An Athlete vs. A Trainer: There IS a Difference

Anna Kournikova can play tennis, but can she train?

This question comes up a lot with celebrity trainers and popped up again when Anna Kournikova was named the newest "Biggest Loser" trainer, replacing Jillian Michaels beginning next season. Does being a great athlete mean that you're automatically a great trainer?  I say, emphatically, no, and here's why. Athletes are remarkably gifted individuals.  They have stellar DNA and have had a cluster of amazing people around them to support their career and achievements.  Yes, they've been coached, a lot, but just because you've received coaching for years, maybe decades, that doesn't mean you can make the transition to becoming a trainer or coach yourself. Athletes have an inherent gift for what they do.  They move innately and have honed their skills.  Often that means they don't know how to translate what they do to others because they (sorry Nike) "just do it." Also, the training skill set is entirely different.  Athletes need to know how to play their sport well and win; everything they do is geared towards winning some sort of trophy or medal. Trainers need to be able to communicate effectively with a wide array of people using verbal, visual, and tactile cues.  They need to be able to break down movements so they can teach them to their clients.  They need to know anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology in order to help their clients.  They need to know how to work around injuries and other medical conditions such as obesity. You don't need to know any of that stuff if you're an athlete.  Again, they "just do it." I know a lot of fans of "The Biggest Loser" watch the show and say, "I see what they do; they're great trainers."  But the reality is it takes a good trainer to spot another good trainer.  I look for form and every single show I see basic form skills being breached; stuff that is "Trainer 101," like keeping knees from extending beyond the toes, and not doing shoulder lifts in a way that would cause an impingement. When I interviewed former Olympian Rulon Gardner who was a contestant on the show this past season, he mentioned that almost every one of the contestants was injured the first week.  Is that the example we want to set?  Is that how we want to inspire America to work out? Sigh.  Sometimes I feel like a feeble little voice against the juggernaut that is NBC.  I wish the show would pick trainers with experience with the morbidly obese population.  Sure, I understand that they need to be photogenic and good on camera, but I know they're out there.  Several of you have mentioned bringing back a former contestant who has since become a trainer.  I like that idea too. What do you think? Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.


8 Responses to An Athlete vs. A Trainer: There IS a Difference

  1. Webly May 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    The only things inlike about biggest loser are the variety or workouts and the before and after transformstion. The whole show is unrealistic. It also shows that you can put someone in the perfect environment, it doesn’t mean they will make being healthy a lifestyle. Slot of the participants gained back weight.

    About their new choice of trainer, the show is just doing what they think will increase their rating. Topical reality show.

  2. Jenn (gh) May 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    I’m a trainer and I’m photogenic I think they should pick me. Kidding. That was obnoxious! ;-)

  3. Dogfood Provider May 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Agree times a billionty!!!!!

  4. [email protected] May 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Great post! It’s so true that not everyone can be a trainer. Just like being a teacher, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it well. Sigh.

  5. bill May 31, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Absolutely true. If you’re already a jock, you might respond to a trainer who’s an athlete. But if you’re not — well, I tried training with a friend who’s in GREAT shape — she works out a lot, goes to fitness competitions (and frequently wins)– but found it hard to get motivated from her. I thought “Well, sure, its easy for HER (whether or not thats true)”. Translating her ability into my motivation was tough. (Of course, I was looking for a REASON to slack off, too.)

    The trainer has to be believable to you. She was and is my friend, but as a motivator? Not so much.

  6. Lisa Johnson May 31, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    Good point Bill, thanks for bringing it up. We need to feel motivated by our trainers and the uber gorgeous ones can feel unattainable for us. L–

  7. Patrick Kallie June 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Most people that are gifted athletes naturally have a hard time with training others. The main reason with this is because you have to be a “people person” when you are training others.

    If you don’t like the ups and downs of peoples personalities…you will hate training them.

  8. Lisa Johnson June 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Patrick, you’re awesome! Glad you found the blog :-) L–

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