Friday, April 20, 2012

5 Signs You Need a New Personal Trainer

Let's be honest for a second. Any yahoo can become a Personal Trainer. There are gyms out there that do not mandate any type of educational credential to work for them... though these are becoming fewer. And even if someone does have an educational background in exercise science, anatomy/physiology, etc or is certified as a Personal Trainer through one of the main organizations, it doesn't mean they're a good Trainer. Just because your poodle is AKC Certified doesn't guarantee it'll be a wonderful pet, right!?

So when it comes to Personal Trainers, as with anything, let the buyer beware. Here are a few signs that you may need to quit your Personal Trainer. Or you can reframe some of this information into questions to interview Trainers before you purchase training sessions with them.

The Basics
Your Personal Trainer should be:
  • CPR/AED certified - Accidents happen. Don't you want the person who's working out with you to have some understanding of how to revive you if need be? CPR/AED certification is just common sense whenever exercise is involved.
  • Insured - Again, accidents happen. Liability insurance is a sign of a trainer's legitimacy and commitment to their profession. If you're using a Trainer at a gym, usually the gym covers the Trainer's insurance, but it's always good to check. 
  • Certified - I'm sorry... I'm a snob when it comes to certification, although there are some out there who will disagree with me.  Yes, a piece of paper doesn't automatically make someone a great trainer, but it gives them an educational background and theoretical standpoint to develop programs and work with clients. Certification also demands keeping up with continuing education and CPR/AED certification. 
5 Signs You Need a New Trainer 

1) They don't exercise themselves. When I was going through my certification, I shadowed some Personal Trainers in order to "get in the trenches." When I asked one how he kept up with his own fitness routine while managing his business, he seriously said to me "yeah, I don't work out. I get a little exercise here and there when I show clients what to do."  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Now, personal trainers don't need to look like Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper nor work out 6 hours a week, but they need to be a good role model for the advice that they prescribe to their clients. How can you take someone seriously who's telling you to work out 4 hours a week when they themselves have no fitness routine?

2) They don't stay current with trends and research in fitness/exercise/health. Science changes all  the time. In order to keep clients reaching their goals, Personal Trainers need to stay abreast of new developments and insights. Certification helps with this as most organizations require 20 hours of continuing education to maintain certification.

3) They give you the same workout over and over. Yes, some program repetition helps build muscles and increases our endurance, but if you do the same exercise routine every other time you see your Trainer, something is off. There are numerous ways to tweak an exercise, from body placement to the use of "toys" (medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands, BOSU, etc). Incorporating different exercises or variations of the same exercise is good for our mind and body! Remember, our body is smart... when you give it a new challenge, it wants to conquer it. If you keep giving it the same routine, it no longer becomes a challenge and you'll plateau. A good Personal Trainer uses creativity to keep your body and mind engaged and enjoying the workouts!

4) They don't involve you in your exercise plan. Yes, the Personal Trainer is an expert and should design the majority of your plan. But a good Personal Trainer will ask you what exercises you enjoy, how the workout feels, if there is something different or new that you want to try. Now just because you don't enjoy pushups and tell your Trainer that doesn't mean s/he will cut them out of your program. But a good Trainer designs programs with their client's personality, strengths, limitations, and goals in mind. This is achieved through good communication. And a good Trainer is constantly tweaking their client's program as they continue to work together.

5) They don't include frequent assessments/challenges in your program nor revisit your goals regularly. You work with a Personal Trainer because you desire a certain outcome - lose weight, gain more energy, be able to run a 5K without falling over. You are paying them to help you make progress. A good Trainer will frequently complete assessments with you to see how you are progressing with your goals. The assessments could be measurements or physical challenges such as how long it takes you to run a mile or how many pushups you can do until you fatigue, depending on what your initial goals are. The use of these assessments shows you how far you've come and how close you are to your goal. If they're not frequently assessing your progress and your Trainer doesn't keep your goals in mind, what exactly are you paying them for?

What do you think? Have you worked with a Trainer who did (or didn't do) any of the above?
Any other signs that you need a new Personal Trainer?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Magic Pills for Weight Loss

In an effort to be completely honest and ethical, let me tell you right now that despite this blog title, there is no magic pill for weight loss. But this post will be inundated with hits from search engines driving individuals looking for a magic pill!

I am actually trying to debunk the notion that a magic pill even exists, despite the fact that numerous people fall for this fallacy, all in the quest for "the lose weight quick and easy way." Specifically, I'm talking about products that you ingest that claim to make you lose weight. With the plethora of legitimate information out there on how to lose weight, I am boggled by the fact that companies even make money by selling their "weight loss shake." But I guess love is blind, and so is the quest for weight loss.

