While training to be a teacher, I was trained by... you guessed it... another teacher. The difference was the experience level and qualification.
Once can split workout-types into two groups:
Lets review the impact of a PT/Coach in both:
This is your Olympic weightlifting coach, baseball coach, football coach, running coach, etc. You are working in a competitive environment. A common term for this kind of person is "athlete". A coach does not commonly receive direct payment from a athlete, they often are paid through club membership.
You have a coach for a few reasons:
- Programming: No need to worry about planning around competitions, a good coach will carefully peak your training around competitions. They aren't At a national/international level an athlete will need a coach or be working on their programming full time.
- Experience: Your coach should have a significant amount of experience in the sport they are coaching you in and/or have significant experience in coaching with examples of past students with good results.
- 2nd Eye: With a coach you can get instant and balanced feedback on your movement during the exercise. It is extremely difficult to become a successful (medal winning) athlete without a coach.
- Competition Support: They will be there with your towel, chalk, nice words, at the finish line. They will provide help with transport, nutrition and ensuring that you do the best you can while competing. It reflects on them as much as you.
Downsides to a coach is they ONLY care about you succeeding in the competition. They will get you to only movements that will make you better at the sport. A running coach wont make you lift weights, a baseball coach doesn't care about how much you can deadlift. Cross-training is very much a dirty word to a lot of coaches.
A experienced coach will know what will work best for you, what movements to practice and how to best get you to improve. You will probably have the same coach throughout your career as a developing athlete. They want you succeed as much as you do, everything is based around succeeding in competition. A coach isn't just a "fitness trainer" they are a part of your family/friendship circle. They will probably be at your wedding. I can't speak for all coaches but I have found this to be the majority.
(With the exception of bodybuilding, where coaches aren't prevalent but competitions are)
If you have someone doing the job of personal training and you have no competition the goals become a little less wholesome. Even with the goal of losing weight a PT quickly learns that their clients cannot out-exercise a bad diet.
Some of the reasons people use PTs:
- Physical restriction: Those with specific disorders or injuries can benefit from a knowledgeable person helping them athrough specific exercises. However, a physiotherapist would just tell you what to you and you could just follow that.
- Laziness: To have successful programming there is some learning involved. Linear progression on weights will run out and progression slows. Periodization and other methods become more important if progression is still required. A PT can design a program for you to follow. PT's can also provide motivation through encouragement by having a 1 on 1 relationship with their client, this works well for a lot of people struggling with motivation to work hard at the gym.
- Nervousness: A PT provides a safety barrier at a lot of gyms, you don't need to worry about asking to share equipment and you don't need to worry about integrating with the other gym-goers. It gives you a change to work out with the comfort of a "friend" supporting you.
- Commitment: PT's aren't cheap. By committing to paying a PT for a session you are committing to completing that exercise. The simple act of putting money down on something can help a lot of people with gym-commitment issues. If you don't turn up you are letting down a person as well as your own wallet.
- Second Eyes: Positively, they provide the same level of second-vision on the exercises you are doing. However, while coaches are masters in their sport PT's have a tendency to become jack-of-all-trades and their knowledge on the safety of movements can fall behind the times.
I see a lot of PT's at my local gyms just planning workouts off-the-cuff. I personally got a few free sessions and quickly learnt through talking to them that a lot of them don't bother doing detailed programming for their client. Truth is many they don't care if you lose weight or become stronger, they care that you pay them and continue to do so. I have seen a lot of scummy tactics used to keep clients signed up and paying. I can't speak for all PT's but I have found this to be the majority.
PT's are good for those with injuries or just getting into working out and need extra motivation or basic knowledge. Coaches are good at developing an athletes prowess at a specific sport for competition.