It’s a New Year and gyms are flooded with people with the best of intentions. They’ve set a weight loss or other fitness goal to work towards in the New Year. Many of them have never been in a gym or haven’t used their membership in a long, long time. So what’s a good idea? Hire someone to help keep them accountable and help them with your goals, right?
Now before I go into the negatives, I believe strongly in my industry. A good trainer is worth their weight in gold towards keeping you accountable, safe and progressing towards better health and physical movement. Someone who is dedicated to their craft, learns constantly and uses many types of tools depending on the client.
The reason for this article is that in most chain gyms this is rare. The personal training world has no barrier to entry. I can direct you to a web site where for $200 and doing a quick multiple choice exam (which I got 92% on without studying a thing) you can get a certificate as a personal trainer. Many certification courses out there aren’t much better than this. Goodlife for one actually has their own training certification (called GLPTI) their employees are forced to go through (and have to pay for themselves) that teaches sales techniques, not proper training principles beyond periodization. Here in Ottawa, I recently learned that another big chain gym (Movati) is doing the same thing now. It’s not about results – it’s about money. Sales drives the training industry, especially in chain gyms.
Training also has its’ share of people who really don’t care. Most trainers (80%) leave the industry within two years and get into it for the wrong reasons. They want an easy way to make money because training has a high pay rate per hour while they can work where they like to hang out – the gym. At the beginning, maybe they have good intentions but quickly realize that they aren’t going to be working with athletes and fitness models and have to get up at 5am to service people. So their motivation is gone, and therefore your results.
So what can happen is a lot of people who really need help hire a “trainer” who has no knowledge or intention to really do a good job. Or, at most chain gyms you book a “free consultation” (ProTip: EVERY TRAINER OFFERS THESE, IT ISN’T SPECIAL). You get paired with not who is the best fit, but who has an open time that fits yours or a new trainer who needs to fill their schedule. And you get results – maybe – or possibly a higher risk of getting hurt or bad advice.
So here’s my recommendations of what to do when anyone starts looking for a trainer, either at a chain gym or elsewhere.
Do Your Homework
Chain gyms often have a wall of trainers, with lists of their skills and certifications. The newer ones will have less – or have things like “former college athlete” on their bio along with their one certification. This is to fill space, it isn’t a qualification. They will also be a lower level therefore cheaper to hire. This isn’t necessarily bad, it is just an indicator that they haven’t been around as long and possibly don’t sell packages well (ProTip: At most chain gyms, the “Level” of trainer is based on sales – not skills.)
Read the bios, then if you find one that you think sounds like they have qualifications to match what you want – go find them. Preferably WATCH them with a client. Some things to look for:
- Are they paying attention and focused on the client?
- Are they writing things down or recording somehow (some use tablets now)?
- Are they coaching and correcting when needed or just counting reps?
- Are they doing proper rest periods or chatting for minutes between sets?
Then – if they seem to be doing all these things – approach them (or the manager) and ask specifically to meet with them for a consultation. I’ve been doing this job for over 15 years and my consults are my time. Why? Because I as the trainer need to know if we are a good fit to work together, and sometimes I need to refer people to someone else if we’re not. I just recently did this with a friend of mine because she wanted something I don’t specialize in, even though she wanted to work with me.
If you’re going the independent or at home trainer route, make sure to ask for references from people who have similar goals to yours. Any good long term trainer has lots of happy clients, even if they are former clients for whatever reason. If they can’t provide this simple thing, then you might want to be wary. You also want to make sure that their style and facility matches with things like your location and how they will motivate you since you likely can’t see them work with people ahead of time.
Don’t Fall For Sales Tactics
A good trainer will have a plan, but if a potential client asks me how long it’s going to take to get to their goal my first answer is I DON’T KNOW. I can give a rough estimate, but it depends on a variety of factors, the biggest of which is your adherence as a client.
Many trainers will sit you down and say “It will take x amount of weeks at this phase of training (usually using big words like hypertrophy or mesocycle) to get to the next phase, we go through these phases and then you’re at your goal!” Hooray, right? But that’s over a period of 9 months and most will tell you you need 3 sessions a week to get proper results. Don’t get me wrong, you get the best results with more sessions – but cost (and time) is a factor for most people. Any trainer who says you MUST have this amount to reach your goals is trying to sell you something.
But wait – the total amount might be $$$ but we can stretch out that amount and you can pay for it over 12 months instead of 9, so it’s affordable. And then they start in with telling you all your flaws, or reminding you of that dress you want to fit into in six months and try to shame you into signing a big contract. I had a former co worker who prided herself on making people cry during consultations. Many trainers are really very good salespeople disguised as experts. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine and honestly it disgusts me. However, many trainers are hired by gyms for sales skills, not training skills.
