15 Secrets of Caricature Artists

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The word caricature likely conjures up images of street artists on boardwalks or outside museums working up quick, humorous sketches of visitors, to the delight or dismay of their subjects. But the exaggerated illustrations of caricature include a lot more than what you see on the boardwalk—and can be more art than kitsch. We spoke to three experts in the field about the subjects caricature artists love and hate to depict, the best way to make their job harder, what they do if you don't like their drawing, and how they can tell when you really don't want to sit for a portrait.

1. THEY WANT YOU TO KNOW IT'S OLDER THAN YOU THINK.

Caricatures by Leonardo da Vinci
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Some of the greatest artists in history practiced caricature as a means to develop their skills. Eileen Owens, curator of "Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints, 1780s–1830s" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, says Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first artists to use caricature, in the “grotesque” sketches of unusual faces and heads that populated his notebooks. (His 16th-century biographer, Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Leonardo was “so delighted when he saw curious heads, whether bearded or hairy, that he would follow anyone who had thus attracted his attention for a whole day.”) Many other well-established Renaissance artists dabbled in caricature on the side, as breaks from their rigorous training: "It was a lot more huge noses, big hair, ways to poke fun at faces. You had to be adept at drawing to know how to exaggerate," Owens says.

The form gained momentum in late-17th century Italy, when Pier Leone Ghezzi “started making funny little drawings that poked fun at well-to-do Romans and tourists,” according to Owens. From there, it spread to Britain, where it became so popular that publishing companies sprung up for the sole purpose of printing caricatures. Publishers also rented out portfolios of caricatures by the day, and hung prints in their windows, to which crowds flocked to see the latest depictions of a buffoonish Napoleon and laughable upper-crust fashions. Owens says, “This was your chance to keep up with the gossip—kind of like People magazine today.”

2. MANY OF THEM ARE SELF-TAUGHT.

A street artist paints a caricature of a girl in Prague
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Lots of caricature artists learn on the job, in part because there's not a ton of specific training available. Illustrator Tom Richmond, who spoofs movies for MAD Magazine (among other gigs), says, "Only a handful of art schools teach cartooning or caricature as a major part of curriculum, so it's hard to find instruction on how to do it. Caricature is such a specialized sort of thing, and diverse; you can’t teach it like you teach people how to draw comics, where [there's] storytelling technique and sequential art tricks and a science behind it, so to speak." Overall, what Richmond and others strive for is to “translate [your] art skill [into caricature], really lean into it—no matter how you practice.”

3. IT CAN BE GREAT TRAINING FOR OTHER ART FORMS.

Richmond says that when he teaches at workshops around the country, he always recommends—no matter what facet of the industry they are interested in—that students try their hand at live drawing, "maybe even volunteer at the local homecoming or draw for free at a daycare center." Having to work quickly with a model in front of you develops a sensitivity to gesture, to how the body leans and how weight is distributed, that's different from the skills you get "shading something for hours," Richmond explains. When you "go back to doing longer pieces, you've got an inner eye that sees things you missed before. It's great discipline for the developing eye."

4. THEY’RE NOT (NECESSARILY) OUT TO MOCK YOU.

Caricatures have been defined as "portrait[s] with the volume turned up." But that doesn't mean they have to be mean-spirited. Richmond says, “Caricature is a depiction of someone in a humorous way, but at its best it has a narrative behind it—you’re pointing out something about their presence, not just making fun of their features.” He explains that he’s not examining someone’s face to find a nose or a chin or dimples to blow out of proportion, but "trying to understand who you are as a person and exaggerate that.”

"I want to make [clients] smile or laugh," says CeCe Holt, who sketches at events and amusement parks, and is also business manager for the non-profit International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA). "I never want to make anybody cry."

5. THEY DON’T SWEAT IT WHEN SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE THEIR LIKENESS …

Just because caricaturists strive to capture your essence doesn't mean you're going to like it. People can be in denial about their appearance, with a radically different idea of their weight, for instance, or even whether they have freckles. In Holt’s experience, party guests usually don’t make a fuss about their caricatures, since they haven’t directly paid for them. But when the occasional amusement park patron kicks up a fuss, “I just say I’m sorry and move on to the next person.”

