The DTS Diagnoses
Choosing the right trainer or gym can be an intimidating process. As a gym owner and certified trainer of over eight years, I'm ashamed to admit that many of the training certification processes are abysmal.
They don't exactly weed out those who are in it for the wrong reasons. There's no certification process that can help someone become a decent human being with common sense and a modicum of compassion. As a result, gyms are filled with self-obsessed trainers who have DTS (Douchebag Trainer Syndrome).
Sure, you might think this is a made-up term for quirky coaches with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, but that may mean you just haven't been coached by a person with real DTS before... or it may mean YOU'RE the one with DTS.
You can't always detect DTS right away. Sometimes you can't even identify it until you've been coached by someone for a session or two. But there are a handful of warning signs that'll tell you whether or not someone has the condition:
Warning Sign 1 The trainer asks zero questions about you before starting your session.
At least half of good coaching is about understanding where the client is coming from, especially in terms of injuries and goals. As a trainer, it's nearly impossible to tailor a program to fit a client's needs without first understanding their physical limitations and objectives.
If your primary goal is fat loss, but your trainer insists that you max out every day because he or she enjoys strength training the most, your trainer clearly has no idea what you want or need.
If your goal is to train for a powerlifting competition, but your trainer has you running a 5k five days a week, that trainer clearly hasn't listened to you. Sure, you need to advocate for yourself, but it shouldn't be an uphill battle to do so. If they don't focus on YOU, they're probably a d-bag.
What to do about it: Find a trainer that spends time listening to you (notice I say "listening to you," not necessarily "talking to you") prior to your workout.
Warning Sign 2 The trainer encourages you to push past serious physical pain or limitations.
A decent trainer knows the difference between normal mid-workout complaining and a legitimate complaint about pain. If you tell your trainer that a certain exercise hurts your hip, knee, or back, and they ignore you or even encourage you to go heavier, there's a good chance your trainer suffers from DTS.
Remember, trainers are NOT medical professionals – many suffering from DTS will attempt to act like they are – but if they were trained medical professionals, they would've been taught that pushing through legitimate pain is an extraordinarily dumb thing to do.
What to do about it: Find a trainer that helps you work AROUND your pain by offering solid guidance and a variety of options, not one who encourages you to "push through it." This segues into the next warning sign.
Warning Sign 3 Your trainer can't offer sufficient scaling options or modifications to fit your needs.
If you ask your trainer for an alternative on an exercise that doesn't feel right to you and they can't or won't give you one, chances are your trainer is not only a d-bag, but also unintelligent.
Movement adjustments are always needed in the fitness world, and there are endless options. No matter what your goal is, there's an exercise that can work in place of another that puts you in a risky position. And any coach who won't provide alternatives is either inexperienced or is putting his/her goals before yours.
What to do about it: In your initial meeting, ask them what options they can offer if you happen to come into the gym with a knee injury on a squatting day (or choose a myriad other examples wherein you may need scaling). If they can't or won't provide you with any, run away.
Warning Sign 4 You feel unwelcome as the "newbie" in your gym.
This one falls on the trainer, but it can also be a result of the overall community or gym environment – especially in class-based gyms. I started in the CrossFit world in 2008, and one trend I've seen in the community (and others) is the idea that new members need to "earn their way" into the cool kids club.
Think of this as contagious DTS, wherein it spreads and becomes DGS (douchebag gym syndrome). If you walk into a class for the first time and no one introduces themselves, the trainer degrades you or publicly humiliates you, fellow class members act like they're your coaches, and you feel like the odd man out, you've entered a community of douchebags and you should probably get out of there.
What to do about it: You're paying money to join a gym. Some people enjoy the hazing process, and if you do, you can make your own decisions. But if you don't, realize that this isn't the status quo at ALL gyms or CrossFit facilities. Continue shopping around. Find a place that's welcoming and encouraging for every member. There are many which support their new members just as much as their seasoned athletes.
Warning Sign 5 Your trainer belittles or degrades you for not sharing their goals.
A common symptom of DTS is difficulty understanding the idea that most clients don't want to eat, sleep, and breathe fitness. Douchebag trainers often assume that their lifestyle is the only worthwhile lifestyle, and that their goals are everyone's goals.
If you find that your trainer is belittling you for being a normal, reasonable human (including: eating a piece of cake at a birthday party, not making it to the gym every single day, squatting less weight today than you did last time), it's very likely that your trainer is a d-bag.
What to do about it: Find a trainer that encourages and acknowledges your progress, not one that projects his or her lifestyle onto you.
Now that you know the signs of DTS, I hope you have the tools to run the other direction when you encounter it. If you're a trainer that relates to this material, quit being a douchebag.