In search of a professional fitness coach: the pitfalls to avoid

In search of a professional fitness coach

Are you a health and fitness fan? Are you thinking about joining a gym or fitness class as a matter of urgency but are unsure of what to expect? Worry not, you are on the right track. A large percentage of busy but health conscious executives like you are thinking along similar lines so you are in good company: the global fitness industry is growing and the trends are encouraging.

According to a report in the September, 2018 edition of the Forbes Magazine, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association says that the $30 billion health and fitness industry in the US has grown by at least 3-4% annually for the last ten years. The report also reveals that 20% of American adults have a fitness club membership and the number is expected to increase in succeeding years.

In Europe, a 2018 European Health & Fitness Market Report by Deliotte states that the market enjoys at least over 4% growth in membership of Fitness Clubs which is currently put at 60 million persons. The penetration rate is put at 7.6 million while the global net sale of leading sport equipment manufacturers is put at 2.9 Billion Euros.

Staying fit is serious business

With growing global awareness about the benefits of exercise, there is a huge spike in the number of fitness buffs who are involved in one category of exercise or the other; from weight lifting, swimming, walking, Yoga, running and bicycle riding to other forms of aerobic exercises. This development is not surprising giving the many benefits of regular exercising published in different health and fitness journals of repute: Exercise helps to control weight gain, regulate blood pressure, and strengthen the bones, lungs and heart. It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels among others.

Of late, a sizeable number of Nigerians have joined one fitness club or the other to improve their general wellness and fitness levels. Although it may be argued, and logically so, that more than a sizeable percentage  are into it for the purpose of social interaction – in fulfilment of the human urge to belong – a larger percentage are into it for the right reasons. This is a positive development as the membership of gyms and fitness clubs is growing by the day.

In Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country, the National and Teslim Balogun Stadia in Surulere arguably boost the highest percentage of fitness adherents who daily throng these venues to either shed some “rotundness” around their “love handles”, strengthen the heart and core and generally improve the functionality of their entire physiological make up.

Although the spike in the new awareness about health and fitness is salubrious, it comes with some challenges. As with every profession, the rise in the incidence of wannabe self-made fitness experts (call them quacks or half-baked coaches/instructors) doting every open space or recreational centre in Nigeria, creates more problems than solutions.

At the heart of exercising, the practise of putting the body through a retinue of punishing if not outright gruesome physical exertions could be daunting. But to put the delicate human body at the disposal and mercy of unskilled and uncertified fitness “experts” creates a more worrisome problem of immense proportion. The demerits are a legion: injuries which recur at frequent intervals due to bad posturing, unending sourness of the muscles/intermittent bouts of muscle spasm and the attendant loss of self-esteem which comes with unfulfilled expectations, among others, are a reality.

A typical fitness session

Quackery has also created a situation where many potential clients evidence a growing disenchantment with exercising because of the dearth of professional coaches/experts with the right aptitude and skill sets to work with. Others cringe at the reality of leaving their children or wards in the hands of uncertified and unsociable coaches whose mental aptitude is suspect.

However daunting these challenges, the solutions are hiding in plain sight, according to Victor Alex Inyang, a Taekwondo Black Belter who doubles as a fitness and martial arts instructor. Victor argues that the phenomenon of half-baked coaches in fitness clubs can be tackled on the one hand through proper regulation. On a personal level, he opines that individuals should seek out certain qualities which distinguishes a good coach from a mediocre. He provides some general insights from a coaches perspective:

Q. What to look out for in a good fitness expert

A. First start is for a prospective client to seek out a coach who is patient enough to understand the client by asking probing questions. The coach should be familiar about the client’s body structure, how the client thinks and acts; how client’s body adjusts to each exercise regime. A good instructor should insist on having a written medical fitness approval from the doctor before admitting anyone to class for exercises. This is important for you never can tell if they have a medical history which precludes them from partaking in certain exercises. They could also be pregnant so it’s safer to know. As a rule you need to understand your female students, know their mood swings and how they react to certain exercise regimes. This knowledge is essential to get the best out of them.