Richmond is similarly blasé, pointing out that when a caricaturist is drawing a quick sketch for $15, the occasional bad portrait is bound to sneak in. "Sometimes they refuse to pay, or come back later and want their money back. Live caricature can be hair-raising, which is why I prefer working with art directors."

6. … BUT SOMETIMES CUSTOMERS RETALIATE.

Christopher Walken's caricature in the foreground at Sardi's following its unveiling in 2010.
Christopher Walken's caricature in the foreground at Sardi's following its unveiling in 2010.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Occasionally, customers do try to turn the tables. Ipecacxink, a caricature artist at a Midwest theme park, writes in a Reddit AMA about a boy she accidentally made very upset with her drawing. "I went to lunch right after I did it. Apparently while I was gone, he came back and drew a circle with spikey hair, glasses, and frowny eyebrows and a note that said, 'How do you like someone making fun of you?!' under it. He then placed it on my chair. It was hilarious. I saved it."

At Sardi's—the Times Square tourist destination known for its wall of caricatures—some of the celebrities depicted have gotten mad enough to take down their pictures, the restaurant's owner told AMNew York. It used to be that the in-house caricaturist (who's paid in meals instead of money) would hand over unfinished versions to the subjects first, to get the seal of approval, before going on to later exaggerate their features. That's stopped, but these days the caricatures have become less humorous, and more like regular portraits—which helps keep the peace between the restaurant and its famous clientele.

7. THEY CAN DO PORTRAITS IN AS LITTLE AS THREE MINUTES.

When she’s sketching guests at amusement parks like Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri, Holt aims to churn out a black-and-white portrait in three minutes. Working at a wedding reception, where she might add color, six minutes is the max. Much of this has to do with fitting in as many guests as possible—“You have to be fast to get through the crowd or they’ll leave,” she says.

For Holt, the need for speed means she has to “go with her instincts; there isn’t time to second-guess” a depiction. For Richmond, working quickly means caricaturists develop a "sixth sense" for how to capture expressions: “You develop an instinct for people, whether they’re energetic and outgoing, or more quiet." Some of that means honing in on their signature details: "Friends behind will be going, 'It’s the smile! That's exactly how he looks!'" Richmond says.

8. BORING-LOOKING CUSTOMERS ARE THE HARDEST.

Man's hands with pencils drawing a woman's portrait
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The caricaturist's worst fear is the customer who comes in looking exactly like the girl (or guy) next door. "Most people are surprised to hear that what I consider to be the most difficult sort of person to draw is one that is completely average looking," caricaturist GertrudisSlugworth, who works at a theme park, wrote on Reddit."I will get a bland looking individual every once in a while, and when it happens I usually try to focus more on things like clothes, hair, or jewelry to get a decent likeness."

On the other hand, people who are naturally distinctive-looking are often artist favorites. Richmond says he particularly loves drawing Slash, the guitarist from Guns N’ Roses. “He’s already funny looking, with no features, just glasses, hair, and a big top hat, so you don’t have to work that hard,” he says. “You can just do him standing there with his guitar by his ankles, like he plays it, or exaggerate how he puts his head back, which shows a lot about him as a player.”

9. THEY MAY CHANGE THEIR TECHNIQUE TO SUIT THE WAY YOU LOOK.

When she first started in the business, Holt says she dreaded drawing people who weren’t thin; she was afraid they might take offense at her portraits, although she didn’t intend any. Over the years she’s honed a technique in which she draws faces using a soft line that thickens toward the bottom. The result is “Cute, but they still feel like it looks like them,” Holt says.

GertrudisSlugworth writes that for people with obvious deformities, she may forego exaggerations, even though those are normally the hallmarks of caricature: "I find the best way to handle it is to go more realistic than exaggerated, depending on their attitude. Sometimes if it's an easy fix (e.g missing an eye), the customer will just ask to be drawn as 'normal.' For the most part though, people recognize any obvious deformities they have, and accept your portrayal of them."

