It’s been a while since I’ve worked with clients of my own, but just like all of the exercise terms I memorized when I was studying for my certification test, during the time I spent as a trainer, a few important lessons about health and fitness were embedded in my brain. These are the most important lessons I learned while working in the gym.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I talk about this concept. But it’s important and often unrealized, so I try to emphasize it as often as possible. It basically comes down to two simple facts: everyone is different and everyone’s goals are different. It’s the reason why exercise “quick fixes” or one-size-fits-all programs are completely ineffective. Think of it this way: say for example I have two clients. One tells me her goal is to finish a 5K and the other wants to lose 10 pounds. Simply put, the best workouts for the 5K-er won’t be the same as the best workouts for the weight loss candidate. But the same would even apply to two clients who did have the same goal. Why? Because each are unique individuals with varying traits, like base fitness levels and body types.
Part of being a personal trainer includes finding out what a client’s goals are; it’s one of the most important parts of the job. That’s because setting goals, both short- and long-term, creates something tangible that you can work towards and also allows you to develop an organized plan that will help you get there successfully. Instead of wandering around the gym aimlessly you have direction and focus. Plus, share your goals with friends and family and a little bit of friendly peer pressure might help to hold you accountable, making it more likely that you’ll follow through.
Of course, one of the most obvious aspects of a personal trainer’s job is to come up with workouts for the client. As a trainer, I would never show up to a session without having planned a client’s workout, and every one of your workouts can be made more effective by following the same rule. Each workout is a stepping stone towards reaching your goal. Knowing exactly what you need to do every time you hit the gym will save you time and help you to reach your goal as efficiently as possible.
Planning is important, but as a personal trainer I also learned that it’s equally as important to leave a little bit of wiggle room. After all, no one is perfect and no workout plan ever will be either. Whether it means having to schedule a workout for a different time one week or modifying an exercise because of an injury, it’s important that you remain flexible and open to change.
Before I became interested in health and fitness, for me, working out meant one thing: cardio. I thought lifting weights and strength training was exclusively reserved for macho men and super-serious athletes. Of course, now I understand why that’s a silly thing to think, but to me it seems like this school of thought is still prevalent for many everyday exercisers, especially women. Working with weights transformed my body and made me feel stronger, both physically and mentally. Plus, among other health benefits, strength training can lower your risk for heart disease and decrease your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. No one should miss out on these benefits just because strength training can seem a bit intimidating at first.
OK, so this lesson was mostly learned by the books, but I did get to help clients who were dealing with early forms of osteoporosis. I think it’s important because it seems like something that many people are unaware of, yet it has the potential to significantly improve long-term health. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, peak bone mass is typically attained between the ages of 18 and 25. However, as we continue to age it’s possible to lose bone mass, especially for post-menopausal women due to decreased levels of estrogen. Luckily, research has shown that both resitance training and high impact activities like running, gymnastics, basketball, or plyometric exercises are effective for improving and protecting bone health.
Before I started getting serious about health and fitness and thought about pursuing a career in the field, I was really focused on getting in shape at the gym, but sometimes I would use exercise to justify poor food choices. It’s no secret that eating well is an important component of improving both your health and fitness. But learning about how diet and exercise work hand in hand helped me to break that bad habit and as I began to think of food as fuel for my fitness it became easier to choose options that were more nutritious.
For someone who’s new to exercise, the gym can be an intimidating space. Whether you’re unsure how to use a piece of equipment or you’re feeling uneasy about trying a new class (I’ve experience both personally), just know that it’s not as big of a deal as you think. Everyone was new to the gym at one point or another, and as a former trainer who spent a lot of time hanging out on the gym floor I can confidently say that almost any gym employee, whether it be a staff trainer, a manager or a group exercise instructor, will be more than happy to help you out with whatever you need. All you have to do is ask.
One thing they don’t tell you about becoming a personal trainer is that some of your clients will treat you like a therapist too. If a client was having a bad day or feeling frustrated with their progress, chances are I would hear about it, and it was my job to turn their attitude all around. It’s only natural to become frustrated or disappointed sometimes, but maintaining a positive attitude towards your goals (and while you’re in the gym) is essential for success. It’s like Henry Ford once said, “If you say you can or you can't you are right either way.”
This is another idea that I feel like I’m constantly repeating, but only because it seems like it’s forgotten all too often. No client would ever want to work out with me if they knew their session was going to be boring and miserable, yet so many of us think of exercise that way. Sure, a workout should be challenging, but there’s no reason why you should dread going to the gym (or wherever you work out). One of the most important parts of my job was to make each session fun so that my clients would associate exercise with positive feelings and want to keep coming back. Getting fit is all about being consistent, but you’re not going to stick with a work out if you hate it. The key to sustaining an exercise routine actually has nothing to do with motivation. If your “workouts” consist of activities that you truly enjoy then you won’t need any motivation. You’re passion and enthusiasm will keep you engaged far beyond the point that any amount of motivation could.