Could working with a personal trainer make you worse off?
I used to be a believer that doing something was better than doing nothing. Today, I still believe that is true, but lately I’ve noticed a disturbing amount of incidents that challenge this thought. For our BeFit Tacoma Boot Camp Classes, we require our new campers to come in for a mandatory orientation. We have found that the orientation helps ease people into the classes and, although it requires several more hours of time a week for us, it is actually a disservice NOT to have them. The last few orientations I’ve noticed something incredibly strange. I ask a LOT of questions before people train with me. To be a good trainer and coach you have to look at things with a different set of eyes. Once your eyes hone in on a few things you know what to look for; the same is true for what people say.
Let’s take a few examples.
Look at this picture of this sturdy young man doing a reverse lunge.
Four different people would look at this picture and think four completely different things:
1. This guy’s upper body is way too big and his lower body tiny!
2. This guy is holding really small weights for how big he is.
3. This guy is actually doing lunges! No one does lunges!
4. The guy is letting the dumbbell sink down on the bottom side which indicates he’s not using his last two little fingers to grip, which probably carries over to his deadlift and his bench press because he doesn’t sufficiently engage his lats to brace his spine and pull on those exercises, and he’s not getting as much neuro recruitment from his muscles as he could be by squeezing that dumbbell indicating he’s most likely not a strength athlete.
Four different people. Four different set of eyes. I have a specially honed set of eyes and ears, and I pay SPECIAL attention to what clients say on several topics.
2. Past exercise history, failures, and diet
You’d be surprised how many people fill out “NO INJURIES” on the waiver, yet start moving funny and then suddenly mention old injuries they apparently forgot about.
I’m going to give you the sneak peak into how I process new information from clients, and then show you how it interacts into the training session.
BeFit Tacoma Boot Camp Orientation Number One:
1. Anonymous number one had been working out at a different boot camp before hurting her back. She was doing barbell deadlifts when it occurred lifting with a weight of 165lbs.
2. Injured her shin doing box jumps and scarred it pretty bad with her right shin.
3. Not terribly out of shape, had previously lost a lot of weight.
I could go on more here but I’ll stop. Let me break down what I see from this.
1. She was used to doing barbell deadlifts which means she was used to placing the weight in front of her instead of between her legs.
I wrote an article on why we do kettlebell deadlifts in BeFit Tacoma Boot Camp instead of barbells. Make sure you read it if you haven’t.
Lifting 165lbs for a female, depending on the client, is debatable whether it’s a high number or low. The lady who cleans our gym pulls 205 with no warmup, but 165lbs is pretty good for the average female. This particular Client admitted her form was bad when she was lifting. What does that tell me?
She needs to focus on cleaning her form up a lot.
2. Let’s look at box jumps. I’m not going to go into the safety of a box jump or not, but think about it. It’s an exercise where both legs go on a box. Like a deadlifts. Not jumping on one leg. Has anyone ever hurt their right leg on a deadlift? Not that I know of….if you hurt your right leg on a bilateral exercise it means you caught it lagging.
That doesn’t look too safe anyway you stack it!
All of this leads me to believe this client is much weaker on one side and, once again, injured herself most likely when form was breaking down.
What does this really tell me? This client should not be given any high risk exercises when she’s fatigued. But should anyone? Food for thought……
This client is someone who I would want to start off very slow because it looks like basic fundamentals were not emphasized as much as they should have. For example landing should always be taught before jumping or your client will injure themselves.
The Next Client
1. Anonymous number two is much older, heavier, and has not lost a significant amount of weight.
2. Usual workouts consist of walking and slight cardio at the gym.
3. Does zero resistance training. Nothing too fancy here. A total beginner.
When do you assess your client? All the time. I’m assessing everyone every second they move, say something, or do something. So here are the exercises I had them do, and the significant problems I found. You will see this all the time.
90-90 Split Squats– The basic lunge with no movement. The goal is to look at length through the quads and hip flexors. This also gives me good insight on a client’s IT band tightness.
Lateral split squat– a more advanced lunge where I’m looking for more mobility at the calves, ankles, flexibility through the adductor (inner thigh), and less in the hips.
Here’s the interesting part….
Client number one had muscles so tight she mentioned they felt bruised after the beginning foam roll, was unable to straighten her back leg on the split squat, and couldn’t hold the top position without falling over. Client number two who did no strength training at all was able to not only hold the split squat but go through the full range of motion despite being heavier, older, and not exercising.
The woman who could deadlift 165lbs before her back pain was less stable and moved worse than the older lady whose only exercise was walking? Client number one couldn’t believe it. I almost couldn’t believe it. Here was someone with a high level of fitness but experiencing DYSFUNCTION.
See, you can help someone lose a lot of weight, but how much did you help them balance themselves out or teach them to move correctly?
To me, personal training sessions are like ” Hitting School.” If you wanna be a good hitter, and you’re a kid, you learn to hit balls correctly, and someone throws you a lot of balls making sure you hit them with the right form. The irony is no one teaches people how to move. Our time at BeFit Tacoma is “hitting school” for the human body. I watch your reps and make sure you’re not making your swing sloppy.
When we got to the lateral split squat, the first client had extremely limited range of motion; not to mention she was very fatigued. Her legs were less mobile than the older woman’s, and she had less range of motion? The right leg (previously injured from the box jump though healed) was worse then the left. What happened? In the presence of pain, even after healing, the body remembers the pain and changes its pattern to match the pain.