10. STREET ARTISTS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE.

Tourists look at caricaturists in Rome
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

Richmond says that artists "sitting in front of a museum while the subject is in front of them have more of an advantage" than he does when it comes to creating an expressive caricature, since he often has to work from photos, which don't show gesture and personality in the same way. "When I'm working from 2D photos, all you’ve got is what the photo shows you, and it's basically superficial. It doesn’t really do it."

Holt agrees: "Working from a picture is different from getting your first instincts from a person." When a freelance client wants her to draw someone from photos, she says she'll at least ask for multiple photos to work from, especially body shots, which help to show posture—yet another indicator of the subject's personality.

11. THEY'RE INCREASINGLY IN DEMAND.

Richmond says that although staff cartoonists may be disappearing at newspapers as that industry shrinks, editorial cartooning—which often relies on caricature—“is experiencing a boom right now." Some of this is thanks to the heated political climate, he notes. But there's a deeper reason, too: "Most media stories, TV shows, or articles are, at bottom, about people and need images of people to illustrate [them]," Richmond says. "Caricature is one thing you can’t do with a camera, so when you need a humorous touch, caricature is a great solution."

12. THERE'S A CARICATURIST CONVENTION.

The ISCA hosts an annual convention each November that draws hundreds of caricaturists from around the world. Aside from a week of guest speakers, seminars, and demonstrations, the main attraction is a days-long competition in which the artists draw each other for prizes in categories like best color technique and most humorous. (The big award there is called the Golden Nosey.) Richmond says, “The variety of styles [there] is crazy: acrylic painting, pastels, airbrush, sculpture, and everything in between.” Holt says there's even an artist who spits ink out of his mouth.

13. THEY MIGHT HIDE THINGS IN THEIR PORTRAITS.

Artwork by Al Hirschfeld on display at The New York Botanical Garden in 2011
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Richmond says that a favorite stylist of his is the late Al Hirschfeld, who for decades hid his daughter’s name, Nina, in his cartoons of cultural icons for The New York Times. (Hirschfeld would append the number of Ninas to his signature, creating a kind of game for readers). Ipecacxink says she "used to draw a picture of my face in [subject's] pupils sometimes. Really tiny. Or, I used to draw a little radioactive symbol somewhere in the drawing. We had to wear these god-awful neon yellow shirts to work, and I always felt we were radioactive."

14. THEY CAN TELL WHEN YOU DON'T WANT A DRAWING.

Occasionally, parents, friends, or partners will purchase a drawing for someone who just isn't interested. In that case, the caricaturist can probably pick up on it: "They either wouldn't look at you, wouldn't smile, or just sit down funny," ipecacxink writes. "I tried to handle it professionally. I would talk, if they wouldn't talk, I'd be quiet, but smile like an idiot when it was all said and done ... I always tried to be friendly to lessen the likelihood of them leaving without paying."

15. THEY MIGHT BE SWAPPING THEIR PENCILS FOR A TABLET.

Some contemporary caricaturists paint portraits, like Owens’s traditional satirical masters once did. They may also be adept with other analog media, like bullet-tip markers, color sticks (basically colored pencils with no wood casings), pen and brush, and paper. But thanks to the changing needs of publications in an online age, which want all files submitted electronically, caricature artists working in their studios have also gone digital. Holt sometimes works on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil in Procreate. Richmond now does all his coloring on a computer or a tablet. “[A tablet’s] so convenient, because it’s like having unlimited amounts of paper, and your pencil never needs to be sharpened, and all your tools fit in a tiny bag,” he says. “But it’s still about the creativity behind it. Computers can’t do it all on their own.”

11 Secrets of Perfumers

Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images
Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images

Perfumers are a rare breed. These half-artist, half-scientist hybrids undergo rigorous training, memorize the smells of hundreds of ingredients, and spend decades honing their craft—which might explain why there are reportedly more astronauts than perfumers in the world, according to the BBC.

For many, the job isn't merely about peddling bottles of sweet-smelling stuff to consumers; the goal is to convey an emotion, create a beautiful moment, or jog a childhood memory. To find out what it takes to create top-notch fragrances, Mental Floss spoke with three perfumers who broke into the industry through very different paths.

