Friday, March 30, 2012

I Quit The Gym...

I am a certified personal trainer. I love working out... and I mean LOVE it. It's a bad day if I don't get to exercise at least 30 minutes. Every time we visit Target, my spouse makes an obligatory trip down the exercise equipment aisle just to appease me so I can ogle the yoga mats, kettlebells, and other accoutrement. But this week, I quit the gym... and immediately upon sending in the cancellation form, I felt happier, empowered, and 10 pounds lighter.

My relationship with gyms has always been a rocky one, most likely as a result of self-consciousness and a lack of confidence in an environment where everyone around me always seemed to move easier, be stronger, and look better. Imagine entering the college recreation center at the age of 21 and weighing 215 pounds. I believe that feeling might be akin to what a Basset Hound must feel like walking into a dog park full of Jack Russell Terriers. While I was in college, despite the free membership afforded to students, I can count on one hand the number of times I went. So what did any young woman in the late 1990s who hated the gym do to lose weight?  She met with Billy Blanks several times a week. Yes, TaeBo is responsible for kickstarting my weight loss and my passion for fitness.

Thirty pounds lighter (thanks TaeBo), a few years older, and seeking to conquer my gym-aversion, I joined the fitness center at my first professional job: East Carolina University. To this day, the ECU Rec Center defines the perfect gym for me. It's actually probably the reason why I'm a gym snob now 10 years later... I have yet to find a fitness center that lives up to it's greatness. Perfectly laid out in a split plan with cardio equipment on one level, strength training equipment on another, the rec center also hosted a lovely indoor lap swimming pool, 8 racquetball courts, an indoor walking track, a rock climbing wall, basketball courts, and an amazing outdoor pool. Staff was friendly, the center was well-maintained, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, and they offered numerous ways to get involved (group fitness classes, intramurals, challenges/contests). My 4 year relationship with the ECU Rec Center helped me shed 45 additional pounds, nurtured some great friendships, and fueled my fitness passion that had begun with TaeBo. Even after I left ECU, I would pay for a day guest pass when I returned to visit friends in the area, just so I could workout in THE fitness center of all fitness centers.

I worked at several universities after ECU and joined their gyms as well, but they just did not compare to the ECU Rec Center and it wasn't a good use of my money. So my fitness journey returned to working out on my own, with various DVDs guiding me along the way. During the next 5 years my weight slowly climbed back up when I got married (yes, marriage adds weight), took a job I didn't enjoy (yes, depression adds weight), and reduced the amount I was exercising (yes, laziness adds weight).  When I finally quit the job I hated, I bought a treadmill and renewed my commitment to health and fitness. Within 2 years I was once again 45 pounds lighter and at the age of 32, in better shape than I had EVER been.

After I purchased a home in Orlando, FL and now having my Personal Training certification, I began to explore a gym membership at the local "box" gyms and the YMCA. "Box gyms" are the chains: LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, Lifestyle Family Fitness, etc. I felt a gym membership would allow me to get out of the house and socialize more since I work from home, it would help me improve my fitness by providing access to a greater array of equipment, and it might open some doors for part time employment as a Personal Trainer. (During an interview for a part time training position at a local box gym, I was looked upon with scorn when I told the interviewer - who resembled a bald Meatloaf by the way - that I worked out in my home gym.) After 4 months of investigating and taking tours of all the gyms within a 20 minute radius, I decided on one and became a member in October 2011. To remain professional, I will not disclose which facility I chose. It will suffice to say it is a nationwide chain.

My spouse joined with me and quit after 3 months... which really isn't a surprise. We knew going in that it may not have been a long term relationship there, but I certainly applauded the effort. (We are a case of opposites attracting: exercise-phobe with exercise-freak.) I, on the other hand, diligently went 2-3 times a week. Unfortunately, after only a month, disappointment was creeping in. I was barely acknowledged when I handed my membership fob to the staff member to be swiped as I entered the gym. When I asked a staff member at the front desk how to use a machine, I received a curt reply and no offer to SHOW me how to use it. When I went to the stretching area to cool down, the mats on the floor had puddles of sweat on them (yes, a sign of a disgusting and rude fellow gym-goer, but also a testament to the staff's attitude who clearly saw it as they walked by). Switching to an empty section of the gym to stretch and cool down, I noticed sand all over the carpet.  The next day it was still there. I guess they didn't own a vacuum.

