Fitness Friday: personal trainers – what does that term mean to you?
For most of us, we think of someone to coach us through a weight loss or physical fitness goal; we picture time in the gym and grueling workouts as the trainer barks orders. But what is missing from this model? A lot. Personal trainers do not need to focus on weight loss or push high-intensity workouts.
Physical exercise is so much more than a technique for weight loss. In fact, the CDC recommends that fitness professionals DO NOT push for weight loss. Instead, movement can be a way of experiencing joy, feeling empowered or accomplished or fully in your body, stress relief, engaging in community, sleep and fatigue assistance, and augmenting health (improved cardiovascular parameters and managed blood sugar). Having a specific fitness goal like walking or running in your first 5K is a great motivator, but also temporary. Feeling joy in your body from movement though has long-term carryover.
Grueling workouts with a trainer are motivating to some individuals; if that is you, do what you do. But grueling workouts are not the only way to workout, are not necessary to accomplish many goals, can have a higher risk of injury (poor body mechanics or lack of rest by the client or limited anatomical knowledge from the trainer), and might leave the client fried the rest of the day (sometimes beyond if they are not recovering well), limiting their ability to tend to other tasks of living. These grueling-geared gym-based environments are described as “hypermasculine” by some, which limits the comfort of individuals not interested in that style of environment (non-binary, disabled, and/or queer folk, people recovering from gender-based trauma/assault for example).
An alternative to the grueling gym-based workouts: home-based workouts, with or without a trainer. These can be incredible, tailored to fit the client and their unique needs without the performative pressure of the gym, and not limited to only those with the finances for specialty equipment by using bodyweight, resistance bands, and/or buying equipment second hand (bonus – you save on commute pollution and time by working out at home). Green exercise (exercising in nature spaces) is another alternative to the grinding gym culture.
If you do the high intensity workouts, please be sure you are supporting your body’s needs with sufficient rest, nutrition, and recovery. Base this off of how you are feeling (how do the workouts impact your mood and energy levels), your caloric and quality of food intake, your sleep quality (do you wake up feeling recovered? Was your sleep interrupted because you are sore or amped up from an intense workout late in the day?), your body’s wisdom (resting fatigued tissue allows it time to heal small trauma to the tissues as well as build up strength and reduce injury risk), and your injury recovery (continuing to work out an injured section of the body can prolong or worsen an injury). Further, you can support your body’s needs via personal and authoritative autonomy. If something doesn’t work for your body but you are not comfortable speaking up or trusting in your own internal wisdom, perhaps a more supportive, less grinding workout and/or personal trainer is more appropriate for your needs.
I am a personal trainer (CHEK practitioner and physical therapist specializing in post rehab/return to workout fitness) but I don’t sell people on the needs for weight loss or gruel, which leaves many confused on what I do (*sigh*). If not weight loss, what’s left? So much!!
I help people return to their body – feel and listen and believe in their body’s wisdom. Many of us have a hard time with trusting our own instincts in our society’s hierarchical, binary, and scarcity based thinking (ex. you don’t trust your own body awareness because you are not the fitness professional and instead give your power over to the “professional”). I help people find joy in movement, shifting the intention of their efforts from how they LOOK to how they FEEL. I work with post-rehab individuals with disabilities, chronic disease, or a history of injury resume activity or try new things (such as yoga) when they thought they would never again have that opportunity. I am a partner to my clients – rather than figuring out what they want on their own, we work together to isolate and assess goals, motivations, and set priorities for what they are looking to achieve. As a PERSONal trainer, I consider myself more of a well-being coach and examine all aspects of the person – physical, mental, spiritual, social, environmental, creative, and sexual well-being because movement or lack thereof can impact ALL OF YOU.
Personal trainers have potential well-beyond the gym culture that remains dormant, likely in part because our culture does not reflect on its relationship to exercise, the emphasis on weight loss and implicit bias against body size diversity that is prevalent in our society, and how our grueling gym culture limits access and comfort to many people (secondary to sexuality, age, disability, size, etc). In a small way, I hope to contribute to the culture shift and love it when I find similarly-minded clients that fit my professional goals.
Happy Friday, community! I wish you all luck in assessing your own thoughts on what personal trainers do and our cultural representation of exercise as well as finding a physical movement routine that works for you. In gratitude for you all.
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), CHEK practitioner, RYT500, sexuality counselor and educator; copyright protected, please cite accordingly. Image is from pexels.
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