Speaking of hype, another trend on the horizon is development of branded personal training programs. Right now, I can get certified as a trainer by PX90 or become a Biggest Loser Pro and have access to a huge marketing platform.To a large extent, these types of progams replace personalization with standardization.
It is smart marketing for these brands to generate more sales by selling trainer certifications. But buyer beware: Do these certifications guarantee quality and results to the consumer and trainer, or are they just a money making substitute for real knowledge and experience? Will personal training become yet another industry to fall casualty to national branding?
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 at trainercary.com.
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 at trainercary.com/exercise-programs.
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.
Hardly an hour goes by at the gym that I don't find someone doing something that is not really helping them and might eventually hurt them, including:
• Incorrect Exercise Form
• Inappropriate Exercise Selection
• Obsolete Exercises
• Ineffective Exercise Programs
• Things that Look Good but Don't Make any Sense (most of these don't really look good they just think they do)
• Poor Nutritional Habits
This is the first time I have attempted this project, I've searched the internet and the books and can't find anything else like it all in one place. I'll be working on adding to it over time, and I invite you to clip the list and email me with any suggested additions for future editions.
NO BEHIND NECK PULLDOWNS!
NO BEHIND NECK SHOULDER PRESSES!
NO UPRIGHT ROWS (FRONT ROWS)!
You may as well kiss your rotator cuff goodbye. These exercises are obsolete - they have been shown to cause injury or impingement of the rotator cuff muscles over time. In addition, they provide no meaningful advantage to other exercises.
DON'T ARCH YOUR BACK!
An arched back causes pressure on the spinal column, it can lead to damaged disks and vertebrae. Lower the weight, use a machine with back support, and strengthen your abdominal core if you find yourself arching. Be especially careful about this when doing any overhead exercises, the leverage of the weight increases the likelihood of injury.
DONT WORK THE SAME MUSCLES 2 DAYS IN A ROW!
Strength training damages your muscle fibers. Muscles recover, repair and actually grow during the 48 hours after your work them. You won't see progress and you increase the risk of injury if you don't allow the rest. This applies only to strength training, you can do cardio every day.
DON'T USE THE SAME EXERCISE PROGRAM FOR MORE THAN 6 WEEKS
Your body adapts to an exercise program within 4-6 weeks, so you won't see much progress. You also increase the risk of repetitive stress injuries by continuing to perform the same motions at the same speed and intensity. Vary the exercises, weight, and tempo in your program at regular intervals.
DON'T DO THE SAME EXERCISES AS WHEN YOU WERE ON THE FOOTBALL (OR WHATEVER) TEAM OR IN THE MARINES!
Most of you are 5-50 years away from your high school and college sports days. You spend hours at a desk and commuting, and need to select exercises that are appropriate for grown ups who live a grown up lifestyle.
NO ROCKING, SWAYING OR BOUNCING!
If you an't stand still while performing an exercise, your using too much weight or doing something wrong for you. The exception is certain exercises where rocking or bouncing may be part of the exercise - for reference, this does not include biceps curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises, and most other exercises that I see people bouncing though.
DON'T SKIP MEALS - ESPECIALLY BREAKFAST!
Breakfast kick starts your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to exercise. If you're looking to lose weight, numerous studies have proven that people who eat breakfast are more successful at long term weight loss than those who don't. You'll have more effective workouts when your body had the fuel.
DON'T RELY ON BELTS, WRAPS AND BRACES!
The old fashioned weight belt may help protect your back, but over time it weakens your abdominal core because it is doing the job that you want to train your core muscles to do. No weight belts! Unless you're in the heavy-lifting phase of a power training program. Wraps and braces are a like a Band-Aid, they don't fix an underlying problem and in some cases transfer stress and problems to other joints. Talk to a sports medicine doctor or orthopedist before bracing, or that pain in your elbow may turn into an even worse problem at your shoulder.
DON'T WORKOUT UNTIL YOU WARM UP!
Spend about 5-10 minutes warming up with some cardio. Your muscles are less likely to get injured when they aer warm, and the warmup causes enzymes to be released that help protect the muscles and make your workout more effective.
