Fitness Health

Rosemary Mac Cabe PT – the next chapter

July 18, 2017
Rosemary Mac Cabe PT personal training

Yes, I’m becoming a personal trainer. In a way, it feels silly writing this – I’ve talked about it over on Instagram, mentioned it on Facebook, Snapchat (yes, I’m back @rosemarymaccabe; yes, I’m a hypocrite – let’s move on), Twitter and bored the ears off anyone who’ll listen. But then, I guess, not everyone pays as much attention to me as I’d like – so a blog post (on “why personal training”, for one!) is probably overdue.

And, for the sake of continuity – not to mention maintaining a good story arc – I’ll start at the beginning.

Once upon a time…

I’ve been a journalist-slash-blogger for the past decade because, well, writing is the only thing I’ve ever been remotely good at. (Of course, that’s subjective. I’m sure there are some people out there who think I’m rubbish, just like there are some maniacs out there who don’t like Beyoncé. Haters gonna hate, Bey.)

I’ve loved writing ever since I learned how. When I completed my Leaving, journalism was the obvious choice. I did English and Italian as my undergraduate degree and followed that up with an MA in Journalism, from which I was lucky enough to get a few days’ work at The Irish Times.

At first, I worked in production – sub editing and laying out pages – and then I moved on to writing, on a freelance basis. For a few months, I had a weekly fashion column in the daily paper. I started Fash Mob, the now-defunct fashion blog on and wrote for the Magazine, the daily features pages, the Health supplement and once (with tongue firmly in cheek) a feature on budgeting, for Pricewatch.

I quit my production role after about three years, wanting to focus on my writing. It seemed pretty safe; I had my regular column, styling slots on Xposé (once you write about fashion for the Paper of Record, you’re considered an authority of sorts) and I regularly appeared on radio.

However – and I’ve written about this before – freelance journalism is a tough slog. It’s hard to make a living; it’s grafting, every single day (to borrow a phrase from Love Island); Christmas is almost always a quiet month and at least 30% of your time is spent chasing invoices. So I went back to a full-time job, at STELLAR magazine. And you all know how that ended…!

From journalist to “social influencer”

Anyone who’s followed my “journey” (gag) over the past year will know that, ever since I left STELLARI’ve been making a living, more or less, as a blogger-slash-social influencer. Money has been coming in a variety of different ways: from sponsored blog posts, social media posts and campaigns, like this recent one I did for Bayer, where I tried my hand at stand-up comedy for the first time.

By and large, I’ve been blogging – and posting – and “social influencing” – about myself, using my “influence” to encourage people to buy items or go places or try experiences based on their trust in me and my opinions. (And, honestly: I have never endorsed or posted about something I don’t genuinely like, but that’s beside the point.)

And honestly? I’m sick of trying, so hard, every day, to get paid. I’m sick of pitching ideas (and of chasing up those pitches) and I’m sick of coming up with new, uninteresting and unsurprising ways to promote products. Also, I’m also sick of chasing up invoices but, above all else, I’m sick of putting myself out there.

I don’t mean that in the way you might originally think – I’m not concerned about my privacy. I’m just sick of talking about myself. I’m sick of self-promotion and narcissism and pushing people to purchase things they don’t need.

Ultimately, I was hoping that getting paid to blog / be a social influencer would allow me the freedom to write about things I wanted to write – when, in fact, I just forgot: I had that freedom the whole time.

So: why personal training?

If you’ve been following me at all over the past two years, you’ll know that a massive thing has changed in my life: I discovered weightlifting. I lost over two stone; I started training between four and seven times a week. Though I had never, ever considered myself a sporty person, suddenly, I discovered how good it feels to lift heavy shit and to feel strong and capable and powerful.

The idea of becoming a personal trainer had been thrown at me a couple of times – by my trainer, Niamh; by people on Snapchat; by my sister, who, honestly, I think was just really astonished that I’d suddenly become someone who regularly goes to the gym. (I remember, six months in, someone asking me “are you still going to the gym?” And I didn’t really know what to say because I just felt like, “why wouldn’t I be?” That’s when I knew I’d drunk the Kool-Aid!)

But I didn’t feel like it was for me – firstly, because I still didn’t consider myself a sporty person. I’d never participated in team sports, for example. I still hate running. I’m not someone who wakes up each morning dying to train, and I’m not someone who’d voluntarily choose a cauliflower base for her pizza.

