How to be the best personal trainer – with James Smith


Last week, I posted an interview with James Smith but the interview was too long to put it into one blogpost. This is part two of the interview. We talk a lot about how to be a good personal trainer.

1. What do you think is the most important platform to be on as a personal trainer?

It’s where your target audience is. A good friend of mine is a personal trainer for entrepreneurs. He’s on Instagram but his main platform is LinkedIn. He provides value there to entrepreneurs e.g. five tips to get better sleep as an entrepreneur. The older population is probably on Facebook. The younger population is probably on Instagram. I think posting daily on Instagram is not content creation. I think everyone should be on a platform that takes a little bit more detail whether that’s a blog, YouTube, podcast… They should be there. I’m a bit slower to this process. I wanted to have my Instagram nailed. Then I wanted my Facebook to be good. Now I am starting with a YouTube channel. A lot of people want to be on all the platforms at once. They don’t know what to do and they get overwhelmed. You need to get comfortable with producing content on one platform and then branching out to a more advanced content creation platform like YouTube or a blog or a podcast. I thought about being on Twitter but I’m not funny enough to make things stand out in 140 characters. I like to provide more value than you can fit into 140 characters. I just don’t think Twitter would be useful to me. I don’t think Twitter will benefit my business. Most personal trainers have a Facebook or Instagram page. If they want more detail, they can go to my YouTube channel.

2. What are your best tips for a personal trainer who is just starting out?

I think everyone should start as an in personal trainer. You start to get an eye for things like how the body moves, issues… You are in the service business so you need to provide the service that you are advertising. If you’re advertising fat loss, you need to help people lose fat. If you’re advertising improving strength, you need to help people improve strength. Don’t just go in a session and count reps. That’s not your job. You’re offering a service so provide that service and make sure you can provide that service. Before you even think about how to advertise, how to market… the key is to improve your coaching ability. Whether that is getting a degree, doing courses to improve your coaching, get better at nutrition, get better at training… You should go and invest in self development. From there it’s just a case of implementing easy things, things you can do in the gym… and then you can branch out online. Before you do that, ask someone for help. It can get overwhelming. I asked help to start my YouTube channel. What is the point in starting a YouTube channel and making all the mistakes someone else has already made. 

I think it’s scary to ask for help.

It is super scary but we don’t know everything. That is impossible. If everyone knew everything, why would we have personal trainers, physios, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches…? Why are there different surgeons? They don’t know everything. Go and learn as much as you can in the field that you are an expert in and then employ other people or have a circle of other people you can reach out to. If there’s a client who’s suffering from a back injury, a knee injury… and it’s a super detailed one, I go to my physio. I tell him what the issue is and I ask him for advice. If they need to come and see him, I send them to him. You want to improve your client’s life. You can provide value to your circle of people and they can provide value to you.

3. Do you think personal trainers can teach their clients to eat intuitively?

I don’t see why not. I teach all my clients about nutrition rather than macros, calories and carbs. I want to improve their nutritional intake. I will reinforce good nutrition but at the end of the day I can’t sit and feed someone. They have to be wanting to do it. I think education is a massive key. I don’t think enough personal trainers educate their clients. When it comes to intuitive eating, I just want people to eat normally, eat properly, improve their life… Aim for the long term rather than the goal right in front of you. When I used to work with clients one-on-one, I’d want them to leave me after tree months. I want them to have the knowledge they need to do it on their own. Not enough PT’s aim to do that. 

I think a lot of PT’s give their clients macros but the clients don’t know why they need those macros. 

Exactly. Provide context. Otherwise, people are going to feel lost. 

I used to track macros but I got so obsessed with it, that I felt way too restricted and it ruined my relationship with food. If I ever become a personal trainer, I don’t want my clients to feel that way. That’s why I want to know if it’s possible to teach them how to eat intuitively.

I think the emphasis off weight loss is key. Look to improve someone’s performance, strength, flexibility, mobility… because that are things you can see quickly. You can say “after a month, we are going to improve your squat this much”. That is shorter term than aiming for fat loss. Focusing on performance is key. There’s so much more you can do with performance than you can do with weight loss. Educate people. If you educate people on nutrition they are far more likely to eat properly than to become restrictive. It’s easy for you to be relatable. You can talk about your experiences and how you got out of it and how you are going to get your client out of it. I’ve had clients fall off the wagon in the weekend and started eating everything. Rather than telling them to get back on track on Monday, I asked them what actually happened, why it happened, if there are any triggers that caused them to do this and getting understanding of what is causing it and what their triggers are. Is there a food trigger, a certain food that caused them to do this or was it an environment factor? Understanding what your client’s going through, what is triggering them to take certain actions, you can move forward with them. Do not be like ‘we went off the rails, let’s starve you a little bit more’ and then in a week’s time, they will go off the rails again. We need to understand why. I also don’t like cheat days. Food is not a reward, it’s a method to fuel yourself and to live. Yes, we use food to connect with people and we go out for meals but ultimately, food is there first to live. It is not a reward or guilt trigger. 

