When I was in San Francisco over the holiday season, one of my friends laughingly remarked, “It must be nice to have a job in which you can yell at your clients.” That immediately brought to mind a convergence of images: Sergeant Carter of Gomer Pyle, USMC looking like he was on the verge of having a heart attack while screaming at his platoon as they stood at parade rest, intermingled with images of some of the drill sergeants I had the pleasure of meeting during my boot camp days back in the late 1970s.
The images were intimidating in a really silly way. Of course, we did as our drill sergeants demanded. But what was often asked had no other purpose but to break us down, and we knew it. We used to go into the barracks at night, collapse onto our cots and laugh about the bullying and stupid stuff we did throughout the day. We used to laugh at ourselves mostly, because we acquiesced in ways we never envisioned we could. So when my friend made that comment, I was reminded of the fact that often laughter is what it takes to get through the times when we’re feeling a little bullied, a little bit intimidated.
I quickly pushed those thoughts out of the way by saying, “I don’t yell at my clients. I find it’s not necessary.” And that’s true. I don’t. I don’t think my job is to break my clients down. I think my job is to supply them with some tools that they can use to build themselves up. Some of them come to me already broken. I can’t do my job without listening and determining who is standing in front of me. What their needs are and sometimes what they are really asking for. People take personal training for various reasons. Some have health issues that weight loss and increased mobility would mitigate. Part of what I have to do is get them to the point at which they can move as they need to and want to without pain and without huffing and puffing. Others elect to spend their “me” time with me. They sometimes want pampering during their personal training sessions. I give them a fresh towel and filtered water. Turn to whichever TV or radio stations they prefer. I look at it this way, when some people want to relax they go and get a massage. Some go and get drunk or stoned, and some go for personal training. As long as their desires do not cross professional and legal boundaries and they have fitness goals and are willing to exercise, I give them what they want and bring my best me to the table. Personal training is expensive. Towels can be laundered and reused and water is inexpensive. I see myself as a servant leader.
I am probably not the right personal trainer for someone who needs a drill sergeant. I think when we push, people often push back. I do sometimes tell my clients when it is time to progress, to step up, but I usually wait so that I can determine how internally motivated they are and what type of help and how much each needs. But like I told my friend in San Francisco, “I don’t have to yell, because I’ve got smart clients.” All I have to do is communicate, tell them why I want them to do certain things in certain ways and what may happen if they don’t. That means I have to know what I’m talking about. And they get it. I think you will, too.
So I’m going to share some personal training secrets with you. Discuss some myths and provide some explanations for why personal trainers often say the things we do. I’m going to tell you the same things that I tell my clients. One more thing. Often when I give an exercise “do” or “don’t” someone will point out that some people, such as athletes, run a 5k each day, for instance. So why do I suggest that they do not? Because professional athletes often take risks that we don’t have to. Their performances depend on it. How we exercise, exercise programming, is related to specific activities that we need to complete and want to complete and can complete.
Below I tackle seven (7) issues.
#1. True or False: How we breathe matters while lifting.
True. The correct way to breathe while lifting is to inhale on the eccentric, the easy part of the lift, usually the downward movement – and exhale on the concentric, the difficult part of the lift.
Why? Resistance training, especially heavy resistance training, raises blood pressure. Holding your breath can put too much pressure on blood vessels. You can have a stroke. Some people, such as senior citizens and those with metabolic disorder, run a higher risk than others.
#2. True or False: Never lockout a joint.
False. Never forcefully lockout a joint. Many times joints have to be locked out to effect a contraction. Often at the top of a lift an isometric contraction occurs, which causes the elongation of the muscle. But never lockout while doing structural or compound exercises – exercises that directly involve the axial skeleton, or spine, or multiple muscle groups. Lockout only when doing assisted exercises – singled jointed exercises, such as biceps and triceps curls, leg curls and extensions, for instance.
#3. True or False: It really isn’t important to use correct form?
False. Using correct form lessens the chance of injury and helps us work the right muscles, which makes it more likely that we will meet our goals.
#4. True or False. We shouldn’t bounce while stretching.
True. Bouncing can cause pulled muscles. In his book, Advances in Functional Training, Mike Boyle states that muscle plasticity, permanent changes in muscle flexibility, best occurs if stretching is done without a warm-up and if the stretches are held for a maximum of 30 seconds, that research shows that there is no added benefit of a holding a stretch for longer than that. Warm muscles stretch and then “pop” back into their usual form.
#5. True or False. It helps to run in a squat.
True. Although we all have our own comfort zones when it comes to running, running in a squat saves the knees. That means we need strong quads, hamstrings, calves, and ankle flexors. Running is somewhat “plyometric”. Plyometrics involve a lot of jumping and all “correct” jumps end in at least a 1/4 squat. There is some jumping in running. Hence, the high calorie burn.
#6. True or False. We shouldn’t eat before a workout.
False. The word “shouldn’t” is the problem here. Some people can workout on an empty stomach. It might be best for people who run or jog, but have problems with runners trots (diarrhea and nausea) to do so or eat a low fiber snack first.
Our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel. Many people think that if we don’t eat before exercising our bodies will just feast on our body fat. Body fat is not carbohydrates, and it takes a long while for our bodies to begin using fat for fuel. That’s why some people claim that there is a fat burning zone, slow movement for a long period of time. Carbohydrates are stored in our livers and muscles as glycogen that is converted back to glucose once we’re a few minutes into an exercise, but at first, it uses phosphates and creatine that our bodies make in very small amounts (there isn’t an exercise that doesn’t use muscle). Without fuel, we get tired fast. Imagine a car with an empty tank.
Some organizations, such as the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), suggest that diabetics eat a snack before working out if their blood sugar levels are 100 or less. Exercise lowers blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics (and those who do not have diabetes), but raises it in type 1 diabetics, because type 1 diabetics produce no insulin, and the liver dumps its glycogen stores into the bloodstream after a few minutes. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose into the muscles. So the money is now on eating before exercising to have more energy.
#7. True or False. Lifting slowly is always best.
False. The word “always” is the issue here. Lifting slowly is best for allowing lactic acid to build up in muscles. That’s what that burn is – not a good sign. That burning usually is a sign that we are out of fuel.
Going slowly can be beneficial when we are learning the proper form of an exercise. Plus, going slowly early on gives our muscles a chance to get used to being used in a particular way, but according to James Villepigue and Hugo A. Rivera, the authors of the Body Sculpting Bible for Men and Body Sculpting Bible for Women, once the proper form of an exercise is learned, there is no benefit to going slowly. EPOC, the “afterburn” (the high amount of calories we continue to burn for hours after we exercise), occurs as our bodies work to return to homeostasis and our muscles try to repair themselves after intense exercise. Quick exhaustion cancels out intensity, since there is an energy problem and since duration is also limited.
But that doesn’t mean we should always exercise intensely. It means that we need to be aware of the fact that exercise intensity is proving to be more important than exercise duration, partly because people do not have the time to exercise for long periods. And that is why working with a personal trainer can help, at least at first. There is a lot of information, and misinformation, out there and the truth is that a large part our job entails staying abreast of the research so that we can filter out noise to provide our clients with the best service.