1. Perfumers can identify hundreds of ingredients by smell alone.

A large perfume organ with hundreds of fragrance bottles
Mandy Aftel's perfume organ
By Joel Bernstein // Courtesy of Mandy Aftel

Master perfumers are sometimes called a nez—the French word for "nose"—for good reason. They commit hundreds of scents to memory and can distinguish between ingredients that would smell identical to the untrained nose. Many perfumers can also tell an essential oil from a synthetic material, which is no small feat. “You’re talking maybe 200 essential oils and about 1500 synthetic materials,” Jodi Wilson, a classically trained perfumer who now works as a fragrance sales manager for Orchidia Fragrances in Chicago, says of the ingredients perfumers typically employ.

The trick, she says, is to associate each smell with a distinct memory. “The more experiences you have in your life, the more memories you create, and that’s really how you remember these raw materials when you first start studying, because it reminds you of your grandmother or a flower shop or a bakery or a certain gum,” Wilson tells Mental Floss. (The link between smell and memory has actually been proven by science—one 2018 study by neurobiologists at the University of Toronto revealed that the brain not only stores information about certain scents, but also memories of when and where you first encountered them.)

2. Having a good sense of smell isn't enough to make a good perfumer.

Many perfumers have a heightened sense of smell. Jersey City-based perfumer Christopher Brosius, who founded the rebellious fragrance brand CB I Hate Perfume (a reference to his distaste for most commercial fragrances) is one of them. He realized just how strong his nose was while working briefly as a New York City cab driver—he had to roll the window down every time an “offensive” perfume wafted in his direction and made his stomach churn.

However, many aspiring perfumers mistakenly believe that a “good nose” will get them far. “That’s like saying that if you have 20/20 vision you’re the next Picasso,” Brosius tells Mental Floss. “A keen nose is very useful, but at the end of the day I have met perfumers who were extremely talented who didn’t smell anything more sharply than anybody else. They just had the capacity to think in a different way about what they were doing with scent and combining it in unique and interesting ways.” More important than a good sense of smell is creativity, a natural talent for recognizing scents that work well together, and the “dedication to building a very particular base of knowledge and skill,” Brosius says.

3. France's Givaudan Perfumery School is the goal for many would-be top perfumers.

Jodi Wilson picks roses
Jodi Wilson picks roses for distillation while studying at the Roure Perfumery School (now called the Givaudan Perfumery School) in Grasse, France, during the 1991-92 academic year.
Courtesy of Jodi Wilson

Like many professional perfumers, Wilson was educated at what's now the Givaudan Perfumery School in France. Founded in 1946, it only accepts one or two promising students each year out of thousands of applicants—and sometimes none at all, if that year’s crop of candidates don’t live up to the school’s high standards. Former director Jean Guichard has said he hand-selected students based on their personality, talent, and motivations. “The perfumer should be a mixture between a scientist and a poet,” Guichard told the BBC. “When I meet people, I know if they have talent or not. I don’t want to have people who say, ‘I’m going to be a perfumer because they make a lot of money.’ That doesn’t interest me at all.” (And speaking of pay, Wilson says the starting salary for entry-level perfumers is about $45,000, but perfumers in New York City tend to start off a bit higher. It's not unheard of for the world's top perfumers to make six figures.)

The now-four-year Givaudan program is rigorous. First, students have to memorize about 1500 raw materials, Wilson says. Next, they learn how to build accords, which are the fragrance notes (like rose or jasmine) that form the heart of a perfume. They move on to perfume schemas (the “skeleton” of a fine fragrance, which contains 10 to 12 materials) and also learn about the culture and history of perfume. “It takes a long time to learn all of that, and that’s what you’re doing all day from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. It’s intense,” Wilson says. If and when they graduate, they’ll have a job waiting for them at the Givaudan fragrance company, which is where they’ll learn how to make perfumes under the guidance of a seasoned professional.

4. perfume school isn’t the only way to break into the industry.

Mandy Aftel holding perfume blotters
Perfumer Mandy Aftel at work
By Foster Curry // Courtesy of Mandy Aftel

Brosius says “99.9 percent” of aspiring perfumers would benefit from attending a perfume school. However, he personally did things a little differently and learned the fundamentals of perfume-making by landing a job at Kiehl’s and completing the company’s in-house training program.

