10 Questions to Ask Your Trainer

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This blog post was inspired by several stories that I’ve heard recently, plus some things that I have seen in commercial gyms over the past year or so. Before you hop in and hire a trainer, realize that you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Why you might ask? Because hiring a personal trainer is a huge step for many people:

  1. You’re admitting that you need help. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need a trainer potentially to help you out with exercise form or to provide some extra motivation. If there’s one thing we as humans aren’t good at, it’s asking for help.
  2. You’re trusting someone else with your health. While they don’t have free reign, your personal trainer programs exercises that he/she thinks are appropriate. Hopefully they work, but more than that, you hope they don’t leave you in worse shape than you’re currently in.
  3. It costs money! If you don’t live in a world where you bathe in expendable income, that means you’re foregoing something else to have a personal trainer.
  4. You share personal details with your trainer. Unless you spend an hour talking about your favorite TV shows, you probably shared some intimate details that you would hope would stay private and not be the gossip of the break room.

So hiring a personal trainer is a big deal, and it isn’t just as simple as walking up to a guy dressed in black and filling out some forms. You want to make sure the fit is right. It’s similar to selecting a doctor. You wouldn’t go to a cardiologist to help you out with foot pain. Similarly, if you have a sense of humor, visiting Dr. Stone Cold probably isn’t going to be the most enjoyable experience, and you probably won’t come back as often as you should. Selecting a trainer is very similar. You should interview them about their expertise, personality, etc. You want to find an expert in whatever you need help with (weight loss, foot pain, etc). You can’t do that without asking questions. So, I’ve compiled the top 10 questions I would ask someone before forking over money and my health complete with the types of answers you should expect and why.

  1. What is your background in personal training/fitness? You would expect that they would have at least a couple of years of experience working with clients. Also, this should give you an inside look at their certification, experience with different types of clients, and their own personal interests. If you’re a weight loss client, but their expertise is training football players for the combine, you may want to go with someone else. Not that they couldn’t do it, but they might not be the best fit (unless you’re an ex-football player). For certification, I would look it up after your initial meeting. You’ll typically hear ACE, NASM, NSCA, ACSM, or some variation or combination. Look it up and make sure it’s nationally accredited!
  2. If I were to ask your current clients, what would they have to say about you? You’re looking to get an idea of their personality type and the relationship that they have with their clients. If you’re looking for an in-your-face type of trainer, then you better hear words like intense, hardcore, pushes me to my limits, etc. If you’re looking for more of a supportive type of trainer, I’d expect words like positive and encouraging.
  3. What do you do to continually stay current on fitness and training information? If all you hear is “I read magazine articles”, run! Magazine articles are great, and they are important for trainers to read since it’s what their clients are reading. But, they should also be attending conferences, reading journal articles (research based), listening to lectures online from top fitness sources, etc. You want to know that they take their job seriously and are always looking to constantly evolve rather than be complacent with where they are at.
  4. How long do your clients typically train with you? This is a longevity and value question. Good trainers retain clients because they demonstrate the continued value of their service. Hopefully, you’ll hear two things 1) something about their clients typically seeing notable improvements in 3 months 2) however, they continue to train with me because we set higher goals and attempt more complex exercises. This shows that the trainer is always looking towards setting higher expectations for future goals, but they also are capable of achieving progress in 3 months. While you probably won’t achieve your optimum physique in 3 months, you should see some progress. I wouldn’t worry about the total length of training (6 months, 2 years, etc) because every situation is different (unless you hear something incredibly low like 3 weeks which no trainer in their right mind would admit).
  5. What are your hobbies/interests? Simply put, you want to have something to talk about other than fitness during your training sessions. Hopefully, you have some common interests.
  6. What is your philosophy on fitness? If they don’t mesh with yours (or what you would like yours to be), they probably aren’t for you. For instance, my philosophy is that I believe fitness should be fun and effective, not in terms of being ripped, but being able to enjoy your favorite activities and experience life outside of the gym pain-free. Hence, I wouldn’t be the best choice for someone looking to compete in a figure competition. However, I would be a good choice for someone new to exercise that just wanted to feel better and get started on the right track. Your trainer should have a philosophy (or passion if you prefer to call it that). If they don’t, that’s a red flag for me. Sidebar: If in conversation, you find out that the trainer’s philosophy doesn’t match with yours, they should be able to direct you towards another trainer that is a perfect match. Good trainers know their fellow staff members and aren’t afraid to pass along business for the good of the client.
  7. What is your plan for me? Where do you see my workouts going? After listening to a client talk for a 10-15 minutes about their goals, I have an idea of what I’m going to do with them. In my head, I’m already formulating a plan of how to structure their workouts, what exercises to do, etc. You’re looking for not only a plan, but a plan that’s specific to you. If I said something like “We’re going to focus on a total body workout 2x a week that’s going to burn fat and build muscle.” That’s alright, but it’s pretty general. I’d rather hear, “Tony, with your background in strength training, you’ll benefit the most from starting with total body workouts. They’re going to burn fat and build muscle. Since you also want to get better at running, we’ll incorporate some single leg moves and some targeted cardio to improve your running capacity.” If it was me, I want to hear the personal one.
  8. They should do an assessment. This isn’t really a question, rather something your trainer should do and explain. If you go into your first workout without them seeing you move, it’s probably time to see another trainer. Assessments should be the foundation of your training program. If your trainer has no idea how you move, how would they possibly write a workout for you?
  9. What do you do for your own workouts? Not saying that all personal trainers should have a six pack, but they should be working out consistently. Your trainer should try all exercises on themselves before having you do them. It’s pretty difficult to do that if they aren’t working out themselves.
  10. Shadow your trainer in the gym. Again, this isn’t much of a question, but rather something you should do. Chances are, your trainer is working with clients while you’re at the gym. Take a few moments to watch them interact with clients. Here’s what you’re looking for:
  • Body language- Arms crossed, sitting down on a stability ball while their client does an exercise- not for me
  • Attentiveness- Are they watching TV or watching their client?
  • State of rapport between client and trainer- Do they seem to be enjoying the session?
  • Demeanor (are they calm or rushed)- Good trainers check their baggage at the door and put on a positive demeanor once they hit the gym.
  • Does each client do the exact same workout? This may be difficult to tell, but if you notice every client does the same exercises, the programs might not be as specific to the individual as they should be.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather some more important concepts that I think should be addressed prior to gearing up and hitting the bench press. What did I miss? What questions would you ask before hiring a trainer?