4. Do you think it’s important to focus on mental health too when training a client?

This is a difficult one. I will never talk too much about mental health because I am not qualified. You need to keep an eye out for eating disorders, body dysmorphia… You need to refer them to different people. I had a psychiatrist as one of my clients. I’ve sent clients to him and I always pick his brain. I tell him ‘This client is showing this behavior. What’s your view? What are your actions to take?’.

5. I saw in your stories that you said that crash diets can work and not be harmful. I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

For example someone comes to you and they want to lose weight in four weeks for the holidays. You give them a crash diet to lose weight before the holidays. That was their goal so we made them happy. I will get them to where they want to go on their holiday but the second the holiday is over, we need to shift away from fat loss and focus on performance. If you crash diet and then slowly start to implement your way backup: you introduce calories slowly, you introduce food slowly, you do the right processes… it will never be harmful. It’s when people crash diet and binge, crash diet and binge… that it gets harmful. You just crash diet to lose a little weight quickly and then slowly increase your calories like you are reverse dieting, there’s no issue. It is not going to be harmful. If you have an obese person coming to you who wants to lose weight, that person really needs to lose weight. They’ve got far more energy to lose. They’ve got tons of stored fat. If we put them on a super crash diet, lose a little bit of fat quickly, provide them some results quickly so they can see the process works and then slowly increase their food to build their metabolism back up, that is probably the best process to go about it. If a mortally obese person comes to me and weighs 400 pounds and I tell this person we are going to do half a pound a week, it’s going to be super slow and it’s going to be a super big lifestyle change, they are not going to stick to that. They are going to be like ‘Oh my god, this is going to take five years.’. If I say that we are going to go super hard and super quick for a month and they are going to lose 20 pounds. They are going to see results quickly and then I am going to slowly build their lifestyle change and improve their life. I would say that is a way better approach. It is not harmful to them. Crash diets aren’t harmful but it’s the way you go about it and having someone around who can do it properly. It’s the same with the keto diet or intermittent fasting. Everyone has an opinion about it. It is not harmful if you do it properly.  It is harmful if you don’t do it properly. Everyone wants to have an opinion but why not be like ‘if it works for you and it is not harming you, go do it’. The only thing I would say is, don’t just keep hopping. Some people try keto for a month, then they try intermittent fasting… You need to be able to stick to your diet so choose something that works for you. 

6. What are your best tips for students to find a good balance between studying, free time and health?

Split your time up into blocks. Let’s say you have an assignment that has to be finished in a month that is 5000 words, work out how many words you need to write a day to finish it four days early. Every single day, go and write those words. Let’s say you need to write 300 words a day, that is nothing. Give yourself two hours to write those words. The first thing you write, will be absolute garbage. It always is. The second you are writing, you might get into a flow. Only work for two hours. I don’t care where you stop, you are working on your assignment for two hours. Block an hour out of your day to go to the gym. Regardless of what happens, you are going to the gym in that hour. It might be going to the gym, it might be going for a walk… some form of exercise for an hour per day. Then block another hour to work on your business, on yourself… You might be doing a self development course, something that has nothing to do with your studies. Splitting it up like that works better. If you sit down during the day ‘Oh my god, I have this assignment to write.’ and you try and write the whole thing, you are just going to get bored. It’s not going to be your best work. If you split it up evenly, go and do it and have an organisation, that is the best thing. Don’t eat at your desk. Have some down time. Relax. I would set a time limit so I make sure I will be working again. Some people love working out in the morning. It helps with creativity. If you wake up and get a coffee, you don’t know what to do. It depends on what works for you. Gary Vee says that you need to work 18 hours a day but if that doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t do it. I can function with 4-5 hours of sleep but every single day at lunch time, I have a break. I need some time for myself. I don’t work. I watch TV, I have a nap, I watch YouTube… I get up at 5am so I can have that time in the middle of the day. For other people that might not work. 

I learned so much during this interview and I want to thank James again for doing this. Want to see more? Click here to go to James’s Instagram. Click here to go to his membership site.



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