"I Need to Get in Shape to Get in Shape!"
I hear a lot of weird things regularly. Sometimes people think I’m a therapist and divulge their deepest, darkest secrets within an hour of meeting. Sometimes people think I’m interested in their sex life.
The weirdest sentence I hear is “I want to start training with you, but I need to get in shape first!”
I never know what to say, so it’s normally a variation of “Uh. Well you know that’s kind of the point training with me? Right?”
At first I was so confused I couldn’t even wrap my head around that thought process, but the more I stepped back the more it made sense.
Reality “Fitness” shows, giant group fitness chains and social media have muddied the waters.
People don’t understand what training is, they don’t understand the path to fitness. They want to look like they work hard, without understanding the scope of hard work. They have wrong expectations of what a personal trainer is. These shows make them think we're all blockheads whose only skill is bicep curls and screaming.
That’s absolutely not their fault.
The path to fitness is a boring one where consistency is more valuable than intensity.
Marketing and TV executives have figured out that the opposite is true when it comes to generating attention.
Intensity sells, consistency does not.
That’s why the focus of every Under Armour commercial, every post from wanna be instagram fitness celebrity and every episode of “Fitness Reality” TV shows focuses on people running as fast as they can, lifting as much as they can and eventually collapsing from “hard work.” It sells. People see that and think “I have to work like that so I’ll eventually look like ______________(Insert celebrity or internet jackass here).”
When people see these things and look for a trainer they expect that trainer to be a dude who cut off his sleeves and does nothing but yell at them to jump higher, or run faster or break their knees while doing a poorly communicated lower body exercise.
That pisses me off.
Anyone can yell tired catch phrases, or one syllable motivations. Intelligent raining is much deeper than that. It takes the whole person into account and creates a sustainable path to each person’s goal by calculating and adapting to many individual variables.
An intelligent trainer will be honest with you about your current state and the work needed to get you where you want to be. They’ll create the plan and keep you accountable throughout the unsexy hard work.
Let’s look at The Biggest Loser.
The first episode of each season introduces each contestant and the two trainers. After that introduction they throw each contestant into some ridiculous High Intensity routine until most of them pass out. All while the trainers do nothing to communicate how each exercise should be executed, the mindset they should take or even where they should focus during each movement.
They stand and yell.
It’s not about the results or maximizing their client’s physical potential based on individual factors. It’s about them. They are only trainers to be celebrities. They are masking their professional ignorance with intensity. (If you've watched The Biggest Loser this has changed. Jen Widerstrom is awesome and a model professional. The idiots from the first couple seasons are who I'm referencing.)
Shouting “HARDER. FASTER.” is easy. Staying up to date with the latest strength and conditioning research and conversing with other professionals is not easy. Shouting on camera (or iPhone) is sexier than programming and monitoring a clients consistent progress over the course of a year.
The contests on The Biggest Loser (you can replace this with Khloe Kardashian’s train wreck of a show too) are overweight. They did not get that way by skipping a few gym sessions. They got that way by developing and reinforcing bad habits. They got that way by being inactive and overeating. These are the issues that need to be address to begin the hard process of change. Putting them on a treadmill until they convulse and puke is not helping, it’s narcissistically putting their body into a dangerous state.
People who are severely detrained cannot derive anything good from a session that intense. It’s exactly how people get hurt and immediately lose interest or let it reinforce their belief that “fitness isn’t for me.”
The results show us that these short intense training yell-a-thons don’t yield long term results. Most contestants boomerang back to their original weight, because they did not learn to develop the habits that will keep their weight in their control.
These shows make people think that every trainer is like that.
That is very far from the truth, and is unfair to those of us who value the craft of our profession and the psychology of change.
Effective training contains carefully measured intensity. Effective training also recognizes the importance of individual needs to build an effective program for each client. Effective training will build you up to the point where you are strong enough and confident enough to handle that intensity.
Everyone responds differently to stimulus. An intelligent trainer will quickly recognize your physical and psychological quirks and cater your program and their coaching techniques to bring the best out of you. Some people respond well to a stern cue, others respond better to a slow build of confidence.
Here's my client Richa. She weights 114 pounds. In this video she is deadlifting 180 pounds. It is her personal best, and we've been training together for about 5 months. The lift itself is not important, what's important is our conversation before. Despite the fact that she has never touched a weight before training with me she has gained incredible strength in a very short period of time. Her results are not atypical. We quickly figured out what clicked for her, and I knew the proper way to adapt my coaching to get the best out of her. We built her confidence and strength over time, and only pushed her limits when I knew it was safe.
