness expert. Whom should you read or follow?
Simple. Look for people who have already proven themselves.
When looking through their blog, check out the “About” and “Testimonials” pages. See who this person is and what this person has done. Does this person properly do their research? Are they well-read on the latest research? Do they have recent results (from clients) to show? Those are just some factors to consider.
Step 6: Look for wisdom, not just information.
Today we have more information than we know what to do with. To grasp just how much information we’re talking here, consider this quote from Goodman’s book Viralnomics:
“In 2003, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that every two days we create as much information as human beings did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. Since 2003 this process has compounded. I suspect that now this is happening every few hours.”
The results is, we have endless amounts of information, but lack an understanding of what to do with that information.
Too often, trainers only crave more and more cutting-edge information. Desiring to learn is good, but when you don’t know how to apply it to the real world, your clients, or your business, it’s useless. Wisdom makes all the difference. Knowing what to do with the information you gain is wisdom.
This is one reason I’m a huge Dan John fan. John has been lifting weights for longer than I’ve been alive. He has an insane amount of experience in weightlifting, track and field, highland games, sports conditioning, kettlebells, corrective exercise, fat loss, general fitness, and more. He knows how to apply what he knows to get results.
Stop saying, “Oh, I’ve heard that before.” Take a moment, read the current research, and stay open to ideas from anyone and anything. If there are similarities in what people say, pay attention and dig into it yourself, but be prepared to have your mind changed based on developing evidence. And make sure you devote some time to learning from veteran trainers and coaches who have been doing this a long time and are committed life-long learners themselves.
Step 7: Let others help.
Never forget that you are not alone in this. You don’t have to do all the filtering yourself. Letting others help, especially someone whom you respect and trust, can save you a ton of time. Reader “digests,” such as:
…and other products like them are all great summaries of relevant research by trusted authorities.
Reach out to your peers, too, but be careful that you don’t simply surround yourself with people who agree or think exactly the same–it’s a good way to be trapped in an echo chamber. Ask for recommendations of great books and websites that could potentially challenge your perspective.
And of course, read plenty of books. Always. Books are a collection of someone’s vast and deep knowledge of certain subject matter. You’d be crazy to ignore this gift of knowledge that various authors have given us (in most cases, for less than $20, too!)
In this day and age of fast, digital information, how much you know and how much of the right things you know can further your career.