Any follower of my blog knows that I've had my own weight loss journey. I did not take any pills nor supplements. I ate less and moved more. MANY people lose weight that way, and keep it off as well, I might add. But it's hard... you have mood swings and some days you want to throw your scale through the TV. It's also a long journey. You didn't gain all that weight in one week, you can't expect to lose it in one week. So I can see why so many people yearn for an "easy way."

I have recently had a few interactions with companies marketing weight loss shakes and "nutritional" products. I quote "nutritional" because let's be upfront and center with the fact that no government entity regulates the quality of supplements. That also means that a non-biased entity has not conducted independent research on them either. The FDA is hands off with them. So really, you do your own research and use at your own risk.

These companies have approached me because I'm a personal trainer and they think I should supplement my income by selling their products too. Due to the ethical standards of my certifying organization, I am not allowed to provide any nutritional advice or recommendations or sell any nutrition products since I have no nutrition education nor background. If I happened to be a registered dietitian or doctor, yes I could make those recommendations. But I am not, so I do not... nor do I want to. I stick to nutrition basics and the guidelines recommended by the government. Even if that ethical clause did not exist in my professional organization, I still wouldn't want the burden of recommending something that might cause harm to a client. What if they have a medical condition unbeknownst to me which is exacerbated by the chemicals in this product?

(Do personal trainers recommend and sell supplements all the time? Yes... more so than I ever realized. Perhaps they aren't certified and bound to any ethical standards of their organization, or perhaps they have educated themselves and feel comfortable promoting supplements, or perhaps they just don't care.)

When I explained the fact that I wasn't a registered dietitian/nutrition expert to one of the representatives of this weight loss supplement company, his response was "well, most of us have no nutritional knowledge either!"  And that is the point I'm trying to make. Why would anyone buy a product that is not regulated from someone who may or may not know what they're talking about?!?   Especially a product which has a direct effect on your health. Do you buy a car from someone who doesn't know the difference between a manual or automatic transmission? Do you buy a computer from someone who doesn't know the difference between RAM and GB? Probably not... why would you do any less with a product that's going INTO your body?

The product that I'm specifically referring to is one of those distributor type deals... they try to recruit individuals to sell their product. Think Avon or Mary Kay for weight loss supplements. So, you don't need any knowledge at all to push this product, you just need enough money to "buy in" to the deal and hopefully enough sales skills to make people buy your stuff.

In fact, I overheard one of these sales representatives talking about his own experience with the product he was selling. First of all, he was still a big guy... probably about 75 pounds overweight, which isn't his sales problem... you have to start somewhere. So he allegedly had been using the product a month and he said to an inquiring person "yeah I haven't lost any weight yet, but my clothes fit better. And I'm not even working out... I've literally turned fat to muscle just by drinking these shakes." First of all, he's a horrible salesperson admitting he's been on a weight loss product for a month and hasn't lost weight. (Though that's clearly an indicator of how well that product works!) Secondly, he's clearly exhibiting his lack of anatomical knowledge. Muscle and fat are independent entities... they cannot magically morph into one another.

I do not recommend weight loss supplements as a sole means to lose weight, I never will. If you want a magic pill to lose weight, I'll give it to you: track your calories, find out how many you need to consume each day to maintain your weight, eat less than that, and move more. If you need more help, use the $169 that company wants you to spend for a 21 day supply of weight loss products and consult a registered dietitian for a detailed nutritional plan. You'll probably still have money left over to consult with a certified personal trainer who can draw up an exercise plan for you. Here's the difference: that money spent on a consultation with a dietitian and a personal trainer will leave you with knowledge and a plan you can use for the rest of your life. The money spent on that weight loss supplement gets you a 21 day supply... what happens on day 22?

It is my hope that if you're even thinking about taking a weight loss supplement, perhaps this blog will make you investigate the credentials of the individuals selling you the product and research the product itself. Instead, find individuals who've lost weight (and kept it off) and ask them how they did it... I can guarantee you that the ones that keep it off have done it the old-fashioned way of smart eating and more moving. If you find a weight loss supplement you're interested in (that you hopefully want to use in addition to proper eating and moving more), I cannot emphasize enough the need to consult with a doctor or registered dietician. Even hit up the people at your local nutrition store and ask them questions. The individuals who work at a nutrition store make it their career to know about supplements and understand research related to them.... they're not just selling supplements on the fly as a half-baked "get rich quick and dupe as many people as possible" scheme. They want to actually help you, not just steal your money. (If you're in or near Minnesota, check out my friends at Power Source Nutrition. They are good, knowledgeable, and super helpful people.)

