“My client let me trash her this morning with 13 upper body and core exercises, nonstop. She is a soldier though. Killed it…”
This caption was posted on Instagram, under a video of a young woman who looked exhausted pushing through a few of those 13 exercises, most of which were completed with improper form. The comments ranged from praise for the trainer for making the client work so hard, to kudos to the client for fighting through the workout, and inquiries about how to work with that trainer. This post made me think about the topic of intensity in fitness and our role as personal trainers. Is good training measured by the difficulty of the workout? Is it possible to design safe and effective workouts where the client isn’t drowning in sweat and really sore afterward? Are we pushing clients too hard due to our efforts to help our clients reach their goals within the time frame of their training package?
I’ve consulted with clients through the years who were terrified about working with another trainer because of their previous experiences with debilitating soreness after brutal workouts- some of those workouts were their first session!
I remember when I first started training and one of my clients, who was back after missing a few sessions with the flu, threw up during her workout. Seeing her in such distress upset me, but when I told a fellow trainer he praised me for “pushing her to the limit!” To this day, I still see how that mindset of “no pain no gain” and the militaristic style of training have become a more common theme in the fitness industry. Sadly, this leaves very few entry points for fitness beginners or those getting back on track after taking time off. This mindset can set our clients up for failure by way of burnout and injury. It can also lead them to believe they have to hate their workouts and push through soreness to make progress.
Do you personally identify with any of the following statements or believe any of them to be true when training your clients?
- No pain-no gain. “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
- More is more. Already working out 5 times a week? Why not 7?
- You have to give it all or nothing. You can rest after you reach your goals.
- If you don’t sweat profusely, you’re not working hard enough.
- Missing a workout is like taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
- If you’re sick, go to the gym and sweat it out.
We all know the signs of overtraining that often stem from this intensity mindset. Loss of interest, chronic soreness, frequent or long-lasting injuries, elevated resting heart rate, and insomnia to name a few. You can challenge your clients without leaving them chronically exhausted or painfully sore. You can design effective workouts that can double as stress relief and decompression after a long day.
What about the clients who ask for “killer workouts?” You may have clients who ask you to kick their butt every session or don’t think they’re being challenged unless they’re crawling out of the gym. As fitness professionals, we can change the narrative about what it means to have an effective, functional and challenging workout.
- Discuss the importance of self-care with your clients. Help them come up with their personal self-care plan to complement their training program.
- Add rest days in with the training program, especially if the client is doing other workouts outside his or her sessions with you. Sometimes clients think just because they’re not doing the same workouts back-to-back, they don’t need to take days off.
- Stand out from the “go-hard” trainers by encouraging your clients to listen to their bodies and prioritize rest without guilt.
- Stretch with your clients and teach functional exercises that mimic the movements they currently use in their daily lives.
- Incorporate varying levels of intensity for a comprehensive program that is specific to each individual client – know 3 progressions and 3 regressions of each exercise.
- Avoid “cookie cutter” workouts – treat each client like an individual and avoid repeating the same workouts with every client.
There is no greater feeling than being someone’s first personal trainer or working with long-time clients who continue to make progress. In your time as a personal trainer you are likely to experience both! No matter where you are in your career, it may be time to re-evaluate your mindset on intensity and it’s place in your workouts. Like doctors, our first priority is to do no harm to our clients. Second, we want the workouts to be fun and challenging so our clients stick with them beyond their time with us. When designing your training programs, take note of progressions and regressions, the client’s abilities and the purpose of each exercise. Talk with your clients about how you plan to challenge them; keep the conversation about rest and functionality at the forefront of each discussion. In this time of Tabata classes, “bootcamp,” and HIIT workouts, many of us have forgotten that not all workouts have to be strenuous to yield results.
Let’s set our clients up for long-term, injury-free success!
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