My very own 10 steps to becoming a personal trainer
I was asked recently how I became a personal trainer. At first I thought I would tell why I like lifting weights. Then I thought about what led me there. Then I realized my experience started a long time ago. I realized this is not just a one liner. I did not take a test and become a personal trainer because I liked to work out. This was a big part of my history- my life- me. This may take a while, and I cannot possibly cover all my experiences. I will try to get the main points – or what I consider the building blocks which led to my life as a personal trainer. I did break it down into 10 steps though. Maybe you can read one a day.
Step One – Start at a very young age
It all started when I was 8 years old, sitting in the hot garage of our house watching in awe as my 18 year old uncle lifted his brand new weights from Sears & Roebuck. Plastic weights filled with sand. (I know this because I took one apart) I was absolutely fascinated as he went through his routine that was outlined in the little mini-book that came with the weight set.
I “borrowed” the book at the age of 8 and drew ponytails on the boy in the book and colored his clothes “girl colors” so he would represent me. (There were no girls in the book). I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to try this weight lifting thing. I seemed to have an inherent fascination with muscles and weights. By the time I was 10, my uncle gave into my persistence and allowed me to use the adjustable dumbbells, and gave me some exercises to do. I was in heaven. When I was 12, my uncle moved away from home and I inherited the weights. I set them up in my bedroom. When my friends came over, I would show off. They all thought I was weird- but cool- after all- what girl lifted weights?
Step Two- Be curious and persistent
By the time I was 16 I started high school. I still had the plastic weights at home. But suddenly my world of weightlifting got like Disney World. The school I attended had a weight room. Not just any weight room. This was high tech stuff. Everything was steel- dumbbells and all. My first semester, I had general physical education every day. I would sneak around the back of the building to the open doors of the weight room (we didn’t have a/c so all doors and windows were open) and I would look inside and try to watch someone doing something that I could do at home.
There was one other thing that blew my mind. These were not skinny long haired kids like my uncle. These were giants! They were the athletes of the high school. Big, bulky, mean looking, sweaty, and yelled a lot when they pushed what looked like 500 LBS to me. I was mesmerized for the 1-2 minutes I would stand there and watch before a coach would yell at me to get back to class. This was an everyday thing for me. Just to step foot in that room. I must note here- I never saw a girl in there. This was the “no girls allowed” zone. Guys sweated, smelled bad, went shirtless, laid on the concrete floor, and got rust and grease all over their hands not to mention the stained calluses. It seemed forbidden that a woman would lift weights and perform this hard physical laborious task. After all girls didn’t need biceps…..
One day while sneakily watching the guys- I heard,” Hey Skinny!” I start to turn to run away and I heard, “You- Skinny- don’t run away” I turn slowly and look to see the coach sitting on a bench. He was talking to me. He asked me to come in- but jokingly told me to watch out because one of the animals might bite. I was terrified, but being the jock I was, I sucked up my fear and cautiously walked into THE weight room. I went over to him and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was just looking. He told me that I would never get any better just looking, so unless I was going to take the class, I needed to go hang out with the “other little girls” on the basketball court. I didn’t know how to take his comment at that moment, so I turned and quickly left. After stewing on it in my mind for hours, I realized I had been challenged, and suddenly I realized I was on for the challenge. I continued to sneak to watch the weight room activity, and sometimes coach would call to me to come in and we would talk for a few seconds before I would leave.
Step Three- Accept any challenge tossed your way
Along came the day that changed everything for me. I had made the JV basketball team, but I was tiny. I had always been the tall lanky one- until I hit 15. I stopped growing and all the other girls got big. They got hips and legs and other parts I was lacking. At 16 I was 5’4” and weighed 95 lbs.. I think the next lightest girl on the team weighed 120. I was a shrimp. I was aggressive, I liked to hit, only problem was I began to get hit and when I got hit- I became airborne. And it wasn’t airborne towards the basket either. I was laid out every time. One day I took a hard hit and got hurt. Coach pulled me off the court and sat me down. She told me I couldn’t play basketball anymore unless I could gain 20 Lbs. She told me to just concentrate on the swim team. I was upset, but once again I felt challenged. Up for another challenge? I remember the weight training coach telling me I could put on some weight, if I lifted weights. I got up the courage to go to his office and talk to him. He took me into the weight room and put me to the test. I think it was a test created just for me, because he didn’t think I could handle the class. He assessed my strength and knowledge. He sat me down. I listened intently. He told me the only way I could lift weights here was to take the class. He asked if I could handle it after all- not many girls took weight training. I was so excited; I rushed home that day and began studying the old hand book from Sears & Roebuck. I made sure I knew everything there was to know about lifting weights. (I still have that little book to this day!) This book was far from everything- but it was all I had and little did I know that I came to the class knowing more than most of the boys. It was quite liberating.