It’s even less common for a perfumer to be self-taught, but it’s not impossible. The latter camp includes Mandy Aftel, a perfumer in Berkeley, California, who dropped a fulfilling career in psychotherapy to pursue a budding passion for perfume-making. For information about natural materials, she turned to fragrance books from the early 1900s, before synthetic materials started to saturate the market. Now, her Aftelier Perfumes business uses hundreds of natural ingredients—no synthetics—to create unique fragrances, and she has a loyal clientele. Regardless of the career paths they took, all of the perfumers agreed that this career is “a continuous learning process,” as Aftel tells Mental Floss. Both Brosius and Wilson said it takes 20 to 25 years to truly master the art of perfume-making, and Aftel still calls herself a “beginner” after 30 years of working in this field.

5. Not all perfumers work with fine fragrances.

Fragrance is used in many different ways, some of which we encounter on a daily basis without realizing it. Some perfumers specialize in creating scents for “industrial application,” which could include anything from children’s toys to paint to fabric, Brosius says. In the case of toilet-bowl cleaners, cat litter, and asphalt, the goal is not necessarily to create a pleasant aroma; instead, the challenge is to mask an unpleasant one. However, many of the perfumers working on the industrial side have scientific backgrounds and tend to work for a chemical company rather than a perfume label, Wilson says.

6. Some of the materials perfumers work with are hazardous.

Some undiluted ingredients—such as cinnamon—can cause severe chemical burns if they get on one's skin. Brosius wears gloves and goggles while blending materials and says some ingredients in his studio come with a "do not open without authorization" label attached. He says, “We have a protocol here that if anything new comes in, it’s opened in specific parts of the building or even sometimes outside on the terrace so that we don’t have an accident where it’s like, ‘Oops I just spilled one single drop of aldehyde [an organic compound] and now the entire building is uninhabitable, although next week it will smell like ginger ale!”

7. They want you to know your aromatherapy lotion might not be made of rose, jasmine, or whatever the bottle claims it contains.

Labels can be deceptive. If you’re buying an “aromatherapy” lotion or shower gel that claims to have rose, sandalwood, or jasmine in it but costs $15, that’s a red flag. According to Wilson, these ingredients can cost many thousands of dollars per pound. Wilson says it’s far more likely that cheaper products contain just a drop or two of the natural oils advertised—for the sake of being able to list them on the label—plus a host of synthetic ingredients that mimic the smell.

8. They're not always working on fragrances they like.

Marketing is a huge part of the cost of the perfume, especially on the higher end; the perfume industry spent around $800 million on marketing in 2016, according to Bloomberg. “Ninety percent of the time, the cost of the juice in that bottle is fractional,” Brosius says.

Marketing demands are also one reason why perfumers don't always get to follow their nose—and their creativity. “Most perfumers who work at large houses are not so happy with their job all the time,” Brosius says. “For every fine fragrance they get to work on, they’re compelled to work on a ton of crap fragrances as well. Much of it is entirely dependent on the whim of the marketing company.”

Companies are also more risk-averse, Wilson says—and the perfumes themselves now aren’t always built to last. “It used to be that a ‘classic’ was considered to last for 20 years—so your Chanel 5 and things of that nature,” Wilson says. “Now, it’s very rare to have a perfume that stays around for even 10 years.”

9. The smell of puppies is impossible to replicate—but perfumers are trying.

A bottle of Soaked Earth accord from CB I Hate Perfume
Kevin O'Mara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Brosius has taken on some ambitious projects over the years, including fragrances imitating the smells of snow and wet earth, but some scents are harder to capture than others. That’s because the aroma chemicals needed to replicate certain smells haven't been created yet. This can be said of gasoline, champagne and certain wines, and some animal smells. “Particularly with puppies and kittens, the molecules needed to accurately reproduce those smells don’t exist in the perfumer’s palette. You can’t solvent extract puppies and kittens for their smell," Brosius says, describing a method that involves applying a chemical solvent to a raw material—such as a flower—to extract its aroma.