Secondly, I felt like: let me get to 18% body fat and then I’ll consider becoming a personal trainer. “Personal trainers are all really, really lean.” That was the logic in my head – I can’t even think about becoming a PT until I look like a bikini competitor, basically!

Flipping that switch

Then, earlier this year, I suddenly thought: why not? Why aren’t there personal trainers who aren’t ripped? Who’s to say that someone can’t be a great PT – someone can’t be knowledgeable and motivational and inspirational and strong – without being slim? Where are the personal trainers who are flawed – who eat pizza and hate running and know exactly what it’s like not to want to train or eat healthy food (because let’s face it, McDonald’s isn’t healthy but it’s delicious)?

I started thinking that maybe there was space for a new kind of PT – the imperfect kind, who doesn’t do everything right, all of the time, but who is strong and healthy and understands the battle between mind and body that goes on for so many women. (Not that I won’t train men, but honestly I think women will probably be my target market!)

I get that there are some people who want their personal trainer to look like she’s just come off the set of Love Island (how are all of these people so perfect looking?!) – but there have to be other people who want a trainer who doesn’t eat, sleep and dream about clean eating, exercise and lean protein. I guess time will tell!

The course

For the past eight weeks or so, I’ve been doing The Fitness Institute‘s Diploma in Personal Training, two days a week. It’s a Level 3 ITEC-certified diploma, which basically means that it’s recognised abroad – so, y’know, if I fancy taking myself off to work as a personal trainer in Sydney (unlikely), my qualification will be good.

In terms of what qualifications you need to do the course, as far as I can tell, there are none. You will, however, need money – €2,700, to be precise – and time. Like I said, it’s two days per week (Thursdays and Fridays, 8am-3pm) – or you can choose to do the evening course, which is two evenings a week plus Saturdays), but there’s a whole load of work outside of the course that (I’m learning this the hard way) you can’t leave to chance.

There are exams at the end, in anatomy and physiology, and we have our resistance (instructing exercises in the gym, essentially) exam next weekend – but there are also pretty in-depth assignments in programming, resistance and nutrition – and I’m sure I’m missing some other elements. There have been optional Sunday workshops – I did the suspension training workshop, but couldn’t make the strength and conditioning day – and, once the next intake starts, in September, we can opt to take extra workshops (spin, box fit and so on) at a reduced cost (I think previous Fitness Institute students pay €150, and the regular price is €220 or so).

16 weeks later and tah-dah, I’m a PT!

Yeah, it seems short, doesn’t it? In a way, I think it’s a bit nuts that, after 16 weeks of two days of study per week I’ll be a qualified personal trainer, equipped to instruct people in gym-based exercise and (hyperbole alert!) how to change their lives!

But look: I’m coming to this game late. Like I’ve said so many times, I’ve never been a sporty person and I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. So I’m seeing this as the first step towards a new career – one that will see me doing a lot of continuous studies to keep up with the latest sports science and research.

I’m looking into doing an intensive nutrition course (the diploma I’m doing includes a “nutrition qualification” but, word to the wise, “nutritionist” is not a protected term in Ireland so, essentially, anyone can call themselves one – the protected term is “dietician” and requires a four-year degree); I’m hoping to attend a symposium at the Irish Strength Institute in August; I’d quite like to do a workshop in exercise to music and I’d also like to better educate myself in functional nutrition.

Come September, yes, I’ll be taking on personal training clients – hopefully at Lift, where I started my foray into weightlifting and where I’m now interning – but I’m not imagining that I’ll know it all. I’ll be going into an established team where, thank fuck, I’ll have far more experienced people than me to refer to and bounce ideas off, and, like I said, I’ll be constantly learning.

There’s so much to personal training that I think goes above and beyond the ability to prescribe exercise to people – that is 100% not the hard part. I mean, knowing what to do was never what I struggled with. For me, there was so much mess tied up in the ideas I had about myself, my body, my ability. I really had to overcome so much of that negative inner voice to get to where I am now.

Like I said, I’ve taken the first step towards going… somewhere I never thought I’d be headed! But I’m so much happier since I made this decision. I’ve also started training a few people (we have to do case studies) and, so far, I’m loving it – and I think they are too! (Disclaimer: one of them is Stephen and honestly, he’s not loving it that much. Couples shouldn’t train together.)

If you have any questions: about why I’m making this move, about what else it entails, about personal training or going back to study or being a 32-year-old intern… anything! Fire them at me.