About 2 months into my membership, one of the sales reps asked me how I was liking it. I don't think he expected me to give him my laundry list of complaints judging by his pale face and inability to make eye contact with me afterward. (I delivered my constructive feedback in a very nice way, I assure you.) I can say that after I expressed my dissatisfaction at the level of customer service offered by staff, I did notice an improvement in the friendliness during the check-in process. But I was no longer enjoying my trips to the gym. They had become a chore that I dreaded, merely going so that I didn't feel I was wasting my money. I didn't enjoy my workouts... I didn't get into the "flow," where you get lost in the movement and lose track of time, which commonly happened for me when I worked out at home or jogged outside. And I hadn't made any fitness improvements. The gym wasn't serving me any purpose. My trips to the gym lessened to once a week. But I hesitated to cancel my membership, wondering what that said about my commitment to fitness or my credibility as a Personal Trainer.

After a month of marinating, I made the decision this week to cancel my membership. As I sent off the form to the corporate office, I felt an immense sense of relief and my workouts this week - AT HOME - have been some of the most productive and enjoyable that I've had in the last 5 months. I still have 6 weeks left of membership, given that you pay for your last month when you sign up. I will probably go a few more times, just to squeeze the last few cents out of my membership dollar.

The point I'm trying to make with this lengthy blog post is that there is no requisite environment for a good workout. Gyms are certainly beneficial and some people may enjoy and need that environment in order to enhance their health and fitness. But for the population who doesn't like the gym, or even fears it, that's ok! You can get equally good results by working out at home or in the park/neighborhood. If I am judged because I work out in my home gym, so be it. My weight loss and strength gains are a clear indicator of the results you can get without gym machines. And my credentials as a Personal Trainer should not be based on where I do my own workouts, but the effectiveness of the workouts I design and the rapport I have with my clients. If only I could go back and tell that baldheaded Meatloaf interviewer to "suck it"... :-)  And yes, I still do Tae Bo.

Blogger's Note: Only a week after posting this blog, I came upon one of my favorite fitness experts (The Angry Trainer Alfonso Moretti) who wrote a blog on the Top 10: Ways to Spot a Bad Gym.  It makes me chuckle that my former gym met more than half of the criteria. Be sure to read that blog and if you're a fitness guru, bookmark The Angry Trainer Fitness site.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Future of Fitness: Online Personal Training

We do our banking online. We can get a degree online. Why not work with a personal trainer online? Just 15 years ago, we all would have laughed at the idea of pressing a button and making a car payment from our virtual checkbook. And we would have not been able to comprehend how anyone could take a class, much less get an entire education, solely by looking at a computer. But with the advances in technology, we do both of those things in addition to a whole host of other virtual tasks on a daily basis. Personal training can be delivered through the online medium as well. In fact, online personal training has been listed as one of the top fitness trends for 2012 (American Council on Exercise, 2011).

What are the benefits of online personal training?
  • Convenience - You train where you like on your own schedule.
  • Affordability - Most personal trainers charge $35-$50/session and recommend at least 2 sessions a week totalling $280-$400/month.  Most online training programs range from $15-$45/month.
  • Accountability - Most programs are set up where you need to log your progress so that your trainer knows you have completed a workout. You still have a professional monitoring your activities.
  • Private & Confidential - Some people feel uncomfortable in a gym setting. With online training, you're provided with a workout you can do anywhere you feel comfortable.
  • Accessibility - You have access anywhere there is an internet connection, so if you're travelling for business or pleasure, you can still track your workouts, access your account, or connect with your trainer.
  • Extra Benefits - Some training websites/programs also include meal recommendations, online food journals, recipes, and community networks (blogs, discussion boards, the ability to connect with other fitness enthusiasts).
How online personal training works varies by the provider. One option is to work with a virtual personal trainer through celebrity trainer websites and fitness magazine websites. While some degree of customization might be incorporated, those online training sites probably distribute the same workout to each person with minimal tweaks. And it might be a computer generating that workout, not a certified personal trainer looking at your specific goals, strengths, and weaknesses to create a specific workout for you. With that said, these sites are usually less expensive and you do have the popularity of the celebrity/magazine creating an effective online community of social fitness enthusiasts. If you choose a private online personal trainer, they will work with you one-on-one via phone/email and customize a workout just for you. You can also expect them to touch base regularly and make tweaks to your program as needed. This experience might cost an additional $10-$20/month, but it is still quite cost effective compared to meeting in person with a trainer.