15 Quotes to Jack Up Your Day

Mondays are known for being unproductive and boring. These quotes are guaranteed to spice up your day and give you a new positive outlook.

Believe you can and you’re halfway there. – Theodore Roosevelt

Your attitude not your aptitude will determine your altitude. – Zig Ziglar

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. – Lou Holtz

There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment. – N. V. Peale

Tomorrow is the only day in a year that appeals to a lazy man.

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference. – Tom Brokaw

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why. – Mark Twain

It Always Seems Impossible Until it’s All Done. – Nelson Mandela

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway. – John Wayne

Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid. – John Wayne

It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top. – Henry Ward Beecher

Happiness is a mindset for your journey, not the result of your destination.

Winners practice until they get it right – champions practice until they can’t get it wrong.

You can have anything you want if you are willing to give up the belief that you can’t have it. – Robert Anthony

The Key to Getting Anything Done

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This past week, I was fortunate enough to attend the NIRSA National Conference in my backyard of Tampa, FL. I attended a session essentially about getting stuff done. I thought the topic applied to fitness so here we go.

Let’s face it, we get lazy every so often. For some, it’s more often than others. Either you get caught watching 34 episodes in a row of the Twilight Zone when you should be studying or you just can’t seem to put down the controller long enough to fold laundry. Whatever it is, we’ve all procrastinated at some time or another. And then something happens that forces us into action. For studying it might be: “Whoops that test is tomorrow.” Unfortunately with fitness, there isn’t really an “aha” moment that spur us into action until you’re 600lbs and on a TV show. No one will stop talking to you if you balloon up 20 lbs or your bench press drops. There are no deadlines for the average gym folk other than the ones they set. So staying motivated may be a little harder. Skipping one day at the gym turns into skipping a week. One cheat meal turns into a binge week. The idea of getting back on track is simply overwhelming so we’re scared into inactivity. Well, I’ve learned the key:

Stop getting stuff done, and start getting stuff started!

When I wake up on Monday morning, it feels a bit like Harry Potter trying to take down Voldemort – a bit overwhelming. But then I remember one thing, I made coffee. It’s enough to drag me downstairs. Once I get to the gym, I remember that I love my job and everyone I work with (hello high fives). My day is immediately turned around.

Exercise is just like any other task. At first glance, an hour of cardio or the weight training program you’re supposed to do may seem a bit overwhelming. Rather than focusing on how tough it will be to make it through the workout, guide your attention to getting started. Play your favorite song and start warming up. I guarantee you’ll immediately feel better. If they day seems really tough, move your favorite exercises to the front to up the mood. Once you’re in a better mindset, you’ll be more apt to tackle the hard stuff later on.

Getting in the gym is only one part of the puzzle. Diet, sleep, stretching, the list goes on of other factors that can influence your success. Here’s another key:

Don’t focus on the process, but rather direct your attention to the end product.