NO LONG CARDIO SESSIONS BEFORE STRENGTH TRAINING
You'll get more out of your strength training if you have the energy to dedicate to the workout, and save the cardio for later or another day. If you've just run 5 or 10 miles, you're ready to eat, not to workout! (This one is dedicated to one of my highly conditioned clients who ran a quick 8 miles before a strength training session... and took an early leave to get a yogurt).
DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH!
Proper breathing is to exhale on the concentric contraction, that is when you are actually shortening the muscle. It's the push phase on pushing exercises or the pull phase on pulling exercises.
NO UNNECESSARY SUPPLEMENTS!
Protein: According to the doctors at the American College of Sports Medicine, a 170 pound man needs about 131 grams of protein per day to increase muscle mass (1.7g/kg body weight) and about 100 grams to support endurance (1.3g/kg). If you're already getting that much in your diet, skip the supplement. More is not better!
Sports Drinks: Research shows that Gatorade-like drinks are effective when you're exercising or playing a sport for more than an hour, or if you like the taste and won't get enough fluids otherwise. Water is just as good if you're planning a 59 minute workout.
Creatine: Is one of the few supplements that has a long standing body of research, dating back almost 100 years. It shows no effect in aerobic performance, some short term gain in muscle size -believed by many to be increased water retention, and marginal improvement in strength or anaerobic performance.
Weight Loss & Energy Supplements: Most of these contain caffeine or guarana. Guarana contains about 3x the caffeine as coffee, and when it is included as an ingredient instead of caffeine, the manufacturer doesn't have to tell you how much caffeine is in the drink. Caffeine will help you lose weight, it raises your heart rate and is proven to increase fat metabolism, but would you have 3-4 cups of coffee? Taurine, also popular, has very little human research, which brings us to...
Other Supplements: Supplement makers can claim whatever they want. The government does not test nutritional supplements for effectiveness, safety, consistency, purity, or interaction with other drugs or conditions. Think about how often you hear about a drug that was FDA tested, or a supplement, that is later found to have harmed people. Do you really want to take that risk with your health?
IF YOU HAVE SHOULDER PROBLEMS, DON'T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING Overhead Exercises, Incline Chest Press (and possibly any chest press), Front Raises, Shrugs, Preacher Curls, Behind the Neck Triceps Extension All of these exercises put you at risk of further injury and pain. Have a detailed conversation with your doctor and/or physical therapist about contraindicated exercises, and consider consulting a personal trainer with post-rehab experience to design a safe and effective program.
DON'T DO ANYTHING THAT HURTS!
If something hurts severely, or hurts for more than a week, its time to see a doctor. Don't assume that you can lower the weight and not do any further damage, sometimes it is the movement itself that is the problem. Get a diagnosis so that you now what you are dealing with.
DONT FORGET THE WATER!
Those ACSM Doctors say bring your water bottle along and: Drink about 1-2 cups of fluid 30 minutes pre exercise, drink ½ - 1 cup of fluid for every 15 minutes of exercise, drink 2 ½ cups for every pound lost during exercise. Drink even after your thirst is quenched.
NO STRAIGHT LEG OR DECLINE SITUPS!
These cause the back to arch and risks damage to the spine. Bent leg situps are not much better. Do crunches instead.
NO LYING FULL LEG & HIP RAISES WITH A DUMBELL BETWEEN YOUR FEET!
Never hold an unsecured weight over your face.
NO LEG EXTENSION MACHINE!
Current expert opinions on this machine, for most people, range from its a waste of time to its something that could hurt you if you have any knee problems. Try some lunges instead.
IF YOUR BACK HURTS, DON'T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING Back Extensions, Good Mornings, External Abdominal Exercises, Unsupported Above the Head Exercises, High Impact Activities Generally avoid anything that makes your low back tighten and/or arch. Focus on strengthening your abdominal core - your deep abdominals, not the so called 6 pack muscles. In most cases, back muscles are overworking because the inner abdominal muscles are weak. Sitting at a desk all day is one thing that can make your abs weak and your back tight, so you'll want to progress to exercises that get you out of a seated position.
DONT FORGET TO STRETCH!
Stretch before and after you exercise. Get your muscles into balance by stretching the tight ones before you exercise to get your joints in proper alignment and avoid injury; after exercise, stretch the muscles that became tight during exercise. You don't have to stretch EVERY muscle, just the tight ones.
To be continued...
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