Step Four- Do it afraid
I remember my first day of class. I was trying to act like I had it all together, but inside I was scared to death. I was so intimidated by the very large young men and the loud and caustic coach. I felt so strongly like I didn’t belong. I wanted to go to the office and change my schedule. I knew I had made a mistake. None the less, I stood right up in that class and acted like I did belong. That was all I could do because quitting was not an option for me. Three girls in the class. Two seniors and me. But coach and the guys accepted me just like I was one of them. One day I had to find a partner. Of course the two senior girls were partners, so I had to find a guy. Terrified again. There was one young boy named Jake who weighed 98 lbs. I had met my match. Coach assigned me and Jake to be “buddies”- this was my workout partner. When we ran the stairs piggy back, Jake rode my back. Although all the guys wanted to carry me (because I was the lightest weight).
I was Jakes partner for everything. Soon I became a hot topic in the weight room. My strength went up by leaps and bounds. .Jake and I pushed each other pound for pound. I refused to allow him to get stronger than me and I think he felt the same. Benching 135lbs was a big goal for me. I wanted to put those “big wheels” on more than anything in the world. Well to shorten my high school story- from that semester on, I spent every day in the weight room. I had a part time role as the “girl’s assistant”. By my senior year there were girls in almost every class. Whenever I could, I would help the girls learn exercises and workouts. I was the schools representative for female weight lifting. To me I was just one of the guys- but to them I was special..
I graduated high school setting or breaking every female weight lifting record they had. I even held the record for doing the most dips- and that included guys! I learned everything I could learn about weight training and the human body- all that was known and available. ( we did not have the internet back then!) I also learned from one of the best- my coach was a World Class wrestling coach, trainer, and Olympic referee who wrestled and lifted weights his whole life. He had and still has quite an impressive resume. I lifted weights daily and swam on the swim team every day. Out of swim season- I got a job at a local gym (Iron Man) and was one of very few women who walked in the door. This is where I exercised my confidence I had built up in school to yell at big guys when they were throwing weights around! It was cool to say the least.
Step Five- Take risks
When I graduated, I started college. Still working at the gym,. I was personal training when it wasn’t even invented. I just “helped” people work out and made their workout plans for them. I was at the beginning of an era. It was then coach suggested I try bodybuilding. It was 1980 and women had just started competing. He said I could be on the cutting edge. I liked that idea. Although I already was on the cutting edge at school, bodybuilding would put me out there in the big world. This may be a career. I didn’t know what was to come…
I used all the knowledge I had gained from Coach. We didn’t know a lot about eating for a bodybuilding show- but with his wrestling knowledge, he guided me the best he could. I just did what he said, read some magazines and came out real good.
Step six- Learn from the school of hard knocks After my second show, I got called out by one of the biggest judges in Florida. He was known for having several male bodybuilders that were winners. He wanted me on his “team”. He had never had a female and wanted me to be his first. I believed this was it for me- I had finally gotten the call of a lifetime. All my work had paid off. Until that day. I had an appointment to meet with him at his Gym. My whole family supported me and my plans to go to California and become a bodybuilder. They were excited for me. I was beyond excited. I made my appointment and sat in awe as he told me all the plans he had for me. We talked for about an hour and a half. He was going to do everything for me- train me in his gym, teach me how to pose, eat, and set me up in the shows he wanted me in. He believed women’s bodybuilding would take off one day soon and he wanted to have a woman at the top when it did. It still amazes me to think how quickly it all ended.
When I think about it I try to slow it down in my mind- but what happened next took about 5 minutes flat and it was over in snap. He took me in his office and shut the door. I was ready to sign a contract until he said there was one more thing. He pulled a couple vials out of a medicine cabinet. He told me whenever I came to work out, I had to come in his office and he would inject me. I said, “Excuse me”? He pointed to the medicine cabinet and said he had some supplements I needed to take to help me grow. I said,” I can’t do that” He said, “This is the ONLY way you will have any chance of winning”. I told him again I couldn’t do drugs. He said, “I am not wasting my time if you won’t do this” I told him he was crazy. He said something to the effect that the deal was over and -oh by the way- I would never win any event he was judging. I said “fine” and walked out. Just like that. I stormed out and went straight home. I was devastated.
Step Seven- Pick up the pieces & move on It took a long time to get over that. My family later moved to Central Florida and I was out of that scene. I got a job at a local gym “Strength Center” while I was majoring in Physical Education. I didn’t want to be a teacher but back then this was the only field in my area that had to do with athletics. I started personal training at that gym- still with no certification other than years of first-hand experience. Ladies came to me to learn, but there still was not a big female audience in weight training. I only lifted weights with guys. I taught the ladies to work out differently than me. They still believed women weren’t supposed to lift like men. (Although I always did)
Soon, I got involved in the world of “Natural” bodybuilding. I competed in 4-5 shows and the association I was in disappeared and I fell out of it. My family moved again and I competed in one more show after we moved, and then stopped competing. I became disenchanted with the entire steroid thing and learned natural shows still had drug usage going on. I didn’t appreciate where the sport was heading for ladies. It all hit me one day when I went to the gym before my last show and 2 women were lifting who looked and sounded like men. It was scary. I had never seen such a monstrous look in a woman –ever. I was sickened. Thank God I was not able to get big naturally. Thank God I had the sense to tell Mr. Bodybuilder Coach “no”. I hung up my bodybuilding competition suit and never looked back. But I continued working out and teaching others.
