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Personal Trainers Of The Month: The Educators

Meet three personal trainers who are committed to teaching the ins and outs of fitness to anyone in need, from kids to physique athletes to other trainers!

You may not immediately think of personal trainers as educators. That term is only for school teachers and professors, right? Well, Nick Clayton, Brandi Binkley, and Sergio Maldonado are changing that.

Their training styles, locations, and certifications are different, but their goals are the same. They want to leave this industry stronger—and smarter—than when they found it!

Trainer Of Trainers Nick Clayton

How do personal trainers learn how to train clients? They study under master trainers like Nick Clayton. As a manager at the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado, Clayton helps prepare trainers for the gym floor.

He began his journey doing personal training for some extra cash in college, but quickly developed a love for the teaching aspects of the business. At his first gym in Gainesville, new PTs were put on a team with a master level trainer who was responsible with helping them develop.

The experience gave Clayton a lasting passion for practical training. While he grants that it's important for trainers to learn from colleges and universities, he's insistent that the central part of becoming a trainer is working with actual clients.

"Most of the courses don't have a lot of hands-on training, like squat variations. That comes with experience," Clayton says. "The degree helps you understand the fundamentals that go into training, but that's where a lot of people get stuck. They get their master's degree and assume they have all the knowledge they need. But they don't have practical experience. That only comes with working with hundreds of clients who all move differently and have different goals and athletic levels."

Whose body should you start with? Yours! Clayton suggests that new PTs get involved and demonstrate their knowledge with their own bodies first. "If you tell someone they have to squat to be strong, they want to see if you can squat. It's not about showing off or showing them up, but you have to be able to demonstrate it and know what they are going through, that you can do it yourself. You have to be a role model."

"That's where a lot of people get stuck. They get their master's degree and assume they have all the knowledge they need. But they don't have practical experience. That only comes with working with hundreds of clients who all move differently and have different goals and athletic levels."

Extra Points

What are 3 things new trainers need to do before they put a client on the gym floor?

  1. Practice what you preach. Never ask a client to do something you have not at least
    tried yourself.
  2. Understand that every client is unique. This applies to their physical abilities, levels of self-confidence and self-efficacy, and learning style, just to name a few.
  3. Recognize that what you say and how you say it is just as important as the program you develop.

Master Motivator Brandi Binkley

Brandi Binkley grew up a natural athlete, and she scratched her itch with activities like cheerleading and dance team. Then, one day, she found herself bored. The same old routines weren't going to cut it anymore. What was a girl to do? She enrolled in the Navy, where she worked as a rescue swimmer.

Of course, this job wasn't without its risks. One day, Binkley injured her knee jumping from a helicopter, after which she switched to work with an F-18 squadron. When she left the military, depressed from weight gain after her injury, she began training. Encouraged by what she was capable of doing in the gym, she got a degree in exercise physiology and began eying a career as a personal trainer.

Through training, Binkley found a professional outlet that combined her dual passions of physical activity and military discipline. "I expect a lot from clients. To show up, do what I ask, be present. I learned that on active duty," she says. "It takes time, diligence to get things done."

She opened her own facility in Nashville and was surprised by her success. "The economy was ripe for what we do," she recalls. In less than two years, she had expanded her 1,800-square-foot facility to over 8,000 square feet, and she had to hire six trainers, a nutritionist, a prenatal/postpartum expert, and even an MD to fill it.

"Collaboration is key, and we do that a lot in the training business," Binkley says. "I collaborate with people who are better at what they do than I am. There are better nutritionists, people better at fixing injuries. We care about the people who are coming in. It's not about me, it's about them, and they see it and sense it."

"We care about the people who are coming in. It's not about me, it's about them, and they see it and sense it."

So among all these experts, what is Binkley's specialty? "It's my job not to just know exercise physiology, but to know each person and be able to look at them and tell them what they need," she says. "I'm best at motivating and getting people to love exercise, creating fun programs that help them enjoy it."

But don't take "fun" to mean "light." This former high-level figure competitor believes that there's no replacement for the big lifts. "Everything we do is based on strength and conditioning, whether they are 70 or 17," she says. "Don't forget old-school weightlifting: squat, bench, and deadlift. Trends don't cater to people who want to get onstage. People look better onstage when they have nice hard-earned dense muscle tissue. They diet down and look better than everyone else."

Extra Points

What should you know about your client before training them?

  • Medications they take
  • If they've had any life-changing accidents
  • Family, children, or pets
  • Education level
  • Eating habits
  • Athletic history
  • Goals

The Well-Rounded Trainer Sergio Maldonado

Growing up in beautiful Southern California, Sergio Maldonado did everything he could to stay active and improve his body. He participated in soccer, football, track, and basketball as a child, and has competed in triathlons and Judo as an adult. Along the way, he has also bounced happily between fitness methods, including Pilates, Olympic lifting, yoga, powerlifting, and kettlebell training.

That resume may scream "trainer," but Maldonado says it took him a while to see the writing on the wall. "It was an accident!" he says. "After finding a part-time job at the YMCA, I thought working up to a personal trainer looked like fun. It was—and more!"

Eight years later, Maldonado is as open-minded a personal trainer as you'll find. He has to be in order to work with his two most prominent audiences: youth groups, and people of all ages who want to lose weight.

"I can both learn and practice from so many fields, such as nutrition, training, psychology, rehabilitation, performance, and interpersonal skills," he says. "Being able to constantly work on supplying help to my clients and athletes gives me so much purpose in my work."

When it comes to working with youth, that purpose is clear. "I think it's so important to establish a love for health and movement."

Along the way, he has become certified as both a kettlebell instructor and a performance nutrition specialist, but Maldonado hasn't let his certifications define him. "I'm not married to any one method, but the one that will work for you, which is why I equip myself with so many tools to help," he says. "I feel that mindset, movement, recovery, and nutrition are the four key factors clients need to succeed. I work on improving them all."

"Being able to constantly work on supplying help to my clients and athletes gives me so much purpose in my work."

Extra Points

What are 3 things children can do to get fit before they start lifting iron?

  • Utilize body weight training, jumping, or medicine balls to build movement competency and capacity before adding external load.
  • Develop an understanding of their sensations (feeling better, sleeping better, feeling fresh).
  • Enjoy training, whether it is monotonous or boring; it takes a lot of the same work to be great.