You might expect a trainer to be "lit" or "hype" (I know how cool I am) before a client's PR attempt, but that does not work for everyone. Individual coaching refers not only to the program and exercise selection but the manner of coaching itself. For some clients I might need to raise the energy, but for others a calm, confident cue works better. I knew Richa had developed the strength to lift the bar, I needed to relay that confidence with my tone and mannerisms.
We didn't start with the expectation of deadlifting more than her bodyweight. That goal developed over time. We started by building her strength, endurance and athleticism in a simple yet effective manner. These more intense, complicated exercises only factor in once I knew she was physically capable of handling them.
She didn't get this strong from me yelling at her or by following a randomized program. She got this strong by diligently following an intelligently designed training program.
Different methods work for different people. It's imperative for a trainer to adapt their methods to fit their clients needs, that doesn't happen at giant bootcamps or on The Biggest Loser. They make it seem like everyone needs to train one way. Constant intensity and screaming with no craft or guile.
High Intensity training sessions certainly have their place in a well rounded, effective training program. Their intelligent application is very important.
Intensity is only one training factor that leads to physical change. The other two are volume and frequency. Basically they amount to how often you work out, how much work you do and how hard that work is. Within these 3 basic factors there are multiple complicated variances that we won’t touch on today. We are also not going to talk about nutrition today, which is even more important than your workouts.
Intensity refers to the weight being lifted or the speed of the workout. A heavy deadlift 1 Rep Max attempt is high intensity, just like a set of hill sprints is high intensity. Traditionally intensity only referred to the weight being lifted, but modern terminology has changed that.
Volume is the number of reps being performed. Volume is monitored both within a set, a workout and a week. The total volume of work done within a given time frame is the biggest factor in physical change.
Frequency is how often you work out, and how often each movement or muscle group is being trained.
All 3 are equally important but they affect the body differently.
Intensity requires the most amount of recovery. It puts the biggest toll on your body, and requires the most effort. For this reason volume and intensity have a correllary relationship. As intensity goes up, volume must go down.
Your body cannot sustain constant intensity.
The intensity must be closely monitored and planned for. An intelligent training program will build your capacity for intensity while manipulating the frequency and volume to allow your joints and muscles adequate time to recover while still allowing you to progress.
An unintelligent, randomized program will expect high intensity every day without changing the correllary factors. This will lead to injuries and physical stagnation. Your metabolism needs time to recover and it will not have the chance to properly fuel your muscles if it is constantly being taxed. Without intelligent programming you will reached the dreaded plateau.
Exercise is stress. Your body has a limited capacity to handle stress and intensity is the biggest training stessor. If you did not build up your capacity over time your body will react negatively.
As your body begins to feel overly stressed it begins to release cortisol for more energy. This increases your appetite which can also signal your body to begin breaking down muscle tissue for energy. That’s exactly the opposite of what you want to happen.
Oh, and your body will also retain a lot of water so you’ll feel bloated and puffy all the time. Which I’m sure is how you want to feel when you’re working out.
The purpose of training is to force the body to adapt to added resistance and then optimize itself to that resistance. This cannot be accomplished if your body is constantly struggling to recover from stupidly intense training sessions.
The cult of intensity has made it much harder to communicate what personal training is.
Personal Trainer is a trendy job title right now. There are a lot of ego maniacs on television screaming and shouting. It takes years to be a competent trainer, and even longer to be competent in many areas.
You can mask inexperience and pure ignorance with intensity. Unfortunately that gives many well intentioned people the wrong impression of this industry. It's easy to yell, it's hard to teach.
This industry’s purpose is to make you better. It’s our job to evaluate where you are, what you need and what you want. It’s our job to create a purposeful, efficient and safe plan to take you towards your goals.
That's difficult. It takes education, skill and experience and the willingness to adapt constantly.
It’s not our job to force you into some crappy program without assessing whether or not that program will be good for you. It's our job to build you up, not to break you down. If your current exercise regime is not carefully building your physical capabilities, movement patterns, strength and endurance it's a waste of time.
There are no judgements or expectations when starting a training program. I teach you habits, skills and techniques that allow you to get stronger, leaner and better in a short period of time. I really don’t care to yell at your or intimidate you into doing some bullshit exercise. That’s not fun for you or me.
You don’t need to “get in shape” to work with a trainer, or take a finely crafted fitness class.
A good trainer and a good instructor will enable you to maximize your current potential while constantly improving. They’ll keep you mentally engaged while ensuring that you’re working in ranges that are healthy, sustainable and improvable.
You'll get in shape much faster by training instead of spending 8 weeks trying to get in shape to get in shape.