Vail Daily column: What makes a great trainer? |

Vail Daily column: What makes a great trainer?

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Gratitude for living in the Vail Valley is easy to harness for those who seek it. After all, when we really appreciate all that our community has to offer, we aren’t left with anything else but great blessings and gratefulness. Last week I discussed the tradition of wellness in our valley and the appreciation for such. Part of this tradition in our community are the many health professionals who pursue the optimization of your fitness and performance.

I was inspired to write this column because I receive quite a few phone calls from fitness professionals seeking employment. Are you a trainer who seeks the best possible employment in the valley for fitness career advancement? Do you currently use a fitness professional, and aren’t sure if you’re getting the best care? Read on.

When communicating with candor, as I often do, I always proceed with caution and wish to disclaim that my viewpoint comes from my experience and level of current understanding. Don’t assume your fitness professional isn’t qualified and is worth firing if they don’t exhibit the following standards. However, you are spending a reasonable level of disposable income improving your game. Why not get the best when they are right in your backyard?


The best and most influential coaches in the world aren’t necessarily the most decorated and highest credentialed. What they all have in common is the desire for excellence. Typically they will have, and will continue to seek out, the greatest methodologies learned from others who have spent years in the trenches. Whether they received coaching from a mentor or from following the likes of industry leaders, the best coaches will always seek opportunities to stay up to date on current industry trends, continuing education opportunities and maintain a high degree of standards.

Fancy degrees and letters are only as good as the person who owns them. Don’t look for degrees and letters, look for a coach who commits to the calling of being the greatest student of the game. With that being said, if a trainer is truly committed to excellence, they will most likely have a credential from at least one of the following agencies: The National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the International Sports Sciences Association.


The greatest fitness professionals will always pursue opportunities to make you better. That seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised; the vast majority of trainers don’t know the difference between a tough workout and progress. There’s an old cliche statement within the fitness industry: More isn’t better, better is better.

Anyone with average cognitive ability can make you sweat, hurt, burn calories and disrupt your digestion process. Is your program advancing your measurable fitness qualities? Are you hitting systematic progressions in your training that are eliciting an increase in fitness while minimizing pain, injury or dysfunction? Forget about the “no pain, no gain” mentality. Seek excellence regardless of the perceived difficulty or whether or not you got a workout in.


Here’s a big annoyance of mine. Does your coach appear to randomly select exercises and merely count repetitions? Usually they will have you go from exercise to the next without any real rhyme or reason, and make you perform 15 repetitions of everything. Why is the magic number 15 so popular? Differing repetition ranges elicit very specific adaptations. Anything over 5 reps per set is used for increasing local muscular endurance, work capacity or for the increase in muscular size. Five reps and under are specifically used for strength and power increases. Over five reps isn’t strength training. It’s something all right, but it isn’t strength training.

What about intelligent exercise selections? Exercises typically should progress in a linear fashion in the following order: Ground positions like rolling, crawling, planking and bridging. Progressing to kneeling or half kneeling positions is a worthy pursuit; these create great core strength because of the inability of the trainee to compensate with the legs.

Finally, trainees should progress to standing exercises like the squat, hinge, push and pull. The squat family is the goblet squat, zercher squat, back squat, front squat, pistol, etc. The hinge family includes the deadlift, kettlebell swing and snatch and Olympic lifts; Olympic lifting is generally reserved for special populations, mostly collision sport athletes.

The push family includes the push-up, bench press, overhead military press, kettlebell presses, one-arm variations and dips. The pull family includes any sort of row in which you are pulling an object towards you. Pull-ups, bent over rows, renegade rows, cable pulls, etc.

There are other very important movements including but not limited to running, jumping, skipping rope, getting up off of the floor in various configurations, climbing and lunging. Not some, but all great coaches will implement all of the above patterns in some way.

Lastly, all great trainers won’t compromise their program to create fun for you. This may sound shocking, but training should improve your defined quality of life. If you want a hobby that will create fun, try dancing with the stars. A less experienced coach will try to keep things fun and exciting as to not lose your business. That’s fine — just don’t expect world class fitness results. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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