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If you’re looking for a legitimate weight loss solution, it can be difficult to know where to start, even more so if you’ve already had multiple unsuccessful attempts at the goal (which is far too often the case). A quick Google on the ‘best way to lose weight’ can yield thousands of conflicting results, so you may be considering enlisting the advice and support of a personal trainer to help kickstart your weight-loss journey. But is this an investment worth making?
Firstly, let’s deal with a quick misconception - when people talk about ‘weight loss’, in terms of the practical benefits, what they really mean is fat loss, as it’s the loss of body fat that helps us look and feel a way that helps the majority of us with confidence and self-esteem.
Put it this way, life is really about how we feel, will you really ‘feel’ any different at a lower weight if you don’t feel healthy, confident and have freedom of movement? Not really. And if you could have all of those things, would it matter what you weighed? Probably not, at least not in my experience having worked and delivered successful results for my clients.
Being overly concerned about what we weigh is usually a call-back to a time in our childhoods when we struggled with weight or when weight was the sole marker of our success when it came to exercise.
For example my online personal client Dom, below followed a non-restrictive approach to weight-loss, a program that I designed for him to be able to prioritise protecting his lean muscle mass and specifically targeting the loss of body fat with no more than a 20% caloric deficit which meant he always maintained his energy levels.
The problem is that ‘weight loss’ can be indiscriminate; for example what if you enlisted in a weight loss program, and you lost 2lbs one week, but it was all muscle? That would technically be a success, at least on paper, but you’d have lost hard-earned muscle, and effectively lowered your metabolism because your body no longer needs to burn energy (calories) to maintain that muscle.
So for this reason, the numbers on the scale don’t always tell the full story, as if you’re working out regularly, you may be seeing fat loss and muscle growth simultaneously. On top of this, it’s entirely normal for weight to fluctuate daily due to any number of factors, including (but not limited to) hydration, salt intake, water retention and hormones.
Don’t get me wrong, you will often lose a considerable amount of weight on a fat loss program, but weight lost on the scale is just one indicative marker of success, or if you will, a side effect or ‘output’ of protecting your muscle mass and directly losing body fat, rather than the goal itself.
So with that cleared up, what are the benefits of working with a personal trainer to tackle fat loss? I see three main benefits in enlisting the expertise of a personal trainer.
The biggest benefit that a PT can bring to the table is expertise. While it’s perfectly possible to achieve fat loss on your own, a trainer will be able to streamline your efforts to ensure that you’re taking the most linear route to your goals. By working with a coach, you can cut through the conflicting information, eliminate guesswork and ensure that every workout that you do is bringing you closer to your goals.
In addition to streamlining your efforts, a personal trainer can take your own circumstances into account to make your training regime as viable as possible. Rather than working with a cookie-cutter regime that may not fit into your current lifestyle, a coach will be able to tailor a program specific to you, factoring in any injuries, past experiences and work or family pressures. Striking a balance between your existing responsibilities and new goals makes following the plan consistently far easier, and this consistency will be the key to your success.
Creating meal plans, workout plans, tracking everything and creating schedules can actually be quite a lot of work when done comprehensively, if you are busy or don’t have a track record of workout and meal logging, simply outsourcing these tasks and keeping on top of things to your trainer might be very valuable to you. This way, all you need to focus on is turning up to sessions or carrying out the workouts and meals that have been created for you.
3. Accountability & Support
Losing weight as an intention is one of the most emotionally driven goals I’ve ever encountered as a personal trainer. Having a supportive environment and personal support for your most challenging moments can be the lifeline you need to maintain your momentum and get you across the finish line, it’s not just that though, an engaged fitness coach is also someone to share success with and celebrate everything from the smallest wins to the major achievements.
Of course, personal training isn’t the only option if you’d like to get some help in losing weight. Let's explore some other options:
Self-led: It’s perfectly feasible for you to do your own research, create a program for yourself and see it through to its successful completion. The answers are out there and the best coaches aren’t hiding behind secrets either, they will happily tell you what you need to do during a consultation - by working with a coach, it’s the implementation and support that you’re investing in, not necessarily the answers.
Weight Loss Groups: Weight loss groups can be a fantastic resource for peer accountability and support. Having a group of people that share similar experiences can be extremely valuable. Just make sure you’re measuring the right things; we already made the distinction between fat loss and weight loss, so make sure those distinctions are acknowledged. Also before signing up, you should make sure you are comfortable that there is a solution to your problem at the end of the program. It’s been said of weight loss groups that sometimes the original challenge is normalised or habituated, providing a highly empathic environment, but not necessarily one that has the answer to your problems. You’ll get an intuitive feel as to whether this is the case when you’re there.
