When you walk into a gym like NYSC's Wall Street location, you've got over 5,000 pieces of exercise equipment (really!) and more than 50 classes a week. How do you know which are right for you? And which may be wrong.
Whether you train on your own, with a friend or group or with a professional trainer, personalized training is about getting the right program for you. This article will share the "secret process" a personal trainer uses to personalize your training. Try it on your own, or let me know if you need some help.
IT IS NOT WHAT YOU SEE ON TELEVISION
What's with the frightening picture of personal training presented on television? Trainers behave like screaming drill sergeants who push and whip their clients through extreme workout programs that produce amazing results. It's like some secret dark art practiced by a cult of Adonises.
It usually doesn't work that way. Most of us in the real world of personal training follow a different approach. We design programs with careful consideration to avoiding injury, ensuring consistency and helping our clients meet their goals. And many of the best trainers aren't nearly pretty enough for TV.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
Some people are on a mission to do every single exercise in the gym. Others do a very small list of the same exercises over and over again, sometimes for years and years. Then, there are those who follow a "one-size-fits-all program," a program that they've bought or pulled from the latest issue of a magazine or gotten from a friend.
When someone says to me "I've just joined and need someone to show me how to work the machines," my response is always the same: "Let's talk about the most important machine in the gym. Your body. Let's find the right exercises for YOU."
"80% OF LIFE IS JUST SHOWING UP"
You can't succeed until you figure out what it takes to get yourself to exercise on a regular basis. Will you make an appointment with yourself and keep it? Do you need an appointment with a friend so you don't cancel? Maybe a class? Or a written program to follow and log? Can you keep the commitment to exercise on your own? Do you get bored easily? Will you push yourself hard enough? If two weeks or more pass by and you've skipped your exercise appointment, your plan isn't working.
One surprising thing I've learned since becoming a trainer: most clients train because they just will not show up on their own without the threat of being charged for cancellation. Recently a few clients even told me how good they felt after buying a personal training package: "Now I know I will workout 2-3x a week for the next few months."
The same is true of those advertised programs. The logs and variation keep you coming back and keep it interesting. No wonder people get results.
THEN WHY DO I NEED A PERSONALIZED PROGRAM?
In some cases the answer is obvious. Maybe you have a medical condition, are coming back to the gym after physical therapy, or participate in a competitive sport and need to improve performance and/or reduce risk of injuries. For the rest of the world, a truly personalized exercise program can improve your physical condition, strength, posture, movement and athletic abilities. Incorrec exercise selection can exacerbate problems with posture and movement and will not produce the desired results, while sticking with the same program for too long will lead to you to plateau and stop improving. In some cases, this can lead to the same kind of repetitive stress injuries that you might associate with factory workers.
WHO ARE YOU?
Your personalized program starts with an inventory of YOU, including goals, medical background, and issues that affect exercise.
1. What is your age and weight?
2. What are your goals?
3. What is your current program and exercise experience? If you've taken classes or worked with trainers before, what were the results, what did you like and dislike?
4. Do you have any current or past injuries, medical conditions, pain or sensitive areas?
5. What is your lifestyle: what do you do at work and for recreation?
6. How often can you work out and how much time can you spend?
7. Which exercises do you like and which do you dislike?
8. Do you have any problems with posture and movement?
THE MISSING LINK
The single most important part of any personalized fitness program - and the oneso often missing - is a Fitness Assessment. This is the one thing that allows the program to be personalized to YOU.
- your fitness goals
- your answers to the above questions
- your posture and movement
- your current performance level and abilities
Sometimes the assessment is based on testing; often it is based on your history and a simple "visual inspection." Many times, I've already taken note of a client's issues and have them perform tests to demonstrate and explain the issue and program rationale to them.
Among people I meet in NYC, the assessment usually reveals one or more of the following issues: Rounded Shoulders; Externally Rotated Feet; Knock Knees; Arched Lower Back. If you've got these issues, there are certain exercises that are recommended to correct them, and other exercises that should absolutely be avoided. Learn more about assessment and try assessing yourself with the mini self assessment guide.
CAN YOU GIVE A RATIONALE FOR YOUR OVERALL PROGRAM AND EVERY EXERCISE IN IT?
Once you've answered the above questions and completed your assessment, you should be able to explain why your personalized program and each exercise is right or wrong for you - right down to the number of sets, repetitions and tempo. This knowledge will transform your program and exercise selection into a carefully considered and highly personalized process.
Here are some brief examples of rationales that I might use:
The client is deconditioned and his goal is weight loss, so the program will focus on a) maximizing calories burned through cardiovascular training and working the large muscle groups (legs, back, and chest). It will also include stretches and exercises to minimize the risk that an injury will interrupt the program.
The client is a competitive runner who has been experiencing plantar fasciitis and pain in the iliotibial bands. The program will target the lower extremity postural distortion syndrome and include stretches for the calves and hip muscles (including the IT band and tensor fascia latae) along with strengthening of the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus and anterior tibialis.
2 sets of 15 single leg biceps curl with dumbbells was selected because the goals include core strengthening and building lean muscle, and the client has a shoulder imbalance that makes barbell curls or preacher curls somewhat risky and less effective.
Incline chest press and overhead shoulder exercises are not included in this program due to the client's rounded shoulders and/or history of rotator cuff injury, common upper extremity postural distortions.
2 sets of 15 repetitions with :03 isometric contraction of rear flies and shoulder external rotation will strengthen the muscles that pull the shoulder back along with shoulder internal rotation with a :04 negative to help improve range of motion.
Side-Lying leg lifts (hip abduction) is included in this program because the clients knees tend to move inward, i.e., they excessively adduct; the hip Adductor machine is avoided because the clients adductors are extremely tight and short; the hip abduction machine is avoided because it also works the piriformis (muscles that externally rotate the hip).
YOU CAN'T PROGRESS WITHOUT PROGRESSION
As you develop your own personalized training program, think about how you will progress the exercises over the next month, and over the longer term. Our bodies adapt to a program after about 4-6 weeks at which time the program produces diminishing results. Most people think of progression as simply increasing the weight or changing the specific machines or exercises, and overlook the opportunity of varying the training modality.
If you've been focused on stable training such as machines, lying on benches and/or sitting through your workout, try standing to increase core activation and target a greater cross section of muscle fibers. Once you've mastered that, progress to exercises on a single leg, with balance boards and balls. Then come back to a more intensive stable strength training routine. Or try plyometrics to increase power.
I've got some examples of progressions here.
I know that not everyone shares my passion for exercise, but try to make the workouts as interesting as possible. Develop a few good personalized programs and progressions that you can change at 4-6 weeks intervals or use "undulating periodization," where you vary the workout more frequently. This is the "muscle memory" secret of that popular "one-size-fits-all program" that you see advertised on television. Only better, because the program and progression is personalized for YOU.
So there you have it, the dirty secrets of personalized training. I guess they aren't so dirty after all though.