While online personal training has numerous benefits, it should be noted that it is not suited for all populations. Individuals recovering from a recent injury or with any type health issue should begin with clearance from their physician and initially work with an in-person personal trainer. Supervised workouts to ensure proper form and mitigate any contraindications of exercise are imperative for those with any injury or other health issue.

Accomplishing any type of health and fitness goal, whether it be losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or simply moving more and eating better, requires commitment, willpower, and motivation. Your online personal trainer will provide you with the knowledge and the tools and help you with the motivation, but you need to bring the commitment and willpower. Also, because you will be doing this online without a trainer in your face telling you exactly what to do for how long, you will need to be disciplined to log in to the website and do your workouts as prescribed.

With the economy still trudging along in a recession, we can't let financial woes keep us from improving our health and fitness. In fact, a little money spent now to improve our health will save us money on medical bills in the future. Working with an online personal trainer is a cost effective means to improving ourselves.

For an insider's look at online personal training, check out the Death to Jiggles blog. It chronicles one person's online training experience and fitness journey and is written in a frank and very humorous tone. Popular celebrity training programs include Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper. And most fitness magazines (Women's Health, Fitness, Men's Health) also offer an online personal training program. To learn more about online personal training through private providers, check out A Fitter Image and Workouts For You.

American Council on Exercise. (2011, November 07). American council on exercise cites increased obesity awareness and whole life training among leading 2012 fitness trends. Retrieved from

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shuffle the Deck Workout

Looking for an easy way to spice up your workout?  Doing a new routine not only revs up your muscles, it is also good for your brain to try something new. Not to mention, it breaks up the monotony of your fitness plan, can enhance your enjoyment of the workout, and give you a motivational lift. This simple workout involves body weight only, meaning you can do it anywhere! Since you'll be moving at a quick pace, this is a full body strength training workout with built in cardio! It's good for rainy days, days you don't feel like going to the gym, and for when you're traveling.

Shuffle the Deck Workout

Equipment required:  A full deck of playing cards, yoga mat (optional)

Instructions:  Begin with a 3-5 minute warm-up. Shuffle a full deck of playing cards really well. Place them face-side down in a stack. Flip over the first card and do the corresponding number of exercises for that suit. (Eg. a 3 of hearts = do 3 squats). After completing the required number of repetitions for that suit card, flip the next card and proceed with that exercise. Continue to move through each card in the deck, with minimal rest in between exercises.  Rest for 60 seconds after any Ace card. After completing all 52 cards, be sure to stretch each body part and cool down.

Follow the exercise guide below.  The number on the card corresponds to the number of repetitions to do for that exercise. For the diamond exercise (plank pose), hold plank for the corresponding number of counts (eg. 7 of diamonds = hold Plank while counting to 7).  Jacks, Queens, and Kings all count as 10 repetitions.  Aces are cardio cards and you should perform one minute of any cardio activity when you reach an Ace.

Spades = Push ups (feel free to do modified version if you cannot to a full pushup)
Hearts = Squats
Diamonds = Plank Pose (hold for the number on the card = eg. 4 of diamonds = hold plank for 4 counts)
Clubs =Glute Bridges

Jacks, Queens, Kings = 10 repetitions

Aces (of any suit) = perform 1 minute of a cardio activity (jumping jacks, jump rope, mountain climbers, jog in place). Remember to rest 60 seconds after any Ace.

Enjoy!  And feel free to post comments here after you've done the workout! Was it easy? Hard?

Disclaimer: Do not begin any workout program without clearance from a medical professional. If you feel pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath at any point during a workout, stop immediately and seek medical attention. The above workout is intended for individuals with no medical issues who are cleared for a fitness program by their doctor. The author assumes no liability for individuals who partake in this optional workout.