A good trainer has a plan – but it is adjustable and takes into consideration things like time, budget and realistic situations. Most of my client roster basically had three weeks off schedule recently because their kids were out of school for holidays. A good trainer will adjust based on these circumstances. If you are in a specific phase of training then it can be extended, adjusted or whatever you need. Life happens.
If it sounds more like you’re buying a used car than hiring someone for a service then please think twice. The person should be telling you about how they are going to do things, not haggling on prices.
Don’t Sign a Long Term Contract
You’ve found a good trainer. You’re getting results, you get along and they seem to be a good fit. Excellent! But one day your trainer tells you that they are changing to a different gym that is inconvenient for you – or worse, is leaving the industry. There are little to NO safeguards that you can get your money back if you have paid them up front.
A chain gym will simply assign you another trainer (it’s in your contract). If you do your vetting process properly as in my previous paragraph this may work out well. But they will NOT give you a refund. Find another trainer that is a good fit for you and hopefully you can continue on the road to results. However, if you never signed a long term contract in the first place you can potentially move with the trainer which might be a better option.
If it is an independent trainer, then hopefully they are ethical enough to refund you, but this can be drawn out, and if they are more of a salesperson than a good trainer then likely they will simply disappear, especially if they are leaving the industry. Buyer beware. It’s much safer just to not have a long term commitment paid for up front. If a potential trainer is trying to get you to sign something for a long period of time, be careful and ask for options. (ProTip: Sessions should not cost less just because there are more of them, no other professional does this type of thing.)
Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your Trainer
One thing that should drive the personal training industry is SERVICE. Just like any other industry. If your trainer is showing up late, constantly cancelling or rescheduling and you’re not getting the level of service you want then have a discussion with them about expectations and if they don’t meet them, you have the right to find another one who meets your needs.
The trainer/client relationship is often fairly close and can develop into friendship (which some trainers take advantage of in my opinion) so a client can “feel bad” for asking for good service from someone they are paying for a service! This is ridiculous. You’re paying $1 a minute for service – not a chatting partner or rep counter or someone who just doesn’t feel like working that day.
Just like any other professional, you have the right to expectations, and so does the trainer. I can count on one hand the amount of clients I’ve actually fired myself over fifteen years, but it has happened. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and do what is best for yourself and moving towards your fitness goals. Any professional will understand.
I applaud any of you who are looking to improve in 2017 and work towards getting healthier and in better shape. Set some short and long term goals, and remember the key to your success is consistency over time. The journey is worth it when you realize how good you feel and how much you can move without pain. A good trainer is a partner in that journey with you and I hope that you all find good ones.
If you want to reach me for inquires within the Ottawa area or elsewhere you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to my web site at http://www.srottawa.com if you have questions. I’m always happy to help.
Happy New Year!
Recently I was asked if sitting on a Swiss Ball at work was a good idea for the average office worker. The theory behind this whole phenomenon is that if you sit on the ball you will be forced to maintain proper posture and it will “strengthen your core”. Let’s explore the history of the Swiss Ball and see if this really holds any water.
In a nutshell, a woman named Joanne Poser-Mayer began to instruct physical therapists in the use of these things for rehabilitation purposes in 1989. From the Canadian Physiotherapy web site:
The power of stability ball training and its importance to core strength cannot be underestimated. Various muscles contract to help produce movement, balance the body, stabilize the spine and hold the body in a safe, neutral position. All of these muscles working together reduce the compression that contributes to disc degeneration.
The words “cannot be underestimated” really fly out at me. I can get into all sorts of discourse about this statement, but the underlying fact I’m illustrating is that Swiss Balls came from physiotherapy modalities. Now thanks to athletic trainers and practitioners they have morphed into this ridiculous following where people claim that doing things on an unstable surface makes it “better” because your body has to work harder to achieve the movement on an unstable surface. Again, from the web site:
Sitting on stability balls both within and outside a fitness environment has been found to be highly effective in engaging the core muscles. And since most of the body’s movements are initiated and supported with the core muscles, good back health is ensured.
Well, that’s a bit of a blanket statement, isn’t it? Good back health is ENSURED.
So here’s a simple statement I’m going to make and hopefully you understand where I’m coming from:
If your body can’t engage muscles properly while it is in a supported state (ie on a solid surface like the floor or a chair) what makes you think it’s going to be able to do it on an unstable one?
Most people when they are at work exhibit poor posture, mostly as a function of what they have to do all day. I’m going to sit (taking tension away from things like hamstrings and glutes), put both hands internally rotated, lean forward slightly and put my head down – all day. This, to be blunt, sucks for your body. We do this for 40 hours a week or more and wonder why at the end of five years our body defaults into being internally rotated, leaning forward and weak in all of the muscles that we don’t use. Then we also wonder why, when we want to do something that is externally rotated, requires firing of your posterior chain and support from your lower back (like a LOT of stuff) the body protests.