As always, if you need help getting started, shoot me an email or leave a comment here. I'm happy to help any way I can.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Are You Insane? (Or... how to commit to a healthy lifestyle)

The last post that I wrote (I Quit the Gym...) made me reminisce about my fitness journey and what motivated me to make lifestyle changes. Which made me ponder the question "what does it really take to commit to a healthier lifestyle?"

Some individuals are provoked into action by witnessing a close friend/family member have a health scare or having a health scare of their own. I use "health scare" in a broad sense, as it can include realizing that one's Body Mass Index (BMI) score is above the recommended range, being prescribed medicine to control hypertension/cholesterol/diabetes, being easily winded while playing with one's kids, or something as dire as having a heart attack/stroke. Other individuals may see a picture of themselves and are shocked into wanting to make a change. Anyone who's been on a weight loss journey has one of those defining moments, which propels them to make immediate changes toward moving more and eating better.

My defining moment was stepping on the scale in January 2000 and weighing 215 at the age of 21. Yes, it was my own personal Y2K moment: I stepped on it a few times to make sure my scale hadn't been affected by the turn of the millennium. The analytical side of me realized I weighed approximately 10 pounds per year of life that I had lived. What if I continued to weigh 10 times my age as I got older?!? It was a shock-and-awe tactic that was quite effective. The next day I borrowed a friend's Tae Bo videos, started cooking for myself instead of eating out every night, and I never looked back. The scale has never hit that high since then.

Even after someone has a defining moment, it doesn't mean it will last a lifetime for them. 50% of individuals who begin a fitness program quit in the first six months. Which brings me back to that original question of what does it take to COMMIT to that lifestyle?

When we live in a society that caters to instant gratification, it is hard to commit to a program that will take 3-12 months to see the final results that one wants to see. That's why weight loss and improving one's fitness is not for the faint of heart or weak-willed. That doesn't mean that some people can't succeed... EVERYONE can succeed. You just have to have - or find - the emotional tools within yourself to persevere and commit to the work that needs to be done.

I recently came across a tweet that said "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get the same results that you've always got." It's similar to the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you've been thinking about making a lifestyle change, eating better, losing weight, starting a fitness program, but you just can't find the motivation to start, you're not alone. But if you keep sitting around thinking about changing but still doing what you've always done, you're not getting any closer to the body and life that you want. So do this activity instead:

1) If you're looking to tone up or lose weight, find a picture in a magazine or on the internet of someone who has features that you aspire to have. What do you want? Strong, toned, Michelle-Obama-arms? Muscular, powerful, Venus-Williams legs? Solid, sleek, Jillian-Michaels-abs? Now, you need to be realistic here.... find someone of a similar height and body frame so that you're not trying to fit a yacht into a marina designed for a canoe. It doesn't need to be a Hollywood celebrity, in fact it might be helpful if it's not... because you don't know that all their body parts were with them when they were born anyway.

2) Cut (or print) out this picture and post it prominently in your bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. Let it be an inspiration to help you make better decisions.  When you feel a temptation for that piece of chocolate cake, you can ask yourself "do I really want cake?" or "do I really want my goal body?"  When you have a visualization of a goal, you are more likely to accomplish it.

3) Make a realistic plan to get the body you want. And when I say realistic, I mean one that includes eating healthfully and exercising. Not doing some crazy fad diet where you eat tofu and drink kale shakes for 3 weeks straight.  If you need help devising this realistic, HEALTHY plan, consult a registered dietitian or a certified personal trainer. And no, the people selling you that protein shake that promises to make you lose 10 pounds of fat in 10 days as long as you drink two a day and eat a salad for dinner are NOT registered dietitians.

4) Give up the excuses. You will always be busy at work. Your family will always have pressing needs. You will always have things on your to do list that need to get done. But guess what? If you have time to look at Facebook or Twitter, find the latest deal on Groupon, or play Angry Birds on your iWhatever, I think you have some time you can devote to working out. Quit finding reasons why you can't and just do it. Take a walk after dinner. Don't buy the mac n' cheese at the grocery store. Don't eat the fries with that hamburger. It just takes one small *different* choice that will set off a chain reaction of more *different* choices that will get you closer to that goal.

As my brother says on a frequent basis, there are people who make things happen and there are people who sit and watch things happen. Which do you want to be?  Find your defining moment, visualize your body-to-be, plan your work, and then work your plan. I promise you, even when you're only halfway to your goal, you will realize it has been worth all the hard work and effort. The pride and happiness that come with accomplishing a goal is more satisfying than any piece of food could ever be.