When it comes to designing workout programs, I like to keep it simple, for the most part. But the principles behind a complete, evolving program can be elaborate and the psychology of exercise is always complex yet fascinating.
The majority of my “fitness” background, or ‘activity history’ is in martial arts. I began studying martial arts about 30 years ago when my dad decided to enroll both of us in a Karate class. I struggled with a lot of team sports back when I was a kid because my asthma was quite severe. But martial arts gave me an outlet to expend energy while rarely triggering my asthma, basically, there was no running so I was safe.
Karate was fine as a beginners level self defense style and the conditioning was great for all ages, but 6 years later we moved on to a more complex system of fighting applications, conditioning and forms that changed my life. The 2 things that martial arts have helped me with the most in life as well as in my training career was the confidence in overcoming challenges and the focus I learned to achieve this. Thanks to these, I was later able to have the determination and confidence to find a way to push past my limitations with asthma and run long distances and train at very high intensities without incident.
Exercise and Nutrition for a healthy and vibrant lifestyle, is a fairly simple equation. Any new diet book or gimmicky fitness program is meant purely so the person selling it can make a buck. Sure, you can add every new “super food” to your diet, filling it with green tea, Goji berries, Acai juice, flax seed oil, quinoa, or what have you, but the methods for healthy living come down to the same basic tenets; Eat enough of a variety of whole foods and exercise at least 25 minutes a day. This can be expanded to redefine certain elements for peak performance to each individual, but the gist of it is there.
If all of us had the will to simply adhere to this, then obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a number of cancers and neurological diseases would not be as prevalent as they are. This is where my personal philosophy of training and nutrition come in; the will.
Overcoming challenges; learning how to control your attention (and thus control your body) in order to achieve a goal is something that should be emphasized in all training programs. Most times this does not have to be taught as much as suggested and then brought to the attention of the person so that they understand the achievement they just experienced. Focusing on goals that take place every session allow for a learning process to take place; the immediate physical feedback lends strength to the practice. A good trainer will reinforce this with verbal feedback and further instruction. This does not mean that your trainer should be yelling at you to push harder or immediately challenging you to overcome a new, harder exercise. The peaks and valleys of a training cycle should be respected, including those of the psychological kind. Not every session will pass, having accomplished new heights either, but every instance has possibilities to improve form, focus, balance, endurance, power, strength, agility and effort. Be mindful of all that is happening and be proud of yourself or of your client.
Effort is a big deal. You will hear me say “good effort” in my sessions more than any other compliment. Rewarding effort, perpetuates the necessary behavior that it takes to achieve goals. If effort goes unnoticed, we are all less likely to continue to try as hard when we can easily get by with much less exertion and focus. Saying “nice push up” doesn’t account for the true behavior at play. Before a push up is performed, the will must be summoned, and when someone is just starting out, or is an athlete but is low in energy that day, summoning the will to perform something you would rather not do in that very moment is not easy and is a very important aspect of training. Getting through moments like those, not only increase positive emotions in the moment but they also reinforce attitudes about training in general. Remembering those moments is what keeps people from cancelling sessions or quitting altogether. And if you want someone to remember their accomplishments better, as a personal trainer you should reward them with praise for their effort.
Motivation is a skill to be learned, and it’s never too late to learn it. The original spark of inspiration that drives you to begin a new activity, be it physical exercise or learning a new instrument is not the same as perpetual motivation. At least not at first. At some point, if you are training properly you will reach a plateau and need to increase the difficulty significantly and this can be discouraging. If you have not been aware of overcoming challenges along the way and realizing your effort as successful, then surpassing these plateaus or points of difficulty will end in failure and disappointment. The fun is in the challenge, but only if you want to do it and believe you can. Once this becomes innate, that original spark is reignited at every challenge and this is when you truly enjoy the activity and are doing it just for sake and not only because of your long term goals.
Another important idea around personal training is the idea of being around another person or people. I don’t mean it so much for accountability reasons as I do simply because, most of us prefer being around others as opposed to being alone. The Latin phrase for “being alive” translates directly as “to be among men”. I think this holds a truer meaning to the idea of existence. Studies show that as a general rule, we tend to rate experiences we have with people higher than those when we are alone. Of course this depends on the people we are around and the way they treat us. The relationship one has with their trainer can be quite intimate. You share your hopes, goals and insecurities with your trainer. You may possibly spend a lot of time alone with them and can form a strong bond as you overcome obstacles or simply share hours worth of personal information . If your personalities are not harmonious, then a lot of progress can be lost in miscommunication, lack of communication or mistrust. If motivation isn’t something you need to learn, but are in need of guidance through movement patterns and inspiration of new exercises, finding someone to share this information with you is much more gratifying (and less time consuming) then doing the research yourself. We, as trainers spend hours upon hours every week learning from our mentors, researching new program ideas and updated nutritional information so that you don’t have to and can extend your trust to us. It’s nice to allow for that trust to evolve and gratifying to learn from other people. The same goes for the personal trainer, we love to inform and guide people towards healthier lifestyles.
I mentioned earlier that the equation for exercise is simple, and it is, for the general population, but not everyone has the same goals and so training style has to change depending on the long term goal. Every trainer will tout that they offer individualized training programs, but it would be ridiculous and offensive if they didn’t. Would you go stay in a hotel that advertizes that each room has beds? Why else would someone go to you? They may have a similar goal to the next person, but they might eat differently, have a different history of activity, sleep/wake cycle, list of injuries, health problems, etc. While the training itself should change, depending on if the person wants to build size and strength, increase flexibility, or power, improve endurance, train for a sport or simply lose weight, other facets of life are just as important as the type of exercises needed.
A personal training program can fall apart if someone is eating horribly, but a perfect nutritional program can be useless if proper sleep is not had every night. and the perfect amount of sleep is futile (and unlikely) if their job is overly taxing and causing stress hormones to be perpetually elevated. In addition, training accomplishments can be hindered or destroyed without proper recovery periods. All of these elements should be looked at when developing a training program, and this is how you truly individualize the process for optimal results. I often ask if my clients have recently had blood work done. If not, I suggest they do it, and run the gamut. A hormone, vitamin and mineral profile can eliminate a lot of potential obstacles with training. If your trainer does not know what to look for, you can always have them done anyways and ask your doctor about the results, just make sure they are aware of the kind of training you are about to undertake. Another important but overlooked facet is food allergies. We aren’t what we eat, but we are closer to being what we absorb and if you are allergic or intolerant to certain foods, your absorption rate for many nutrients can be hindered. This can have a huge impact on your capacity to train and to recover. You have to request this test from your doctor and should do so, regardless of starting a personal training program.
For a little more information on my training philosophy, you can click here. I will talk more about specific training ideas for specific goals in the next part, stay tuned!