Much of what I do especially with office workers is getting their muscles to be stronger to fight against the tug of war that we encourage with our poor work environments. This also includes things like standing desks, moving around more during the day and even changing position entirely. Being aware of how you’re sitting all day is important as well. As is having a proper strength program to work on the muscles that don’t take a lot of load for many hours a week so they don’t become deconditioned.
So what’s the answer? Well, it isn’t sitting on a Swiss Ball at work. If you have poor posture (which is forced and a function of the equipment you need to use) sitting on a surface that has less support isn’t going to make it better, it’s just going to tire out the muscles faster that are already either overworked or weak. Then your poor unsupported body is going to be even more tired and sore from working harder than it needs to.
By the way, this also applies to squatting, bicep curls and shoulder presses. If you are doing this on a BOSU or sitting on a ball, stop wasting your time and learn how to do it well with both feet on the ground please. Too many times I see poor clients being treated like circus animals by trainers who want them to “feel their core”. News flash: most of these trainers don’t even know what a “core” is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate of core strengthening. They’re called deadlifts. Squats. Pullups. Things that require the spine to hold tension under load. Things with spinal rotations, extension, bracing and flexion that involve more than one part of the body moving. I’m willing to bet that if you can become strong enough to pick up your body weight then you’re not going to have a problem with your lower back. And I’ve applied this over and over again. Funny enough, it works.
So as you navigate this fitness world, remember that trends come and go. Trust things that have been proven to work over time. As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
I thought I’d share this story as a way to show people what real dedication can get you. I’ve had the privilege over he past eight months to work with a woman who had the ultimate motivation towards getting healthy and losing weight and wanted to see if it might inspire others like it inspired me.
Now, before I begin I realize that motivation is often a struggle for a lot of people. I often cite the scene in the movie Fight Club where a man holds a gun to another man’s head and tells him to go follow his dream or he’s going to shoot him. Motivation is the ultimate struggle for many of us when it comes to changing your lifestyle, but when you have no choice but to do something then it is pretty hard not to. This is where my client Nadia comes in.
Nadia’s mother had liver disease and needed a new liver because hers was failing. Unfortunately a transplant from someone else wasn’t likely to happen any time soon, so Nadia decided to get checked and found out she was a match. The only problem was that she was 60 pounds overweight and also had a fatty liver. So in order to save her mothers’ life, she had to lose a significant amount of weight and also get extremely healthy. The problem was that it basically needed to happen as soon as possible. Her mother’s life was at stake.
So Nadia got to work. She got my name through a referral from one of my successful clients. When she contacted me I was honestly a bit overwhelmed only because she had a very short timeline and a very big goal to reach. I was also very honored to have the chance to help her. We got to work immediately and she flew into changing her lifestyles completely. She was in the gym dedicated 5 days a week following a strict program and completely overhauled her eating habits. We put her on a carbohydrate cycling protocol, something I wouldn’t normally do with a client because it is aggressive, but this was ordinary circumstances. And the pounds and inches started to come off.
In terms of exercise, part of the problem was her losing weight and inches, but also maintaining strength for a potential surgery. We worked through a couple of phases of training from introductory strength and moving into heavier lifting, then changing into higher intensity once her joints had the strength and integrity to handle it. Her nutrition stayed spot on and the pounds came off steadily.
To make a long story short, within eight months Nadia was down 60 pounds and many many inches. In fact, the first time I did her waist measurements I was astounded only because it was down over 10 inches just in that one area alone.
Nadia busted her ass – literally. She worked incredibly hard and suffered through a lot of stress. In short, she was a complete rock star and did exactly what it took in order to get to where she needed to be. She had setbacks and pushed through them, even doing her last six weeks on bariatric shakes totaling 900 calories a day because her liver fat needed to come down faster in order to be healthy. In my fifteen years I have rarely seen this type of dedication towards a goal, and the result was obvious.
Nadia and her mother had their surgery (successfully) a couple of weeks ago and she is now recovering. She will be out of commission for a couple of months and then is looking forward to getting into maintaining her new body and hopefully doing some really cool things that she might not have been able to previously. We’re going to work on maintaining her strength and then setting new goals for her new body. She has told me that she never wants to go back to the way she was before and the good thing is, she doesn’t have to. Nobody does as long as they stay consistent.
So I’m not writing this as a big pat on the back for myself. On the contrary, Nadia did 96% of the work on her own. She planned her meals, she did the workouts (which I designed), she went through all of the ups and downs she needed to (with the occasional support email needed). In fact, she only saw me about once every few weeks to make changes and adjustments to her programs. Only towards the end when things needed to become more supervised did she see me even once a week. You don’t need to spend a lot of time with a trainer if you’re willing to put in the work on your own, as I have said many times before.