Staying fit is serious business

Although some coaches gloss over this, it is important you know a lot about nutrition and how it impacts your clients training and fitness aspirations. If the coach lacks knowledge in this regards he is better off contacting a nutritionist or dietician for advice.

Professional Know how

For a student to reach the desired level of fitness a coach must consider three critical success factors – frequency, intensity and time. The three must be in sync. The coach must plot a graph detailing the duration for each programme – how long is the programme to run for? The coach should understand how to vary the intensity of the programme – knowing when to step up, slow down or just coast during a training session. There should be clear about the duration of each training programme or session and how many times in a week classes must hold for optimal results. A professional fitness expert should be able to schedule and find a perfect fit for the training sessions. It is also essential that you graduate your programme such that you don’t rush your client as they may burn out, get discouraged or become prone to injuries.


Coaches must should be in tune with the day-to-day developments in the fitness and general sporting world. They must update their knowledge quotient by attending different workshops, seminars or regular classes to up their residual knowledge and expand their coaching skills set. A good coach should embody what he/she does. The coach should look the part always.

Training structure for best results

A professional coach is one who patterns the training such that the student graduates from one level of intensity to another. Don’t force your clients to do some exercises that are not appropriate for them at a particular point in time. I say this because due to financial considerations some coaches agree to take on a client and accept clearly impossible targets such as promising to achieve the loss of certain percentage of body weight/kilos within a period of time when in reality all indices point otherwise. The coach should make a plan and work towards attaining the shared objectives with the client.

Relationship between the Coach and Clients:

In terms of coach and client relationship, a good coach or instructor is one who makes the client the first priority in the business. Coaches should be sincere, direct and focused on what they do.

A professional coach should not be carried away by the financial considerations underlying the relationship with the client. Focus should be on getting it right and getting the best for the client. The coach should carry out regular checks on the client and evaluate the progress made vis-à-vis the set targets; this could be every week or fortnight but the frequency must be respected always. Essentially, regular feedback sessions are sine-qua-non to the attainment of goals and results.

Furthermore, the relationship should be cordial and friendly. But it should, to a large extent, be a business relationship. No crossing of barriers. The coach and the client should be familiar with the dividing lines. The coach should be culturally sensitive at all times. There are clients you can shake hands with and there are others you can’t do so with. A smart coach should understand and respect the difference. Also, the coach should know the clients who discourage needless familiarization – avoid getting chummy with the wrong person. If the client is informal in nature and wishes to be addressed by the first names only, respect their wishes. Conversely, if the client expresses preference for a formal, Nigeria civil-service type relationship with strict dividing lines, don’t cross the lines. Mr. Franklin should not become “Bobo Franco” after a glass of wine (no pun intended). And, for all it is worth, Mrs Patience should be Mrs Patience at all times. Calling her “Pepe” or “Lady P” may make her lose her patience with you, so understand the “parole”. Bottom-line, ensure that your clients are comfortable with you at all times. There should be shared objectives to fast track the process of attaining results and reaching your goals.

In conclusion, if your prospective coach or trainer lacks most of the basic qualities outlined – run for your dear life!

Victor, who lives in Lagos is married to Christiana and the union has two children – Edidiong and Uwana. Victor can be reached via: 08029402157

Keeping fit in a variety of ways


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Olusegun Fayose

Olusegun Sunday Fayose, founder of RovingNaija.com is a Marketing Communication executive with experience in Corporate Communication, Public Relations, Branding and Advertising. He is also a seasoned media professional with roots in print, broadcast and online journalism. Segun, who last managed the Group Corporate Communication function of MultiChoice Nigeria, is upbeat that through responsible, fair, accurate and courageous reporting; and the support of readers, followers and patrons, Nigeria takes a step closer to a regime of accountability, fairness and equity in governance.

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