However, he’s had success creating "a context that’s so strong that people are convinced that they’re smelling something that isn’t there," he says. For instance, his roast beef fragrance doesn’t contain roast beef or anything like it, but it does contain notes of parsley and black pepper. That scent in particular, and a few others like it, aren't meant to be worn on the body. Brosius says some of his fragrances are more like modern-day "smelling salts," where the goal is to revive you, in a sense, by relieving stress. "All you have to do is open the bottle, breathe in, and your system will automatically reset to calm," he says.

10. Perfumers sometimes work with whale poop.

A small bowl with ambergris in it
Peter Kaminski, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Perfume-makers work with some unusual ingredients, and ambergris is certainly at the top of the list. This rock-like material comes from the excrement of sperm whales and occasionally washes up on shore. Aftel is fortunate enough to have some on display at the olfactory history museum she operates, called the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. To convert the solid mass of crushed up squid and cuttlefish bits into an aromatic oil, she had to mash it up with a mortar and pestle, then add alcohol, heat it, and let it age. So what does it smell like in liquid form? “Heaven,” Aftel says. “It’s just ambery and shimmery. It’s a miracle of transformation.” Besides, Herman Melville mentioned it in Moby Dick and it used to be a 17th-century ice cream flavor, so you know it has to be good.

11. They keep wool nearby to combat nose fatigue.

Wool is the olfactory equivalent of eating sorbet in between courses. If you’re smelling the same scent for a prolonged period of time, or sniffing too many perfumes in a row, your odor receptors will habituate and stop sending those signals to your brain. This is officially called olfactory fatigue, and it explains why you might stop noticing a smell after a couple of minutes.

“If you smell a lot of scented materials, a lot of times your nose will just kind of conk out,” Aftel says. She keeps some wool nearby to help reset her sense of smell, and three big whiffs does the trick. So why does this work? Aftel says one theory is that the lanolin in wool absorbs and neutralizes odors, giving the brain a rest from sensory overload. As for those coffee beans you might see in some perfume shops? Those "definitely don't work," Aftel says.

16 Secrets of Personal Trainers

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iStock.com/franckreporter

At the beginning of each year, people flock to gyms to finally tackle their New Year's resolutions to get in shape, be healthier, and/or achieve the six-pack abs of their dreams. For some, that means hiring the services of a personal trainer who can give them the one-on-one attention they need to achieve their fitness goals. But personal trainers do more than just supervise your push-ups and ask you to do more reps: They talk to you about your eating and sleeping habits, sometimes see you cry, and might even end up earning an invite to your wedding. Here are a few insider secrets personal trainers shared with Mental Floss about their jobs.

1. Personal trainers really don’t like it when you’re late.

Several of the trainers Mental Floss spoke to said their biggest pet peeve is when clients show up late to their session. After all, the trainer has created a plan for the workout, and it’s frustrating to have to adjust that plan to accommodate the shorter workout.

“You’re kind of wasting your money,” says Ackeem Emmons, a personal trainer who began his career at Equinox, later started his own training business, and now works with Aaptiv, an audio-based workout app. “It’s so funny, because [clients] think they’re getting over on me—when you’re just short-changing yourself.”

2. Their hours aren’t as flexible as you think.

“They tell you [that] you can make your own hours,” Emmons explains. “That’s a lie. I wake up at 4 or 5 every day, because people either want to train before work or after work.” That means busy mornings and evenings, and inevitable afternoon downtime for trainers.

3. The salary for personal trainers varies widely ...

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for fitness trainers and instructors across the U.S. is a little more than $39,000 a year, or roughly $18.85 an hour. But that’s just the median: The pay can vary quite a bit between location (in California, the average fitness salary is closer to $50,000), clientele (celebrity trainers can command hundreds of dollars per hour), the facility (a trainer at a private gym typically makes more than someone working at a local rec center), and certification levels.

4. ... and so do the qualifications.

There are numerous certifications available, which can boost earning power and add to a trainer’s potential client base. Organizations such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) all offer training manuals and certifications designed to make sure that anyone who calls themselves a personal trainer is well-versed in how the body works, nutrition, and injury prevention. In addition to general athletic certifications, there are specific courses for different exercise techniques, like using barbells, and for training specific populations, like people with chronic diseases or disabilities.