Boot Camps & Fitness Classes: Fitness boot camps are a fantastic way to get out, get fit and be working out in a relatively low-cost, social environment. I’d recommend these as a part of a weight loss journey as, to me, there is a character-building element in getting out and training outdoors in all seasons. The banana skin here is to make sure you don’t succumb to what we might consider the ‘sweat economy’ of thinking that simply working out as hard as possible, as often as possible and burning as many calories as you can is the best or most linear route to success. Over time this can get a little mechanical and all it takes is the wrong group instructor to change the tone of the session and friendly competition can turn toxic. Also bear in mind, that as humans we can develop blind spots and a bias for the things we’re super interested in ourselves, so beware of the group fitness solution that focuses on one type of training and considers itself a one-size-fits-all solution.
Apps and online workouts: Following your favourite influencers on social media and doing their workouts can be a great low-cost entry to regular exercise. The scale these businesses operate on (millions of followers) mean they can be offered for as little as £1-2 per month, the challenge is personalisation is difficult to operate at that kind of scale though the workouts provided are often very high quality and well polished. The other potential challenge here, is being aware of the ‘do what I do’ or ‘here's what I eat in a day’ narrative might not be the best fit for you, firstly because sometimes you need a more personalised approach to your goals, and secondly because what you see on social media doesn’t always reflect reality. Further to that, what someone does now is not necessarily what they did day-in-day-out to get where they are today. There is a lot of pressure to entertain on social media, and sometimes what really works is a little too repetitive and boring for the algorithms.
Even within the realm of personal training, you have three main options:
In-person: The classic, and original personal training service. This usually involves a one-on-one training session with a personal trainer, this going to be the best way to have real-time coaching on the nuance of technique and it’s going to be the best way to get the most out of every single workout because there is literally someone there asking you for your best. The banana skin here is that not all trainers are created equal nor will every great trainer’s personality be a good fit for yours, so ask for a consultation or trial session to see if you gel.
Another consideration when it comes to personal training is that sometimes the level of service you get can be limited to the time you spend with the trainer themselves, meaning there isn’t a lot of follow-up on your efforts outside of the training sessions, nor on what you’re eating. Unfortunately, this is because you’re being charged hourly for their time. Of course, great service providers will overdeliver in this realm for you, but its a good idea to ask what you can expect between sessions because if you really need a trainer there with you to workout, and you want to work out frequently that could get rather expensive quite quickly.
Online Personal Training as a program: Online personal training programs are best thought of as a blueprint to follow with support outside of your actual workouts. This means that in theory you will be delivered a road map to the successful completion of your goals, often with a full meal plan, and then have a direct line to your chosen coach for support, advice and course correction. It’s a fantastic blend of expertise and support, of course, what you miss in actually having the personal trainer there with you, is made up for in the overwhelming availability of your course, particularly when you are offered instant messaging support. Just like all of the other options, not all services will be the same level of quality, but theoretically online personal training offers a great route to the successful completion of your goals, and will particularly fit anyone that is busy, short on time, travels frequently, needs to remove guesswork but is happy to carry out workouts on their own.
Hybrid or Virtual Personal Training: Since 2019, many virtual and hybrid personal training options have gained popularity, these can be a blend of the personal training options listed above or a pure video version of one-on-one personal training delivered through an internet video service like Google Meet or Zoom.
Ultimately weight loss is both a simple and nuanced goal, the advice of just ‘moving more and eating less’ is technically true, but it’s a little reductionist as well. The nuance is knowing how much to eat, and how much to move, for how long and in which ways, because taken to the reductionist solution, surely if you hit a plateau, the solution would be to simultaneously just keep eating less and moving more?
The problem with that is that it can't be maintained, and quickly leads to burnout and the inevitable rebound effect where the efforts are broken and all progress is undone. This advice means that all over the world today, thousands of people will be reaching out to gyms, trainers and classes hoping that this will be the attempt at weight loss that finally works. Maybe it will… but to make that happen it will take a sophisticated solution.
Even if you’re unsure about working with a PT for the long term, investing in a few weeks or months of coaching can pay dividends. A good personal trainer will educate clients as well as coach them, and learning the best practices of exercise and nutrition can lay a strong foundation for you to continue your fitness journey into the future, even without the support of a coach.
By learning these first principles early, you can not only achieve your goals quicker, but you can also take steps to maintain your progress into the future, rather than risking gaining lost fat back, as is the case with many more restrictive plans.
My parting advice is, that ultimately the extent to which you need a trainer will depend on multiple factors, including what motivates you, and how much accountability you would prefer in whatever direction you decide to move forward in. Make sure the solution you choose is going to be maintainable because the true measure of success at the end of any weight loss program will be the quality of your decisions the day after it finishes.