I‘m a huge geek for fitness. My fitness library is exhausting and I always have a new book in my hand to read between clients. Being that we are in the information age, I see a common trend in personal training towards buying books, ebooks, reading blogs, and hangin out on web forums for fitness knowledge.
I’m certainly guilty of this. However, I’ve also realized that what makes us the best in our field is in-the-trenches experience applying this knowledge. This isn’t to say that information isn’t important, however, it’s not the sword that makes the warrior, it’s the skill in which he wields it.
1) The importance of Cooperative Care
In the words of John Donne, “no man is an island“. It’s easy to let our egos get in the way in regards to wanting to help your clients out, however, I quickly realized that having a good network of health practitioners to support the goals of each client not only reduces stress for both parties, but helps them get better FASTER!
Things happen much faster when complimentary services are provided. Case in point: if you have an older gentleman who wishes to start exercising but is locked up like a rusty Mexican burrito truck, I’d rather send him out for a month of soft tissue work to help the movement work we are doing in the gym be much more productive.
Having a good manual therapist (or many, because the good ones are busy!), physical therapists, acupuncturists, and movement therapists are great assets to my health and fitness army. New practitioners in my area are always on my radar and if I hear about a good one, I’m quick to drop them a line.[editors note: For a thorough overview on interprofessional collaboration check out “Personal Trainer Career Series: Inter-Professional Collaboration]
2) Behavioral Change Coaching
After attending the Long Beach Perform Better Summit in 2011, I had the privilege to watch John Berardi speak about his Precision Nutrition program and what struck me, and most of us attending, is that (exceptional) personal training is about making lasting behavioral change.
Frustration, stagnation, and burnout are often blossoms from the seeds of poor planning and logical implementations on the part of both the trainer and client. Trainers get frustrated when clients don’t adhere to the program, but whose fault is that? The trainer.
Yes, the client should be a part of the process, but it’s the trainer’s job to find a solution that can be manageable by that person at that time. You can have a perfect workout routine and diet plan, but if you can’t follow it, then it ain’t that great.
The art of coaching lies in finding the balance between encouraging client autonomy and ownership of their goals, as well as diligent problem solving on the part of the trainer to establish manageable progressions for the client.
Find that sweet spot where they can succeed yet still be challenged, and you’ll never lose them.
3) All Battles Cannot Be Won (Right now)
Rare is the client that comes into a personal training environment with specific goals in mind. Often, they unveil a laundry list of needs/wants/desires that spew into the lap of the trainer like that girl from the exorcist spewing pea soup as her head spins 360 degrees.
Unfortunately, as I am a people-pleaser, I try and accommodate all those needs/wants/desires into one program, only to come up short on all of them. As the old saying goes, when you try for everything you usually get nothing.
I’m not saying that you can’t train for multiple goals at one time, however, it should be stated that the more stuff you add to the pot, the more probability for lackluster results in each.
For example, if you want to gain muscle mass but also want to decrease your bodyfat, you may have a harder time getting either. It’s not impossible, but those that have been successful gaining muscle have to train with higher volumes, recover accordingly, and eat a surplus of calories. This isn’t the same recipe for those that want to lose weight.
4) Being OK as the middle child
This is perhaps a silly metaphor, but I see personal training as being sandwiched between the Physical therapy world and the Strength and Conditioning world.
In fact, personal trainers get a lot of their information and research from these two communities. However, these two communities often tend to make recommendations to personal trainers as if they know better than the trainers do and it’s unfortunately unfounded much of the time.
I appreciate the important contributions and mentorship that I have received over the years from both of these communities and acknowledge how important they are. However, these siblings of health and fitness often times have never worked in Personal training and do not understand the nuances of the personal training environment.
For example, if a strength and conditioning coach writes that general population folks need more heavy lifting, I’m usually all for it, however, a lot of clients are a long ways off from heavy deadlifting. Some good S&C coaches are aware of this, however, the message often gets misinterpreted as other trainers try and get grandma to start pulling heavy singles in the deadlift when it just ain’t appropriate.
Or the physical therapist playing on the safe side trying to avoid squatting below parallel for fear that it will blow someone’s knees out. Instead, context needs to be provided as to what a good squat should look like ass-to-grass, and/or if pain is present at any point during the movement. If so, then absolutely nix it and refer out. Or, at the very least, keep asking why.
I’m thankful for the wisdom handed down to me from these two camps, but all things being considered, I’ll do my job and they’ll do theirs. In a perfect world, promoting synergy and understanding between all three camps makes for dynamite changes in a person’s life.
5) Fitness is one thing, Movement is another
Many folks coming into training look to fitness to solve more than just its stated intention: to get stronger, improve stamina, manage weight, etc. In our modern age, with increased sitting and sedentary lifestyles, most personal training clients come in with a menagerie of aches and pains that they are hoping will clear up with exercise.
This may or may not be true, but there is also a whole world of movement (or lack thereof) outside of the gym that needs to be paid a good deal of attention. For example, someone that has lower back discomfort may or may not see relief from basic pelvic and core stabilization work.
This is likely only one piece of the entire movement equation. I do believe that ultimately, for most people, movement is the solution for the majority of musculoskeletal pain issues; however fitness is only a small slice of the pie.
Especially if exercise is only done for 1-3 hours a week, the cumulative effective of poor movement habits, posture, and breathing are much more important to making long term change. What would be a more sustainable strategy for most is to learn how to carry themselves outside of the gym to maintain a healthy body, free from chronic aches and pains.
It’s my goal to not only educate the client on how to move properly in the gym, but to also encourage them to move better OUTSIDE – How to walk, stand, sit, go up and down stairs, etc.
And if it’s beyond my reach, there are plenty of great movement therapists in my area that can assist (See: Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Anat Baniel Method, Etc.). Fitness in the gym is about expending energy and getting stronger, but this should also be coupled with relaxed and efficient movement outside of the gym.
This is often overlooked as one tries to use gym strategies outside of the gym. This means you shouldn’t be squeezing the crap out of your abdominals when you walk! Work hard, but learn to relax and move efficiently, as well.
While books give us information, they don’t give us experience. What are somethings that you’ve learned in the trenches that you can’t learn from books? Also, be sure to “like” thePTDC’s Facebook page and check out what we’re all about.
Charlie Reid is a Personal Trainer based out of San Francisco, CA. In addition to his private personal training business, he is a freelance writer and consultant to local businesses in the health and fitness arena. He holds certifications through the NSCA, ACSM, and IYCA, although his proudest accomplishments are his in-the-trenches experience and devotion to finding real-world health and fitness solutions for everyday folks, corporate athletes, and weekend warriors. Charlie’s website and blog can be found at www.reidhealthsolutions.com