How to choose and work with a personal trainer

Thought about hiring a personal trainer but are unsure where to start? This post is for you. A lot of people talk themselves out of working with a coach, worried that they are not fit enough (a bit like tidying up your house before the cleaner arrives!), or are afraid of the gym or of being shouted at: blame bad memories of school sports in my case. The reality is really the same as making any investment. You need to decide what you want, do some research into what is available in your price range and start asking for recommendations.

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Getting the right ‘fit’

Far from a personal training session being a clinically-delivered set of instructions with someone watching you sweat, your hour should be spent with someone whose company you enjoy. If you don’t have rapport with your coach and they don’t try to establish a connection with you, look elsewhere. If you enjoy being shouted at, then that’s your call and plenty of trainers will do that for you!

Ultimately, a good trainer should be a valuable source of support and someone who is invested in helping you to achieve your goals. They should not value your transformation photos (absolutely not compulsory, by the way) as a marker of how good they are at their job, but meet you where you are and establish the right pace of progress for you.

Look at their website and get a feel for their approach. If you are looking to get fit post-natal or are trying to get healthy after a bout of illness, then look for a trainer with experience in these areas. Find a trainer with life experience, empathy and a roster of similar clients. For example, I don’t do body transformations, although I can recommended good trainers who do. I have found my niche working with people who hated exercise in the past, are very overweight and need an empathetic, more moderate approach based on more than just numbers and data, as well as clients with complex health needs, older clients (in fitness parlance, the over 50s, even though I’m 46 myself!) and so on. If you want me to get you in bikini shape by crash dieting and running you into the ground, I’ll pass on you as a client. Beware of a trainer who claims they can offer you everything: go to someone who specialises in what you need and with whom you can connect.

Trial sessions 

Many trainers offer a trial session, but please don’t expect this to be free of charge. We all work by the hour, so you may be asked to pay a small fee to cover the venue hire or, in my case, the chat to discuss your goals and to see if we suit each other is free but you will start being charged once we enter the gym and I am paying to use the space.

Working with your trainer

Getting the best from personal training requires commitment on both sides.

A few basics:

be on time and make sure you have eaten appropriately to fuel your session and get the most out of it. A small carbohydrate snack a couple of hours beforehand will do it if you are between main meals. My pet hate is underfuelled clients who are too tired to work out effectively. Similarly, turn up hungover at your own risk. If you know you are training, you owe it to yourself to turn up in a fit state to get the most for your £40 or so per hour. Your trainer probably won’t be sympathetic!

pay your bills on time. Hourly-paid freelancers need to maintain cash flow so please don’t make us wait until the last minute to pay for your sessions. Expect to pay in advance and to lose your payment if you cancel shortly before a session; make sure you know your trainer’s terms and conditions. We need to pay our bills, too.

if we are helping you with your nutrition, be honest about what you eat and drink. It’s obvious to us that if you are not losing weight, in 99% of cases you are eating more than you think or are reporting. Help us to help you. We are not allowed to give you meal plans (only state registered dietitians can do this legally) so please don’t ask for one, but we can give you guidelines. Remember that our job is to keep you accountable so don’t be offended when we challenge you or call you out for not sticking to what you promised to do.

– remember that we are not on 24 hour duty. If you need to ask a question, send an email rather than texting or calling. I’ve had clients calling on weekends and texting even after I’ve gone to bed. Please respect our boundaries. Many trainers offer support outside of sessions by email, but don’t expect immediate replies or responses outside of normal office hours.

your trainer should discuss what you want to achieve and how often you can train before they agree to take you on. From then on, your sessions should be tailored to move you towards those goals and not be generic ‘cookie cutter’ training that could apply to anyone. A good trainer should be able to adapt around injury, pregnancy and change a session at the last minute if you are not performing and need something different. That said, it’s our responsibility to help you get fitter and healthier, and we work on a principle called ‘progressive overload’ so be prepared to work harder as time goes on and feel challenged. You will be expected to complete a health  questionnaire (PAR-Q) and sign some kind of informed consent or waiver so that all parties are aware of any risks involved.

finally, and this may seem strange but it is an issue, please don’t flirt with your trainer. Our work with you can be intimate as we take an interest in our clients and train you in very close physical proximity, but it will make things uncomfortable if you: comment on our bodies; flirt with us; buy us inappropriate gifts – all things that have happened to myself and my colleagues. Most of us have partners and we observe careful boundaries when working with you to avoid accusations of harassment. Make me feel uncomfortable and you won’t be my client for long.

