Have you ever wondered what it’s like to have a personal trainer? Or have you ever thought about a career change and dream of being one? Well, we spoke to Harry Aitken, a Qualified Sports Scientist and Master Trainer for Auster Fitness to find out what life as a PT is really like. We dug into the nitty gritty bits about how he helps his clients to reach their goals while staying focused on his own training.
How did you become a personal trainer?
I’ve always had a passion for sports and keeping fit, and began training in the gym to get stronger for rugby in school. I studied Applied Sports Science at Edinburgh University, and this lead to me wanting to train athletes and help people perform at their best level.
What’s your favourite part about the job?
My favourite part of the job is definitely seeing the happiness on my clients face when they see, and feel, the improvements they have made. Change can be a slow process, but for them to see their hard work was worth it is the most rewarding thing for me. My other favourite part of the job is about exercise innovation, and finding new and better ways to train certain muscles or perform certain exercises. Too many PT’s give out generic programs which aren’t really tailored to their clients, I work with my client to understand what works for them. Machines are built for the ‘average’ sized body, so the movement path on some of them don’t suit my 6’3”, 110kg bodybuilding client. So I really enjoy finding ways of training the muscles differently and finding out which exercises work with my clients and which don’t.
How would you describe your PT style?
Hardworking, smart and with no bullsh*t. Very early on I tell my clients that they will get incredible results, if they put the hard work in. I will work with them, showing them what to do, how to do it and motivating them; but ultimately it is down to them to really put in the hard work. I help to push people beyond what they thought was possible, so while it is hard work, it’s very rewarding for them.
To you, what’s the most important outcome for your clients and how to you make sure they get that?
The most important outcome for my clients is that they are happy, and they get what they have earned. I constantly re-aligned my clients goals based on how they feel and how they’re progressing. We work together to ensure they are healthy, happy and enjoying their life – but I make sure when we’re training, they are working hard. Often people hire a PT because they want to change something, so I try to incorporate that change into their lifestyle. If I can change their lifestyle, then they can become more self-sufficient, and understand better their own body.
As well as focusing on the outcome, how do you keep your clients focused outside of your one-to-one sessions?
Firstly I understand what their daily life is like, what sort of job do they have, do they have children or other dependents etc, and what their goal timeline is. Then I find out what motivates them and really dig deep into their reasons for starting. Setting mini-goals and milestones can be really effective, but I try and get my client to focus on their intrinsic motivation, their self-drive as I find this is a very powerful tool. I also tell them that periods of poor focus are absolutely fine, and normal. We all have bad days and periods of tough time – fitness is not about being consistent over days or even weeks, it’s about months and years.
What’s your favourite kind of exercise?
I love skill/strength exercises, for example the handstand push up is one of my favourites. It requires a huge amount of balance, coordination and strength. Bodyweight training is extremely functional, and crosses over to every single sport. By training with your bodyweight, you’re training your balance, strength, power, proprioception (which is awareness of your body and how it is moving) and these are the most fundamental things to train. Think of a gymnast, with their balance, strength and body control, you could comfortably put them into pretty much any other sport and they would hold their own.
What’s your regular fitness routine?
I do a huge variety of training, doing Calisthenic/Gymnastic workouts, Crossfit style HIIT training, Muay Thai, Mountain Biking, Bodybuilding, and balance training using a slackline. Every week I will get at least one session with the gymnastic rings, parallettes and a suspension trainer, one HIIT session, one cardio session and one balance session in. Then I fit in whatever else I can around this, with no fixed days. I’m not a professional athlete, so I do not need to focus solely on one discipline. So I love to mix my training up, do lots of different things and keep my training fun.
What does a typical day look like to you?
Wake up early, eat a high protein breakfast (usually involving eggs), drink some coffee and leave the house. My days are ordered around when I have client sessions, so no day is ‘typical’ as I could be up training with a client at 6am before they begin work, or not have anyone until the evening. However being the Master Trainer for Auster, I’m often travelling around the country setting up equipment in gyms and training their PT’s on how to use the equipment. However I always make sure I have some food and snacks in my bag, lots of water and that each night a get a good nights sleep.
How important is nutrition when it comes to fitness and training?
Nutrition is absolutely key. If you are training hard the body needs protein and carbohydrates to recover – and good quality too. If you are not getting enough protein, carbohydrates and key vitamins and minerals, you won’t recover properly and you will burnout. A solid healthy diet is very important, and protein is essential for muscle repair and recovery.
How to you incorporate that into your sessions?
It depends on the needs of my clients, whether they have to restrict certain foods for allergy, or even by choice if they are a vegan for example. An app such as MyFitness pal is perfect for tracking how many calories they’re eating and how much of that is protein/carbs/fat etc. I get them to simply log their food for a week or two, and then we can really understand if they are as healthy as they thought they are. Most people consume more calories than they think they do, so this can be an excellent way to find out the truth. From there I will give them guidance on what to have and when to have it.
What’s been your career highlight to date?
Being chosen as the Master Trainer for Auster, hands down is my career highlight. To have this incredible, premium brand want me to spearhead them in the UK is incredible. It has helped me meet some amazing people, and made me push my training to the next level.
What’s your advice to anyone who is nervous about getting a personal trainer?
Speak to them, many of them are genuinely really caring people who want the best for you. They want you to be the best version of yourself. Do your research into a few that you think are suitable and go and meet them for a coffee. If you like the interaction with them and think you feel comfortable with them, then give them a try.
Don’t get pushed into signing up to 10 classes with them, the right personal trainer will always offer you the first session free and leave it up to you to decide if they are right for you.
Tell them what you want to, some personal trainers want to find out about your lifestyle and your work to try to understand how they can impact change – it’s not because they’re nosy, its because they want to understand the full picture. If you don’t want this, then tell them straight up what you want or don’t want.
Don’t be nervous – it’s easier said than done, but try not to be. PT’s are usually all nice, personable people who want to see you do well. You should never feel intimidated, or useless for ‘knowing nothing’ or feeling like you can’t do exercises. Training with a PT is a collaboration, you’re both there to help you get better.
And finally, what’s your advice to anyone who is wanting to get into fitness?
My DON’T advice, is absolutely do NOT just go into a gym and start working out. I see so many people training who are using machines incorrectly, using horrendous form or generally don’t know what they’re doing. Invest in a few PT sessions, understand your own goals and work with a PT to get there. You will get there faster and much more safely. You can even watch some videos on YouTube on what to do, but only when you go and do it can someone tell you you’re doing it right, or wrong. If you just want to train on your own, rather than with a PT, then simply pay for a few sessions to be shown how to use the machines, and what to do and what not to do. The money is really worth it.