Writing a 30 page paper can seem just as overwhelming as preparing meals for the week. But, think of the relief you’re going to experience once it’s all done. Imagine yourself accomplishing your fitness goals. Create a mental picture – even if it looks something like a Baywatch seen. This will help keep you on track when things get rough. The process tends to be overwhelming, but the end product is almost always invigorating.

The takeaway: Focus on smaller parts of a larger goal. Start out to accomplish little things: get to the gym, get on a piece of cardio equipment, workout for one song only, etc. Achieving these little goals will feed into a much larger goal. When you get discouraged and overwhelmed, direct your attention to the end product. Imagine buying a new wardrobe once you lose the 20 lbs or how shocked everyone is going to be once you rip off your shirt during spring break. These two tips will help you get on track and most importantly stay on track.

Nutrition: What no one is telling you

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No one completely understands human nutrition.  If you google “Fat loss diet”, you get over 11 million results.  How can there be that many experts on nutrition?  More importantly, how can they all be right?  Over the last few years, numerous fad diets have emerged: Atkins, Zone, South Beach, Paleo, high carb, low carb, carb cycling, intermittent fasting, eat grapefruit, don’t eat fruit, stand on your head.  Alright the last one is a joke, but you get the point.  Yet, each one ensures that this is the most effective way to live healthier and feel great.  Better yet, they have the research to prove it!  One thing we know about research, you can spin the results to show almost anything.  So what is everyone holding back?  There is no right answer, and there never will be.

Diets make money

That’s the bottom line.  Branding a really popular method of eating is a sure fire way to sell books and make money.  Dr. Atkins net worth was over $100 million dollars which was largely boosted by his book outlining the do’s and dont’s of his high fat diet.  You can bet that T. Colin Campbell made a pretty penny off his book “The China Study” (read it free here) and his newly released documentary “Forks Over Knives“.  Americans are eager to clamp on to something, especially any diet that embraces eating high-fat foods and losing weight.

Contradicting Evidence is Everywhere

As I mentioned before, each authority figure is only going to point to information supporting their claims.  Even the USDA allegations that high consumption of meat and saturated fat were linked directly to cardiovascular disease were largely over exaggerated (subscription required).  It is hard for the mass public to scrutinize stories and research presented to them, and these big guys know that!  If something doesn’t look to be going their way, it’s easy to brush it under the rug.

Diets aren’t one-size-fits-all

The best diet is one that works for you.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer.  If pasta dishes are your favorite meals and you were raised on high carb diets, it probably isn’t feasible or realistic for you to go on a low carb diet.  You’re going to feel terrible.  If you have to make drastic changes to your lifestyle in order to accommodate your eating habits, they probably aren’t sustainable, and long-term change is what we’re looking for.

General suggestions we “understand”

I prefer not to use the word “know” since there may be a study coming out tomorrow that says eating apples is the worst thing in the world.  Science is constantly changing.  That being said, here are some general tips that I believe everyone would agree on:

  • Hydration– specific values will vary, but hydration is key in both weight loss and general health.  Drinking a glass of water before your meal will help you feel more full, but will also aid in digestion.  Key times to drink: first thing when you wake up in the morning (yes, before your coffee).
  • Ingredient lists– If you can’t explain, don’t eat it.
  • Expiration dates are good– Food should go bad.  If it doesn’t, you probably don’t want it.
  • Colors– Your foods should resemble a spectrum of colors, not just brown and yellow.
  • Eat out sparingly– There are some fantastic restaurants that have healthy alternatives.  However, eating out means you have less control over what goes into your food.  Plus, the portion sizes are out of control.  If you have the option, the smaller portion size is probably plenty.
  • Calorie track– Everyone should track their food for repeated brief periods.  Even if you consider yourself “healthy”, it can be informative to write down everything you eat for two days every month.  I can hear the shouts now.  “A calorie isn’t just a calorie!”.  “All calories are not equal!”  It’s true that the body interprets each food differently depending on several things (age, activity level, circumstances, sex, etc).  The proper name is nutrigenomics, essentially, how the foods we eat transfer into our gene expression.  However, keeping a food log makes you keenly aware of what the hell you’re eating.
  • Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full– If you eat past 8pm at night, you aren’t going to wake up morbidly obese, nor are you going to sprout a tail and oink in the morning.  Just don’t eat until you can’t move anymore, and then lay down to sleep for the night.  I think that makes intuitive sense.
  • Chew your food– No one is going to take it away from you (most likely).  Take your time.  When we stuff our faces, we don’t even realize how much we have eaten.
  • Understand common portion sizes– Understand how much you are eating.  3 oz of meat is roughly equal to the size of a deck of cards.  (more here)

The takeaway: the best nutritional plan is one you can follow.  If you want to follow a mainstream diet, choose one that works with your cultural background and current lifestyle.  Small changes are probably necessary, but if you have to change everything you eat, be wary!