But it’s so expensive

Yes, I understand that personal training is a luxury and not a necessity in most people’s budgets. The Bristol average for an hour of PT is about £40. If you gave up your daily takeaway cappuccino, that would cover two PT sessions per month. You have to weigh up what is important to you and think about where you can best invest your money. I am on a budget myself but still have my own coach to motivate me and keep me in great shape for working with my own clients. Hiring a trainer could be the crucial difference between succeeding or failing again with your fitness goals. Take advantage of block bookings to save money, or have a 1:1 then use your trainer’s online programme, if they offer one. It’s often much cheaper, requires more motivation on your part but should still be tailored to your needs. Mine is just £50 per month.

And there you have it. Those are my top tips for finding the right trainer for you and making your relationship with them work. You can find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk if you think I’m the best trainer for you. Get in touch and we can discuss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why yoga isn’t ‘stretching’

This one has been percolating away in my mind for a while and it’s a response to two issues:

– doctors and fitness professionals recommending yoga as a cure-all for flexibility and rehab issues

– yoga being perceived as a purely physical discipline, as a workout, or as a stretching protocol.

Let’s get started by reminding ourselves of what yoga really is as a practice.

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(Me in mermaid pose. Yoga, or just a good old stretch?)

What is ‘yoga’?

Yoga in its modern form has become entrenched in the popular psyche as a pretzel-making form of stretching and contortion, maybe with some chanting thrown in for good measure.

It’s actually better understood as a belief system or philosophy composed of Eight Limbs (drawn from Patanjali’s Sutras, a classic and much argued over yoga text), that include codes of personal conduct and rules for behaviours towards others, meditation, withdrawal of the senses, and the physical practice, or asana, which is intended to prepare the body and mind for the demands of seated meditation and is only one of those eight components.

You can practise yoga without performing a single physical pose if you meditate regularly, develop spiritual discipline and are mindful and compassionate in your dealings with others and yourself. I suspect this isn’t what the average GP has in mind when they recommend a patient with low back pain to ‘try yoga’.

Why is the misunderstanding of yoga problematic?

I’m not a massive yoga purist and accept that many hybrid and gimmicky forms of physical yoga practices exist that bear little relation to what I think of as yoga. It may well lead people to explore yoga in more depth later on, which is great and, if it doesn’t, c’est la vie. However, not understanding what yoga is can be potentially a problem.

Turning up to a group yoga class could be a surprise in several ways. Depending on the class, you may find you don’t move much at all but will be expected to sit, chant, breathe and meditate. At the other end of the spectrum, you may find yourself well out of your depth and at risk of injury in a class too advanced for your needs: there is a world of difference between a slow, supported yin session and the rigours of the Ashtanga primary series.

Yoga teachers are not, by definition, experts in stretching

Please don’t labour under the illusion that a yoga teacher automatically knows what stretching is. Every training course is different and some place a much greater emphasis on spiritual teachings than physical practice. Yoga teachers are taught to teach yoga: alignment, basic biomechanics, joint actions, contraindications and modifications for injuries or pregnancy. They are not mobility and stretching specialists.

I have co-taught a yoga anatomy workshop to teachers who did not know what I meant by basic terms such as flexion and extension in the spine, and have clients in my own classes who have been physically and painfully pushed into poses by other teachers of which their body was not capable. Do not assume training in advanced anatomy and physiology in a yoga teacher.

Do your research before booking 

If someone with low back pain or tight hamstrings is recommended to try yoga by their doctor or PT, they need to do some research. I would argue that they should really book a 1:1 with an experienced yoga teacher who knows about biomechanics, the science of stretching (stretch reflexes, positional isometrics, myofascial release) and have a session tailored to their needs.

It may actually be preferable that they see a physiotherapist or a personal trainer with a specialism in mobility work and movement assessment. Do your homework and choose someone who is least likely to cause further injury, not an over enthusiastic teacher who thinks yoga can cure all ills. Yoga teaching, compared with personal training and physiotherapy, is a frighteningly unregulated industry, so do your homework and check your teacher’s training background and insurance. They should not be offended by you asking.

Doctors and fitpros, please take the time to learn the difference between yoga styles, as well as the difference between the very broad church that is yoga and the purely physical training involved in Pilates, for example, which might be a much better option for a client with poor core stability. Have specific teachers to whom you can refer clients or patients, whose credentials you can trust, rather than making a blanket recommendation to ‘try yoga’. They may come back to you in worse condition than you found them.