Some certifications are more rigorous than others, and some gyms are more stringent than others about the exact certifications their trainers hold, but in general, most trainers are always working on new certifications to add to their depth of knowledge. “I like to do it at least every couple of months to just learn something new,” Emmons says.

5. Personal trainers know when you’re not bringing your A-game.

Trainers can tell when you’re not totally focused on your workout, and they may pause the session to figure out why. “You have to figure out the reason why their mind is somewhere else,” explains Karyn Toffolo, a trainer who provides nutrition and fitness coaching through her company Happy Belly Strong as well as working at several New York City-area gyms. Solving that mental puzzle can be more important in the long run than it is to "kick their ass and give them this hard workout.”

Sometimes, however, the reason someone is distracted is much more simple. “I’ve had people come in drunk before,” Toffolo says. “You can just tell they’re not paying attention. So I have sent people home.”

6. Many clients come in with unrealistic expectations.

“A lot of people come in and say this actor put on 20 pounds of muscle in three months and I want the same result,” says Sean Collins, the co-owner and head powerlifting coach at Murder of Crows Barbell Club in Brooklyn. Goals like that are not in reach for the vast majority of the population—certainly not without performance-enhancing drugs—and he has to be the one to explain that. As Emmons puts it, “I’m a trainer, not a magician.”

They get a lot of very stereotypical requests, too.“Men all want huge arms, a big chest, and six-pack abs. And they need it by the 14th, because they’re going on vacation in two weeks,” Emmons says. “And women always want the triceps, the glutes, the inner thighs, and a six-pack—those are always the main things.”

7. Personal trainers also want to know about your diet.

Though most personal trainers aren’t nutritionists (Toffolo is an exception), helping clients eat right is still a big part of most fitness plans, according to Lacey Stone, a bi-coastal fitness expert who offers private training, group classes, boot camps, and virtual training, in addition to appearing as a celebrity trainer on E!’s Revenge Body With Khloe Kardashian. "I make certain that they have some kind of a higher protein/carbohydrate fuel before they work out," she says, because their body needs that fuel to perform.

Some of the education is just the basics. Stone says her clients often ask things like, "'Should I do keto? Should I fast? Should I do paleo?' I'm like, let's not worry about that until you even get like, what a vegetable is." (Stone is currently helping to launch a new line of milk-based protein shakes, called Core Power high protein milk shakes, so she likes to recommend those for an after-workout snack.)

“A lot of people come in with misconceptions about food—like someone will come in and say, ‘I haven’t eaten a carb in like four weeks,’” Collins says. “An important part of increasing muscle mass is increasing carb consumption. Sometimes they think fat will make you fat. They think too much protein will kill you, or too much carbohydrates will give you diabetes.” Part of the job of a personal trainer is to help re-educate clients on the role of food in their lives. That means not just telling people not to eat five slices of pizza in a row, but talking about what they're eating, when they're eating, and how that impacts their workout.

8. If they don’t ask about scheduling more sessions, it’s probably because they don’t want you to.

Not every client-trainer relationship works out, and sometimes trainers would prefer to let certain clients go. (Clients who are perpetually flaky or do nothing but complain throughout their sessions might not be asked back.) Of course, they try to be diplomatic about it. “I wouldn’t say I fired them,” Toffolo says of some former clients, “because they are paying me for sessions.” But if she doesn’t enjoy working with a client, when it comes time to schedule and pay for a new batch of sessions, “I just won’t ask if they want to renew.”

It’s not always personal, though. Toffolo works as a trainer at gyms like Brooklyn Boulders and Drive 495, and she occasionally hands her clients off to another trainer at the facility who might be better suited to helping them achieve their goals. For instance, if someone is rehabbing an injury, she is more likely to refer them to one of her colleagues with physical therapy experience.

9. Sometimes their sessions involve tears.

Stone says a fair amount of her clients end up crying at some point during the course of their training with her. “A big part of my program is getting people mentally and emotionally healthy before I can get them to do what I want physically,” she explains. Occasionally, that means tears—but “not sad tears. It's like, realization tears. It's like, finding your soul again tears.”

