Having accepted voluntary redundancy from the Metropolitan Police Service in 2011 after 20+ years of service, like many people in the same or similar situation, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering what I might do with the rest of my life. Alas retirement in my early 40's was not an option!
After much soul searching I decided I would venture into the unknown world of self-employment as a life coach, consultant and freelance trainer. I was fortunate that the organisation had given me a broad range of knowledge, skills and experiences and an extensive contact list in order to get started.
What became apparent quite early as a theme amongst the people I was talking to and working with as coaching clients was health and well being, whether that was getting a greater balance in their lives or working towards being fitter and generally living a healthier lifestyle.
I can't claim I had an immediate light bulb moment after engaging in these conversations and it was only when I first saw the Training Room advert that I suddenly thought to myself, "Hold on a minute, I might be missing a trick here". Rather than working with a coaching client up to a certain point and then parting ways and wishing them all the very best with their personal trainer or at their local gym, it made more sense to provide a completely holistic service myself.
It sounded great in theory, but of course at that point I had no idea what I was letting myself in for!
After completing the online application process, telephone interview and ordering the manuals, I had five weeks to mentally and physically prepare for my course, which started on 20 February 2012 in Chelmsford, Essex. In my favour was an interest in sports and over 8 years worth of experience as a sports coach - in both football and cricket - and the innate ability to talk to people, build relationships and rapport, something that I now know cannot be underestimated if you want to become a successful personal trainer.
Having never really been a regular gym user and certainly someone who had never stepped into that rarefied atmosphere of the weights room, I quickly made the decision to join my nearest gym and improve my overall levels of fitness. Whilst I still didn't venture into the weights room - the very concept of "free weights" was something I thought I might be able to pick up at my local sports shop - I did pound away on the treadmill, cross trainer, exercise bike and rowing machine like a man possessed so my cardiovascular fitness levels "I thought at least" would stand me in good stead.
The next challenge was the manuals. When they arrived in a box big enough to hold 20 shopping catalogues, I knew I was in for some extensive reading! Being the eager type, I sat down that very day and ploughed straight in to chapter one; anatomy and physiology. After about 15 minutes, I went back to my original application form and paperwork just to check it was personal training I had applied to qualify in and not becoming a Doctor. "It will get better" I told myself, only to be confronted by nutrition next. Suddenly I knew I would have to up my game if I wanted to pass the course.
Those five weeks passed by in a flash and before I knew it, there I was, on the morning of day one, sitting in a room with 15 strangers, all of whom looked considerably younger and fitter than me! We were met and made to feel very welcome by our tutors, Claire and Kevin, who impressed right from the outset the importance of acting professionally in all things throughout the course in order to instil good habits. Things like good time-keeping should never be underestimated, especially if you keep a paying client waiting.
We did some of the usual things you would expect on day one, various ice-breakers, ground rules and introductions and when it came to my turn, I confidently stood up and announced that within 5 years, I wanted to be where Claire and Kevin were; a tutor for the Training Room. How little I knew!
That first afternoon, we headed over to the gym, Fitness First in Chelmsford; and Claire and Kevin put us through our paces with a cunningly crafted whole body circuit workout. 16 stations, 1 minute on each with 15-30 seconds rest in between each one. In less than 25 minutes, the cold dawn of realisation slammed home and I understood, despite my very best efforts to prepare, that I was a long way short of the fitness levels I would need to become a PT and more importantly - a long way short of where I would need to be with my knowledge of how to put together a killer exercise programme and which body parts and muscle groups were being worked. That night I will admit I went home and told my wife that I thought I had made an awful mistake!
Never one to shy away from a challenge however, I returned the next morning, sore in body and bruised of ego. Our first introduction to A&P ensued and despite having read the manuals several times, I found that my basic grasp of Latin was failing me and the ability to remember names of bones had leaked out of the brain like a sieve.
The remainder of that first week passed by in a blur; a healthy combination of theory and practical application in the gym environment; although I will be the first to admit I had moments of blind panic in those first few days. The very thought of doing my first practical in front of the group, despite many years of experience in other fields of doing similar things, filled me with terror!
Suddenly though, in week two things began to make sense and the pieces of the jigsaw started to come together - I felt like I understood what was required of me and more importantly - was starting to really love what it was all about. Passing the mock A&P and Principles exams helped build my confidence as did a good first practice run for my assessment and with week 3 and the formal exams and assessment looming, I felt quietly confident.
Success! Week three came and went and I was fortunate enough to pass all the Level 2 exams and my assessment at the first time of asking and earn my spinning certificate to boot! The latter I was most proud of because on the day, not only did Claire put us through our paces with a 45 minute spin class to begin with, there was an extra spin class run by Fitness First in aid of Sport Relief. Of the group, only myself and one other student decided to complete it - and that was before we then had to be in the saddle again for all of the assessments the group had to take. Madness in hindsight but at the time adrenaline kicked in and it was an absolute blast!!
No time to rest on your laurels though as week four meant the start of Level 3 - with a return to A&P - and at the end of the week, gym-based boxing! If you have never experienced the latter, the feeling in your shoulders and arms the following morning after blasting away at those pads for several hours cannot be described - but as fitness workouts go, it is hard to beat and great fun.
By week five, I was chomping at the bit, ready to work with my Level 3 partner to design our exercise programmes, put them into practice, get my teeth into nutrition (only figuratively) and pass my A&P exam - all of which I did, not without more moments of self-doubt along the way mind! The feeling of elation and sense of achievement having completed them all though was overwhelming and with all the extra work in the gym, my all round fitness and strength was improving beyond all recognition too.
The final week arrived and the remaining hurdles that needed to be overcome were before me. After successfully negotiating the Nutrition exam, all (all!) that was left was the final Level 3 assessment. My partner Scott was absolutely brilliant. An experienced gym user and very knowledgeable, he guided me through any remaining areas of concern, as had Claire and Kevin throughout the entire course. Their knowledge, patience and diligence had been a major factor in my journey and the successes I had on the way. I simply couldn't have achieved what I did without them and I will be forever in their debt and grateful to them for going the extra mile whenever I called upon them for help.
In the end, due in part to my own hard work and determination and in part to the hard work, effort and support of the people around me like Scott, Claire and Kevin, the final assessment was relatively straightforward. I felt confident, competent and for the first time, like a proper Personal Trainer! The feeling when Claire told me I had passed was unsurpassed, except perhaps the birth of my two children and my wedding day (always best to include that one for the sake of peace and harmony!!)
I am under no illusions my journey as a Personal Trainer is at its infancy and my knowledge will need to extend further still if I want to remain in the industry and be a success. That said, I am hugely grateful to the Training Room for the opportunity they provided, the quality of the course material on offer and - above all else - the high quality of the trainers Claire and Kevin, aligned to the help and support of people like Scott who were on the course, someone who has already become a close friend. Finally, what about that initial goal to become a Training Room Tutor? Well, let's just say you might see me up front and centre at some point in the future on a course near you!.