When you hire the services of a personal trainer, you expect that he or she will provide you with a high value for your hard earned money. You expect instruction on how to safely and effectively use scientifically-proven training methods. You also expect a tailor-made exercise approach that best fits your specific training goal.
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That’s the utopian dream, anyway.
Here’s the reality: Many of the common fitness training “trends” that trainers use are based more on misconception, misinterpretations, and myth. The result: You pay good money for bad results. Here we’ll show you three of the most common ways personal trainers unknowingly misguide their clients, and how you can work with a trainer to get the results you’re looking for.
But wait: Don’t Blame Your Trainer for Your Poor Habits
Before we get into our list, let’s make it clear that you can’t blame your trainer for you not losing body fat if you go home and eat like a lazy teenager. It also unfair to blame your trainer for not helping you make drastic muscle gains if you only work with the trainer once or twice a week and do absolutely nothing the rest of the time.
Training is not something a fitness professional does TO you; it’s something they do WITH you. In other words, the trainer provides you with the best direction to take, based on your goals and needs. And, it’s up to YOU to keep moving in that direction throughout each day.
In this article, we’re not letting anyone off the hook. We’re providing clear-cut practical solutions for what you and your trainer can do to ensure you’re both finding the safest, most effective training direction to take.
So let’s get into it…
1. You’re getting a private lesson in their favorite exercise method, not a personalized program of the best exercises for you.
There are many training approaches. Some trainers may follow a bodybuilding type philosophy where others are more into Pilates, while others do “ 3D functional training” and others may be more into kettlebells… and the list goes on…
The Problem: In many cases personal trainers give advice based on their chosen training philosophy (i.e. bias) instead of delivering a true “personalized” workout program. In other words, many trainers just end up giving their clients private lessons on what that particular trainer's likes to do instead of using the best modalities for your goal.
The Solution: Fit the workout program to YOUR goal, not you to the trainer’s specialty or bias.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Arm yourself with a set of informed questions you can ask trainers before you train with them: - Here’s my goal. What’s the best way to achieve it? - Why is that method better than other fitness training methods for helping me to achieve my goal? - Do you use the same basic training method for everyone you work with? Why or why not? - Have you ever worked with others like me (similar age, sex, body-type, medical history, etc.) who have the same goals? - If so, did you use this training approach with them? - If so, please show me some before and after pictures of these clients or at least provide some testimonials?
While you’re interviewing trainers, be aware of how they talk to you. If they use jargon, complex terminologies, or speak to you in a way that you can’t understand, find someone else. In one sense, speaking in jargon is a way of showing off. “Look how much I know!” What you really need is someone who can communicate well and relate to you.
Additionally, the letters behind a trainers name (i.e. their qualifications) are no indication of their practical skills, so don’t pick a trainer based on their schooling or educational certifications they can show you. Education helps, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Pick a trainer based on the RESULTS they’ve gotten for others like you.
Let’s face it, you wouldn’t hire a plumber who’s read every book ever published on plumbing, but who’s never fixed a drain. You want the plumber who’s fixed the nastiest clogs in human history.
WHAT YOUR TRAINER CAN DO: Understand that ALL forms of exercise have their benefits and their limitations. And that certain training methods are best for certain goals, and no one method is best for all goals.
Example: Yoga is great for mobility and breathing, but if your goal is to gain muscle, bodybuilding methods will get you there faster and more effectively than yoga ever could. Now, if you’re already big and strong and need better mobility, than yoga may be in order.
Kettlebell training is great for total body fat loss workouts, especially if you’re short on time (you can string lots of kettlebell moves together into complexes). But, if you’re trying to gain strength on your big lifts, powerlifting methods are better designed for that goal.
If you have a multifaceted goal, like gaining strength while improving athletic movement, then you need to train with a multifaceted approach. Practice your sports and perform some sports training drills. Add some weight lifting for strength.
Optimizing health, fitness and performance requires several different components, and no single piece of equipment or training method will be ever able to fully address all its complex demands.
2. You want to get better at a certain sport, so your trainer offers “Sport-Specific Workouts.”
This is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts among Personal Trainers and fitness enthusiasts alike.
The problem: Thinking that exercises have to look like the sport you’re training for. Example: Attaching a resistance band to the end of a golf club or hockey stick and swinging it. Or, having a boxer punch against bands that are strapped around their back.
Why it’s a mistake: The movement skills required in sports are EXACT, not similar - exact. Case in point: Shoot 10 free throws with a regular basketball. Then shoot 10 more with a 2-kilogram medicine ball. You'll quickly find that the motor pattern to throw the heavier ball is completely different, as your first few shots with the heavier ball will come up short until you adjust.
Now, after shooting 10 shots with the 2KG ball, go back to a normal basketball. Your first few shots will go over the backboard because your brain and body have to use a different muscle activation and movement sequence when shooting the medicine ball than when shooting the much lighter basketball.