In simplest talks. Once you’re injured you can have no pain problems but your body will always make you move like you’re injured. An injury lasts more than the wound. It lasts in the motor movements of your brain! Scary stuff!
That session was quite an eye opener for me. I play it pretty conservative at my boot camp and I think in my history of training in the last six years I’ve had one client that trained with me, was injured, and I wasn’t able to help back to normal levels ( and if she had listened to me I know she would have been back to normal levels)…but anyway…after realizing first hand in that orientation how terrible a traumatic injury can have on the brain I decided we would always pick LOW RISK exercises. Not the coolest or fanciest exercises but the safest!
I’ve always been a big believer in single leg work. As humans we don’t walk around on two legs. We take one step in front of the other. Sprinting is really the only fast thing you can do with your body and when you lose that ability you pretty much have lost all natural explosive abilities. I know many systems and people who do not do single leg work. In my opinion it’s foolish. I’ve seen lifters who train mostly with one leg be able to do two legged work but I have yet to see any double leg lifter NOT fall right over worse than someone who has never worked out before on single leg work.
See your glutes, inside of your knee muscles, and even your core all work differently and are challenged much more by single leg work than double. Not doing full range of motion single leg work is like going to Cheese cake factory and not eating cheese cake….you might as well have stayed home and made salad!!!!
THE REAL KICKER!
I thought this was an isolated incident with one client because of the training style..I’m not going to name any names but it’s very popular right now but not popular with many top coaches in the world and perhaps with a particular Tacoma personal trainer but then I saw a client today who from out of state had trained with TWO different personal trainers. Like the client before he had lost weight on the programs and he was paired with two ladies who had never worked with trainers before.
I saw the same problem with him. Instability, the inability to maintain proper form on exercises, and a huge amount of fatigue from basic movements where the more “traditionally out of shape” clients at the same orientation preceded to hand him his butt on a platter…..
This bothered me….quite a bit…because there’s nothing I hate to see more than three things
1. A client get injured when there was no need
2. A client end up imbalanced from working with a personal trainer
3. A client worse off from working with the trainer than before
If you work with a personal trainer and you get injured we can say that happens. It’s life. But if you get injured and it doesn’t make sense why in the world you would program like that in the first place…now it’s a professional problem because he’s making our profession look bad from just poor program planning. It’s like yes not all waiters are mean but because you spit in this ladies food, didn’t bring it on time, and brought her out the wrong food I think my tip is going to suffer a little bit…or she may stay inside and eat next time and never come eat at my restaurant.
2. It’s great to get weight off but is it worth losing weight when you alter a person’s structure and instability so poorly that they have less control over their bodies than someone who has never worked out before? In my opinion no because you could have just put them on a sound nutrition program and gotten the same body composition affects. The whole point of a fitness program is to better this person. If your program is worsening there posture and structural integrity then you should have told them to stay home and sent them a nutrition plan.
3. A trainer should always have a client walk away from them saying. I learned things that I can apply to my life later. I remember a friend of mine told me he was in a gym and this lady was knocking out heavy sets of weighted chinups between heavy sets of front squats. Ridiculous numbers, solid for a guy, Olympic level for a female. He ran out of his office and asked her why she was such a badass and she told him ” I’ve been training with Mike Boyle since I was in high school. Respect forever. See I want my clients to be at other gyms anywhere in the world and trainers to run out and scratch their heads on why the client was so amazing.
I have a client of mine who moved to California and he would work out at his corporate gym and co-workers and other members of the gym would stop him and ask him to train them! He ended up running a weekly workout session at the corporate gym off the things he learned from me.
How do I know? Because I was on my way to California asking him about hotels and he told me what an impact training at BeFit made for him at his new job. That’s exactly what I want! I can say there are a lot of clients I’ve trained who have worked with trainers and I’ve scratched my head pretty hard after wondering what in the world that trainer was doing with them. It usually goes something like this.
What have people been learning?
Me: ” Did you deadlift with your trainer before? We’re going to deadlift now.”
Them: ” No! Maybe once”
Me: ” It’s OK I’ll teach you.”
Later in the session
Me: ” OK we’re going to squat. You’ve squatted before right?”
Them: “Um…sort of…kind of….”
Me: ” OK let me see your squat…oh boy..that hurts doesn’t it?”
Me: ” Yeah….I can see…let’s fix that….”
Me:” You’ve done planks with your trainer before right?”
Them: ” Yeah! We did lots of planks!”
Me: “Great! Let’s see them…..oh boy…”
What in the world have these trainers been working on? No fundamentals!!!
Surprisingly I contacted some other coaches and they told me they’re seeing the same things in the industry currently. I could elaborate more on this but the top trainers in the world ( based on experience, results, and education) all agree that every program should have some form of the following.
1. Squat- because you have to get on the toilet
2. Lunge- because you have to take a step
3. Deadlift- because picking things up wrong will hurt you
4. Push (horizontal)- because sometimes someone is mean to you
5. Pull (horizontal) – because sometimes your friend is falling off a cliff
I’ll elaborate on this more in a post about shoulders but most people aren’t built to press vertically just like not all people are meant to squat all the way down. But that’s a blog post for another day regarding movement individualization.
The five exercises I posted above are the five basic human movements without getting too fancy or complicated into it.
Make sure you include all five of these movements for a balanced program otherwise you may be another diagnosis of the Personal Trainer Instability Observation!
Stay cool BeFitters!