As my article about gyms in Amsterdam seems to be helpful for a few people moving to the city, I thought about writing an article about Dutch trainers to give expats a better idea of what to expect in the Netherlands.
Personal training in the Netherlands
First, personal training in the Netherlands isn’t as popular as in other countries (like in the US for example). This is mainly due to the fact that Dutch people really care about the “‘return on investment” of everything they buy. They’re not greedy, but they always want to have good value for their money. For example, Dutch women aren’t big impulse buyers, they usually don’t spend money on things like manicure or beauty treatments. So personal training looks like a very non-essential luxury that most people aren’t willing to pay for. People who pay for personal training are thus mostly expats or wealthy Dutch people.
If you go to a Dutch gym, you’ll probably have to deal with Dutch trainers even if you don’t buy any personal training: most gyms usually offer one free appointment per month with a trainer to see how things are going. Or they offer at least an introductory appointment to talk about your goals just after you’ve signed up for a membership.
Like in many other countries, there aren’t any state regulations or specific laws about fitness certifications in the Netherlands. It’s imperative to check the trainer’s credentials, even if he or she is just going to give you a single introductory free session or an intake evaluation. (We’ll see why later in the article…)
Beware of trainers with only an “AALO level 1” certification
The most popular diploma to work at a gym in the Netherlands is called “AALO fitness trainer level 1”. This is a very basic diploma where students learn basic exercise principles. The training itself lasts only 5 days! Furthermore, the training content emphasizes way more people & commercial skills than theory, technique and practice.
Don’t get me wrong, people skills are very important for trainers, but knowledge is key and 5 days of classes aren’t enough to be able to train other people. If these “AALO-level 1”-trainers don’t educate themselves on their own, they have very little knowledge about anatomy and physiology. If you’re a fitness buff and regularly read fitness magazines, there’s a good chance you’re more knowledgable than them.
Anyway, this “AALO level 1” certification is enough to be able to work at any gym in the Netherlands, although the AALO-organization also offers a “level 2” certification and a “fitness master certification” and makes it very clear on its site that “level 1” is the most basic diploma they offer.
How I hurt my back during a session with a trainer
I had to learn this the hard way during a free introductory session. The trainer who was giving me the session was over 40. I trusted him because I assumed he had enough experience at this age, so I made the mistake of not asking for his credentials. I’m not a trainer myself, but I’ve been strength-training and educating myself about health and fitness for about 6 years. I’ve successfully completed an American certification from the ISSA to feel more confident about my blog’s content.
Second mistake of mine: I asked him to help me improve my squat technique. I told him I had trouble squatting below parallel and that my goal was to squat ‘all the way down’ without hurting myself. So he got me squatting all the way, first without any weights. I squatted and asked him if my technique was ok. He said yes, gave me a barbell to repeat the exercise with weight. I did a couple of repetitions, but I ended up not being able to come up on the last rep. The trainer wasn’t spotting me, so he didn’t take the barbell off my back or reacted when I was struggling. I got up bending my back because there was no other way to get out of it. I felt a lumbar pain but figured out it wasn’t something serious and we went on with the session.
But one hour later, back home from the gym, my lumbar spine was killing me! I checked the trainer’s credentials on the gym’s website, to discover he only had a ‘AALO-level 1’ certification.
I wasn’t even mad about the unqualified trainer, but more about the fact that he didn’t spot me and help me when I was struggling with the last rep. Even an unexperienced trainer would have had enough common sense to be attentive to what his client was doing.
Moral of the story
You really shouldn’t trust any trainer before making a bit of research about him or her (Google!). I was a fool expecting somebody I know nothing about to show me the proper technique of a complex exercise.
If you’re looking for a personal trainer in the Netherlands, don’t hire somebody that has only a AALO-level 1 certification. I don’t care if they have a professional athlete background or whatever: if they’re really serious about personal training they should get additional certifications.
And if you don’t need a personal trainer, but use the free appointments your Dutch gym offers, don’t trust any gym employees blindly when it comes to your training!