This little demonstration shows that human movement skills are EXACT. Adding load to a sports-specific skill in the gym is, in reality, training a different skill, which can potentially throw you off your ability to perform the original sports skill.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Understand that “sports specific” training doesn’t happen in the gym. It happens when you work with a coach to practice the specific skills required in your given sport. So, tennis practice and your tennis lesson are where you go for “sport-specific training.”
Anything you do in the gym to get in better shape is just plain “training.” Strength and conditioning workouts simply give you the physical fitness to do what you need to do when you practice for your sport. (Also, understand that getting into better shape will only go so far if you stink at your sport!)
WHAT YOUR TRAINER CAN DO: Sure, there are a few “specific” things that you can focus on in the gym depending on the sport. Examples: If you’re in a grappling sport, grip strength can help you better control your opponent.
If you’re in an impact sport like wrestling or football, neck strength is important. And, if you’re a tennis player or golfer, increasing your rotational strength and flexibility can help you improve racquet or club speed. Still, those are small additions to a general focus on total-body strength and power training.
In truth, any and all athletes can benefit from adding strength and increasing explosive power, which can help you to run faster, jump higher, etc., and also transfer more force to an implement, like a swinging bat or tennis racquet or golf club or simply throwing a punch.
General strength training can also help athletes better protect their connective tissues, which could help decrease injury risk.
3. Your trainer wants you to exercise on unstable surfaces.
Does your trainer have you lifting weights while standing on unstable surfaces like wobble boards, a Bosu, or a Fitness ball to improve your “functional strength” or “core stability?”
The problem: In order to improve strength you must produce high amounts of force. And in order to build muscle, you must overload your muscles. Neither of these can be done effectively on an unstable surface, according to Juan Carlos Santana, owner of the Institute for Human Performance.
“Unstable base training is not ‘functional’ for sports or life activities because movement and sports are about transferring energy from the ground to something, like a swinging a baseball bat to lifting up a child. You need a stiff core to effectively transfer force," he says.
"Think of a flat-bottomed triangle vs. an inverted (point side down) triangle. The inverted triangle is balanced, but it will topple over very easily as soon as force is applied to it from almost any direction. That’s like standing on an unstable surface and trying to apply force to anything. But, the flat side down pyramid is not only balanced in nature, it’s very stable and capable of resisting and transferring forces from any direction.”
The Solution: Don’t blend strength training with unstable surface training.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If your goal is to improve your overall strength, core strength, or to gain muscle; lift weights on flat, stable ground in the traditional style. Unstable surfaces can be great for improving balance and for rehabbing ankle, knee or hip injuries. So if you also want to improve your balance, or simply enjoying using unstable surfaces, there’s no reason you can't incorporate some balance training using unstable surfaces in-between sets of strength training exercises, or as part of a cool-down at the end of your workouts.
WHAT YOUR TRAINER CAN DO: Better understand three key concepts: Science, Specificity and Safety in regards to strength training on unstable surfaces…
According to a 2004 study by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), “The performance of resistance exercises on unstable equipment has increased in popularity, despite the lack of research supporting their effectiveness.
Resistance exercise performed on unstable equipment may not be effective in developing the type of balance, proprioception, and core stability required for successful sports performance. Free weight exercises performed while standing on a stable surface have been proven most effective for enhancing sports related skills.”
According to another 2004 study also by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), “The diminished force output suggests that the overload stresses required for strength training necessitate the inclusion of resistance training on stable surfaces.”
If your goal is to improve sports performance, unless you’re playing your sport in an earthquake, the ground your playing on is stable. Also, don't confuse a slippery surface (like playing in the rain) with an unstable surface. Since functional training is about transfer, it’s more “functional” to train on the same stable surface you play and practice on.
Additionally, it’s no secret that if you want to gain muscle and improve your explosive power, you must create overload on the muscles. However, when lifting weights while on an unstable base, as the saying goes, “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” So, when using unstable surfaces, you can't be as explosive as you need to be in order to improve your explosive capability.
Some studies have shown increased core muscle activity when lifting weights on fitness balls. However, if your goal is core strengthening, there are many core specific methods to use, which can be found in my article, THE SCIENCE OF AMAZING ABS.
Let’s go beyond science. Lifting weights on a Swiss Ball can be down right dangerous. In 2009, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings found this out the hard way when starting forward Francisco Garcia, whose contract was worth $29.6 million over 5 years, missed a huge chunk of that season after an exercise ball accident broke his right wrist.
Garcia, who weighed 195 pounds, was lying on his back on an exercise ball, lifting 90-pound weights in each hand (doing a chest press), when the ball burst.
Following this event, the Sacramento Kings’ removed all the exercise balls from their weight room and Kings co-owner Joe Maloof ordered an e-mail sent to the NBA’s other 29 teams, hoping to spread the word about unforeseen dangers that can arise when performing even basic workouts with an inflatable exercise ball commonly found in many gyms and homes.
Even if you don’t agree with the science discussed above, common sense tells us that the risks involved every time a client is place on a Swiss ball while holding free weights far out-weight any supposed benefits.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you had a bad experience with a personal trainer? Or have your experiences all been positive? Tell us in the comments.