Collins deals with tears occasionally, too. “In power lifting, you can train for three to four months for one specific competition,” he says. So when people feel like they have fallen short of their goals when that big competition comes, it gets emotional. “I have had to manage a lot of tears,” he explains. “Any kind of fitness professional has to have a high level of empathy. I think the best ones out there are the ones who can completely understand why this is so upsetting to an individual.”

10. Personal trainers can get very close with their clients.

Personal training includes sharing a lot of intimate details about your life, like your diet, weight goals, sleep routine, and more, and as a result, trainers form tight bonds with many of their clients. Sometimes, "it can be more of a therapy session" than a workout session, Toffolo says. (That may happen whether the trainer likes it that way or not—"I’ve had a lot of people definitely share more than I wanted to," she adds.)

But Toffolo sees the client-trainer relationship as more of a friendship than a straight business relationship. She trains some clients for years on end, and has even been invited to some of their weddings. “It’s just nice to have that type of rapport with someone. It makes time go by quicker.”

11. They don’t need a big space to work …

Toffolo does house calls, and while some condo and apartment buildings feature high-end gyms, she doesn’t need a lot of space to work. “I can utilize a space as small as a closet,” she says. “I can manipulate [the program] so that it works with whatever the environment that I’m in.” That includes moves like stepping up onto benches, sprinting up stairs, and other moves that use the client's own weight as resistance.

12. … or fancy equipment.

Stone says that if there’s a few basic exercises she recommends to everyone, it’s squats, push-ups, and crunches—all things you don’t need a gym to do. “They've been around forever because they work,” she says. “I’m always like, ‘Get the basics down before you’re throwing a medicine ball around.’"

13. Personal trainers work with a lot of future brides.

Many personal trainers have a number of clients who are looking to get or stay fit for their wedding day. Stone and Toffolo both say they’ve had clients come on for just a few weeks or months prior to their wedding. “I had a lot of brides this summer,” Toffolo says, whose goal was “making sure they look good when they go down the aisle.”

While it may seem unrealistic to hope for dramatic changes just a few months before an event, with the right dedication, some of those pre-wedding workouts can yield impressive results. “I just had someone that lost 30 pounds with me in like seven months,” Stone says. “She looks unbelievable. She's been super inspiring.”

14. Yes, they heard you fart.

Everyone is human, and inevitably, a client will let a fart slip out during a workout. “It happens,” Toffolo says. “Most of my clients now I’m pretty close with, so I pretty much just laugh it off.”

15. Not all of them appreciate your New Year's resolution.

"The New Year’s resolutioners, they’re a little bit of my pet peeve," Toffolo says. "They take a lot of space at the gym for maybe one month," but aren't typically dedicated to sticking around for the rest of the year. "We make good money around this time of year, but usually, the New Year's resolutioners die down in February."

16. Personal trainers have to fit in their own workouts, too.

Personal trainers may spend a lot of time in the gym, but observing and coaching other people’s workouts isn’t the same as doing their own. In fact, Emmons says, “Not every personal trainer is in shape. As much as you’re training other people you have to train yourself.”

For Collins, being a trainer has actually made it harder for him to keep up with his own workouts. “Opening up a gym and coaching people has been the worst thing I’ve ever done for my own athletic endeavors,” he says. “There’s so much you have to get done as a business owner and a trainer, and so many things you have to do outside of client-facing hours.” That includes scheduling sessions, emailing clients, and coming up with new programs. As a result, he just doesn’t have the time he once did to focus on his own fitness goals.

But how much time a trainer spends on their own fitness depends on what training they’re doing, too. While Collins doesn’t get much of a workout coaching powerlifters, Stone leads classes at Flywheel, which specializes in indoor cycling. Though she may not be huffing and puffing as much as her students, she’s working out as she’s teaching. “When I’m working out, I can talk, because I'm at a high level of fitness,” she explains. “They're working out with me, so they get to actually see me doing what I'm telling them to do, five days a week.”

And though personal trainers love fitness, motivation can be as be as much of a problem for them as it is for you. “I’m just like everyone else,” Emmons explains. “I don’t want to work out every day—sometimes I just want to relax and catch up on my Netflix shows.” But he’s got to get himself to the gym anyway, because it’s his job.

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