Step Eight- Look at all other possibilities
A couple years later I became a golf professional- though I was not faithful to bodybuilding, my weight training took me on a different path. At that time it was believed that golfers did NOT lift weights. So I worked out sporadically with weights trying to figure out how I could make this thing work.. I biked, swam and played golf. Over 3 years I got real skinny and didn’t like how I looked- so I hit the weights hard again. Instead of working at gyms, I was just a member wherever I went and I continued to help people train at whatever gym I was lifting. I usually would end up getting a free membership because I would volunteer at the gym a couple days a month and help train people. I think it was around this time PT certifications were starting to hit the scene. I was still training ladies but never had a female workout partner- always guys. Weird, but true. When I hit 34 (or so), I retired from golf. I went back to school and was certified as a massage therapist to further my learning of the human body.
I specialized in sports massage and and sports injuries at a rehab center for 4 years while working part time as a (certified) personal trainer. I worked under 2 wonderful physical therapists who taught me so much. Even though I loved learning in the massage field, my heart was at the gym when I was training. I still loved the weights. I learned and began studying how weight training could prevent injuries. Once again I was on the cutting edge of science and no one really touted weights as the way to go.
One day I heard someone talking about Body For Life. A local guy had won the challenge. I thought- oh no- another steroid user trying to promote his stuff but I had no clue who Bill Phillips was…. until I bought the book. I wanted something new and exciting to learn so I took the challenge. I figured I would study it, live it and breathe it for 12 weeks and see what happened. Needless to say- that would set the stage for the next years of my life. I learned everything I could through his “Muscle Media” magazine. This was the first non-steroid promoting magazine I had seen. I completed the 12 week challenge and felt like I was ready to take on the world. But not in golf, massage or anything else. I wanted to be back in the gym. After all- I knew stuff.
Step Nine- Settle into what you know and love
The last 10 years has been a flash in my life but so much has happened. This is where my career really took off. I became a Wellness coach at a local YMCA. It was through this that I was updated in the fitness industry. I joined up with Bill Phillips (finally met him) and worked with him and hundreds of others changing lives through his latest program called “Transformation” I started so many incentive programs at our Y for getting in shape and continued to build a clientele. The last few years I began to work on myself. I was aging and putting others first so much that I realized I was not the shining example I needed to be. I began to help people of all ages, weight, with issues that we never even heard of in the 80’s. The internet became a household word and I had the world literally at my finger tips of learning.
Suddenly you need a certification for everything. I was certified as a nutrition coach and personal trainer and spend hours each day learning more and more and more. I learn all I can. My way is never the best way- just when I think I know it, I read about someone else who know things I never heard of. I cannot tell you how important it is to watch, read and learn. I cannot even list the names of peers I have learned from in the last few years. But one thing is certain- my biggest motto is I will never ask any client to do anything I have not done myself. I try everything I can – the latest, greatest and best of anything.. If I can do it, if it works, I use it. If not, I send it on its way.
Step 10- Call myself a personal trainer
So here I am now 50 years old. I no longer work for the YMCA I work for myself. I have trained at hard core gyms and fitness centers from Florida to Maine and several places in between. I have trained with and learned from bodybuilders, power lifters, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists and the long time dedicated weight training enthusiast. Every gym has a few older guys who have lifted since they were a kid. I am officially a member of that group. I have learned all I can from everyone who has something to say. I’ve seen great exercises, bad exercises and the made up scary looking exercises that belong to the one special guy at the gym who does his own thing. Just when I think I’ve seen it all- I see more!
I’ve learned more training routines and popular methods than I can talk about. I train more women than men these day and lots of athletes too. But of course I will help anyone –client or not. I still listen and learn- things have changed a lot over the years and training evolves yearly. No matter the changes, I find the principles I learned in high school so many years ago that never change. Last year I competed in my first ever Sr. Olympic Games in swimming, track & field and powerlifting. I swallow hard when I say that word “senior” but I must say, the competition at my age is nothing of a laughing matter. In fact, to compete at any age these days seems to be a thing of the past. I will continue to compete as it sets the stage for me to be an example to others. That is what seems to be my destiny in life. To help others learn how to do this.
My workouts maintain priority in my life. People pay me to help change their bodies and I feel obligated to be the best example I can be. I love training people and training with people. It motivates them. It motivates me. I plan to be motivating people for the rest of my life- and I plan to be the 90 year old woman who hangs out at the gym telling stories about “all those years”.
And that, my friend is how I got to where I am today- a personal trainer. Doing all I can do to help others achieve what they all seem to want to attain at some point in their life- health, strength and longevity. As I transformed into what I am today. I will say I am still transforming daily. This is a work in progress for me as well as anyone who cares to take this challenge. Let’s defy age and come into our later years in better shape that this world has even see. After all, old age is not something that is defined by the number- rather it is the accumulation of abuses and self-neglect over a period of time. It can be changed. Lets do this.