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  • Reply Emily July 18, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Rosemary,
    Would you mind me asking the average wage for a PT? Thanks.
    P.S I think you’re so brave in doing this I’d love to do it

  • Reply Mairead July 18, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Good for you Rosemary, you’ll be great! I would definitely relate to a PT like you more than a ripped gym head. I miss your blogging though, keep writing! Xx

  • Reply Gemma July 18, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Rosemary,
    I’m moved to comment on your post as your journey in part resembles mine, albeit in reverse. I got into journalism many years ago as an offshoot from my fitness career (I started writing about health and fitness topics and, at this stage, the rest is history). My fitness journey began by completing NCEF level 1 and then a subsequent PT course, which took, in total, the equivalent of two college years. It seems to be a shorter route to qualification now, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. But you do learn a lot at the coalface. I was never sporty either, but as was pointed out to me when I started the course, fitness, as in becoming a gym instructor (the term used before everyone started calling themselves ‘trainers’) isn’t a sport. It’s essentially becoming a teacher – imparting knowledge to people. A whole different ballgame. That put things in perspective for me, and I didn’t feel any further pressure to conform to a ‘sporty’ ideal. In any case, the reason I’m commenting is because of your remarks on the ‘imperfect trainer’. In my time working in gyms and coaching personal clients (a few hundred over the years, and mainly for weight loss) I discovered pretty quickly that there are two distinct groups of people who will engage your services: the motivated and the unmotivated. The motivated will take the advice you have to offer and run with it. They will inspire you with their dedication and be willing to do whatever you ask of them in order to achieve their goal. The other group of clients will, because they have hired you and are paying you cold hard cash, expect you to wave a magic wand that magically melts the fat off their body without them putting in the hard yards. They won’t give up booze, even for a week, despite you explaining that it’s a fat bomb. They will constantly admit to ‘not having had a great week’ and that will be most weeks, but they’ll still expect results. They’re coming to you, aren’t they?! And you did say that to them that you understood about that Chinese and it didn’t really matter. That we all have our bad days. You did say that, remember?
    Or else they will insist they were ‘good’ when you know damn well they weren’t. Then they will definitely expect results. They’re coming to you, aren’t they?! They will get on the scales and their weight will be the same – or have gone up – and the tape measure will tell the same story, and you know what? They will blame you for their failure. Because they’ve handed over their money, they have shifted the responsibility to you. They’ve failed but IT’S YOUR FAULT. They’re paying you, aren’t they? You’re the expert! So if you’re don’t adopt a 100pc take-no-prisoners, my-way-or-the-highway approach, you’re going to be the fall guy for the lack of achievement, and the reason that the scales isn’t going down. Ms Unmotivated aka Ms Why Haven’t I Lost Any Weight will also go off and bad-mouth you to her friends because hey, she’s paying you a FORTUNE, turning up every week, and she’s absolutely shattered after those two hours of grueling workouts you put her through – but she hasn’t LOST AN OUNCE. Ok, well, maybe a pound. And she’s annoyed. She won’t mention the nightly glass of wine to her friends, or the chocolate bars or the takeaway at the weekend. She’s working out, isn’t she? She’s doing everything you said, but it’s four weeks in now, and she’s paid you hundreds at this stage, and she’s only one pound down. ONE POUND! In FOUR WEEKS!!!! That can’t be right, can it? She actually bumped into someone at that gallery opening the other evening and they had just the same experience – said you were a complete waste of money. Useless. They’re going to this super strict guy now – he’s terrifying – but AMAZING! And they’re down to a size EIGHT! I mean, think about it – what PROPER trainer says it’s OK to have the odd glass of wine or takeaway?! And shouldn’t a PT look a bit more, well, fit? I’m going to ask for a refund…!
    You get the picture. To conclude: I enjoyed my time in fitness – the motivated folks were a joy – but was glad to get out in the end as I was burnt out from trying to motivate unmotivated people who just wanted to blame me for their lack of progress, when the fault lay 100pc with them and their half-arsed attitude. I wasn’t tough enough to lay down the law with these people at the time and suffered because of it. I was too nice. Nice won’t cut it with the unmotivated folk. Today, I’d walk away. Once cash is exchanged, the onus is on you to get the results for your client. If your attitude isn’t go hard or go home from day 1, you’re asking for trouble. Take it from one who has been there.

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