I've been where you are. The first time I tried going to the gym, I went alone. My guide was a list of exercises scribbled on scrap paper. The list, along with sets and reps, had been given to me by a friend who lived in Japan, a part-time personal trainer. I walked around trying to discreetly check the names on the machines and match them to what was on my list. I studied at the diagrams on each machine, afraid that one wrong move would expose my incompetence to the other gym-goers. The whole experience was so anxiety-inducing that I made it back only one or two more times. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience, at the gym, scrolling though a Women’s Health or a BodyBuilding.com article on your phone. Or perhaps dread of such an experience has kept you over on the cardio deck, where equipment operation is self-apparent. Or, worse, perhaps this dread has kept you out of the gym entirely.
But how did I get from that point (totally demoralized) to this point, the point from which I write: confident, knowledgeable, and competent, in a word, expert? In any quest, the hero will hit a roadblock that she will not be able to get past on her own. Then, the universe of the story presents her with a guide. So it has been with me. My friend Austin, an amateur boxer, took leave of his PhD program around the time I began lifting and moved back down to Brooklyn. He was a friend, but he provided some of the things a trainer or coach provides: alliance, accountability, and the security of knowing I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself. Alas, Austin had to return to Cornell. I kept working out on my own, but made little progress. I needed another guide. That winter I lifted with one of the trainers at the gym. He challenged me to do heavy deadlifts off of 3” blocks. I had never lifted anything close to what he was asking me to do: 135 lbs, then 155 lbs, 165 lbs, and finally 170 lbs for three reps. I hired that trainer and have had a trainer or coach ever since. Today I work with an Olympic weightlifting coach, Vasily Polovnikov. Yes, although I am an expert in many aspects of training, I still have a coach. Olympic weightlifting is a very technical sport that requires many years to master. I want to keep challenging myself and growing as an athlete and a coach is essential to this process. If you have fitness goals, you should have one too. A coach can make you; not having one can break you.
Under my coach's eyes.
Studies have shown that people get better results with trainers. Many might think that it simply has to do with accountability, or perhaps the trainer’s greater degree of knowledge. Accountability can be a big factor for those who lack motivation, but there are many, myself included, who are able to make it to the gym on their own but who still stall out. Is it a lack of knowledge, then? This gets closer to the heart of the issue. A good trainer will have dedicated many, many hours to learning their craft. They will have attended numerous workshops and read countless books and articles. They have invested much, much more than the average person is willing to. But you might have a friend who is obsessed with fitness, who knows way more than you do, and who can teach you a good deal. Austin did this for me in the beginning. What sets a trainer or coach apart from a knowledgeable friend such as Austin is the coaching hours the trainer has put in.
First, through coaching dozens or even hundreds of people, a good trainer will have learned the value of cuing and will have several different strategies available. They’ll realize that different people respond differently to different cues and will be able to adapt within minutes to the client in front of them. What does this mean for you? It means they’ll be able to get you into position as quickly as possible with minimal frustration on your part. Personally, this was my biggest learning curve when I first began training people. I knew what I wanted them to do, but I had hell trying to get them to do it. I relied entirely upon verbal cuing. Once I started using external cues, having my clients aim for targets, pull away from tactile cues, etc., the magic started happening.
One of the best "magic tricks to fix a squat: have someone hold the weight out in front. Everything falls into place.
Second, a great trainer will be able to watch you perform a set and tell exactly how much more or less you’re capable of. Someone who has never worked with a coach, either in the gym or in a sport, has no idea what maximum effort feels like. When we first start working together, my clients consistently overestimate their output and underestimate their strength. This may sound surprising, but just because something feels heavy or hard doesn’t mean it is. You’re just not used to the effort yet. I have watched enough people lift that I can almost always tell by the speed of my clients’ movement and by how well they hold their form, how hard the task actually is. I also know, again based on years of experience, when to pull back, to reduce weight or reps or sets. What this allows me to do is push my clients to new frontiers of strength while keeping them safe at the same time.
Lacey deadlifting 70 lb for reps in her first session!
Both of these skills emerge after countless hours on the training floor, and I believe they are what account for the spectacular results great trainers get with their clients. Best of all, working with a good trainer is a lifetime investment. Ideally, you’ll be able to work with a trainer long-term and really explore what you’re capable of. But even if, due to financial considerations or travel schedule, etc., you can only work with someone for a few months, you can still learn what cues work for you, get the big movements down, and learn just how hard you can work. These are lessons that can change your fitness trajectory forever.
If you’re ready for change, for progress, if you’re ready to find out just how strong you can become, email me and we can schedule a free consultation.