My true point with this article is about motivation. So many people get into exercise and health without having a really clear picture of what they want. Having that picture and really, really wanting to do anything that you need to in order to make it happen virtually guarantees success. Nadia had that. So ask yourself this: if it was your mother, if it was another family member or if a doctor told you that you had to make changes, would you do it? I hope that the answer is yes. Think about that the next time that you want to skip a workout, or stop what you started, or eat another really crappy meal. What if you didn’t have the choice to give up because someone else was relying on you? Well, I can tell you that someone probably is. You.
Life always comes down to choices. You can choose to do what it takes or keep on cycling through what you have always done. All you have to do is find the motivation that Nadia and countless others have found in order to completely change how you feel, look and perform on a daily basis – not only now, but years from now.
I’m very honored to have been a part of this transformation, and I’m also hoping that by writing this it inspires more of you to get up, get going and find that part of you that will never give up. Good luck with whatever fitness journey you are undertaking and if you are ever looking for help feel free to contact me.
Apparently there is a certain portion of the fitness community that has learned nothing about the tragedy that took place about a year ago. Kevin Ogar, who was competing in the Crossfit OC Throwdown in January of 2014 severed his spine during the competition and is now paralyzed. A video of the moment it happened went viral and the whole fitness community mourned along with extensive analysis of what happened. By many it was considered a freak accident, unless you consider the fact that he was three workouts into a ten workout regime, likely already exhausted and throwing a heavy weight over his head. I’m not posting a link but it is easily found, and is disturbing.
First and foremost, this is not an article about CrossFit, bashing anyone or doing anything other than taking a look objectively at the situation. From what I have read nobody can seem to properly determine if Kevin’s spine was just ready to snap, or if he was hit by the bar (or both) – either way, it is a horrible accident and my thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.
However, apparently the people who run the OC Throwdown didn’t learn anything, as this year they decided to have their participants jump over successive hurdles that were set at heights way too difficult to get over, resulting in many competitors falling – it is unknown if any of them seriously injured themselves but judging from what I was watching it was highly likely. There was a video that went viral about it and many people within the community complained that it was irresponsible and idiotic (which it was), and you would think that the organizers of this event would have known better. By the way, if you want to see the video, it’s here.
Maybe if just one person had stood up and reminded them of what happened the year before and simply refused to do something so risky they might have changed their whole workout and everyone could have done it safely. But that’s not cool, and it’s not hardcore, and it’s not something that you can post on YouTube.
This article is about the responsibility we all have towards our bodies, and the stupidity that sometimes arises when people get competitive. I can’t count the amount of people I have dealt with who have experienced major injuries, usually because they decided to “push through it” or they wanted to “suck it up”. Your body sends you signals for a reason, and it usually isn’t to tell you “hey, maybe you should think about stopping.”
I have many people on my Facebook feed who perform (to be blunt) horrible lifts. Absolutely brutal lifts. But they get the weight up and cheer themselves and get tons of likes on Facebook and Instagram of course. One poor girl who is all of 21 regularly hurts herself and almost brags about it, and then two days later posts videos of herself lifting, and the only thing I can see is her knees buckling and her spine ready to collapse. She doesn’t realize that in 20 years – or sooner – she’s likely going to be suffering.
Tragedy comes in many forms, but to me one of the most tragic things is seeing a mistake made and then doing absolutely nothing to correct it simply for the sake of ego. You only get one body and one life. You have a choice if you want to let yourself live it to its’ fullest for the whole time you’re on the earth, or possibly have that one moment of glory (or one moment of stupidity) and pay for it for years. I’ve fallen victim to it myself when I was younger and stupid. Many of my friends who have “tweaked” things 20 years ago have recently had to have surgery to resolve things and can’t do what they want to do any more. It’s inevitable if you keep treating your body like a punching bag.
I’d rather see people lifting 50 pounds less and able to do it for 20 more years, which is why I run my practice the way that I do. I’ve taught women in their 50’s to lift over 150 pounds, but do they really need to do more than that? My people squat and lift and push and pull just like anyone else, but they do it with care and responsibility to the body, and funnily enough they rarely have a problem, now and ten years from now. I fix people who have had crippling injuries on a regular basis – the only people I’ll refuse to work with are those who haven’t learned the rules of the body and to respect what it tells you and do something about it.
Strength isn’t something that you can easily define. Figure out for yourself what it means. Hopefully it doesn’t mean sacrificing your long term joint health for the sake of making one massive lift, or almost killing yourself to be able to pose on a stage for 30 seconds, or dehydrating yourself so you can have abs just that much more visible for a photo shoot, or doing something idiotic to be able to post an edgy video on the internet. Wake up.
As always, comments are welcome.