Most of us have had the experience of getting over your fear of the gym and finally signing up. It can be a scary experience, especially if you are obese, just out of shape or just plain nervous of all the stories floating around of bad gym experiences. Taking that big first step and go to one of the big national chains. Taking the tour, you sit with the overly aggressive sales person, sign away you’re first born and get your membership card/dongle. Once they have you on the hook, they start trying to upsell you on all their other services. These are usually tanning beds, massage, and the big one – getting a personal trainer.
You really consider it. The gym might be a new experience or you haven’t been in one in a long time. The machines look daunting and a bit of help to use them would be good you think. It is explained in great detail how personal trainers are there to help you come up with a work out tailored for your needs. They are the experts, are certified and they know what they are doing in the gym. So you cave to the high-pressure sales tactic, sign up for the personal trainer package, fork over a chunk of change, and set up the first appointment of many.
Personal Trainer Appt – Expectation vs Reality
You show up for your hour long appoint with the personal trainer. The expectation is you two will sit down for a few, get to know each other. The trainer will ask some questions about your health, what you want to get out of the gym, any previous gym or fitness experience to come up with the personalized plan. The two of you move out to the gym floor and go through the plan, step by step, machine by machine. For the rest of the appointment, your trainer will show you how to use the machines, help you determine what weights and reps to do and give you general tips for success. Follow up appointments track your progress, make adjustments to the plan and form, and develop a plan for after the appointments are over.
At least that is what I thought it should be, based on what I had read and from what I understood personal trainers do.
The time arrives and you check into the gym and find your personal trainer. The person that greets you is an over-excited CrossFit junkie or looks like someone that looks like they just walked out of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Pumping Iron documentary. Ok, a little intimidating but hey, this is important and they are the experts. They spend about 5 minutes with you, mostly signing waivers. They hype you up for being awesome and signing up for the gym and taking charge of your health. Then give you a piece of paper with a list of things to do and to come find them when you are done.
- 15 min on the elliptical machine
- 5 sets of 10 jumping jacks
- 5 sets of 10 burpees (WTF is a burpee?)
- 30 Push ups
- 3 sets of 5 deadlifts
- 3 sets of 5 squats
- 5 sets of 5 ab crunches
Then they wander off. Maybe they go in their office or go talk to the blonde on the stair climber or they go exercise themselves. If you survive the list or even just skip it, you go talk to the trainer. They boost your confidence and tell you did a great job. You are given a list of work outs to do between now and the next training session. Reading it over, its the exact same thing you just did.
See a problem?
An obese person or even just a noob to the gym will have issues with that above list. There are few reasons:
- That is a lot to throw at a new person to the gym at once. Yes, they are all good exercises, but there is no need to throw them at them like that for the first time.
- They are out of shape and pushing them that hard on their first session does nothing but set them up for failure. If walking from the car into the gym winds someone, what is 15 min on a treadmill or elliptical going to do?
- Some of those exercises are technical. You need to have some training on form in order to do them correctly. Deadlifts and squats are not something the average person off the street can just come into the gym and do. Do them wrong and you injure yourself.
Like most new experiences, going to the gym, especially as an obese person, can be scary as fuck. Combine the fact it’s out of the comfort zone, they have to exercise in front of people and they may not know how to use the equipment. Next time you are the gym watch out for new people as see what they do. The confidence isn’t there yet and they aren’t fit enough to do all of those exercises in one go… yet.
Fool me once
I wish the example above was something I just made up. Unfortunately, it happened to me not only once but three times. Over the last 12 years, I’ve made 3 attempts to take control of my health and work out. All three times I’ve decided to shell out of a personal trainer. The above example is what happened on my 2nd attempt about 6 or 7 years ago. He handed me the paper and went to go hit on a blonde beauty queen.
I am on the elliptical doing my best not to die. About 10 min into it, my quad feels weird, there is a burning sensation and it really hurts. I stop to catch my breath and he barks at me not to stop. The next 30 minutes is spent struggling to do the exercises as I push through the pain. I get done and stagger over to him. He makes me wait while he finishes talking to the blonde. He tells me I did a great job, that I should think about buying some Herbalife supplements from him to help my progress and to do the same exercises 4 x a week for the next 2 weeks until the next appointment. WTF?!?!
The next day I sore as hell all over and can’t walk. I literally can not put any weight on my right leg without my knee giving out and eating the floor. Ok, I just pulled something in my leg worse than that rest of my body. Some ice, anti-inflammatories and elevation and I’ll be right as rain in a couple days. Two days pass and something is not right. I can’t put any weight on my leg still, so I go to the doctor. That weird burning? Yeah, it was a moderate muscle tear from the patellar tendon in my knee. Nothing rest, ice, painkillers and time can’t fix. Needless to say, I went to the gym a week later when I could walk, immediately canceled my membership, and filed a report on the trainer to his certifying board.
Fool me 3 times
My other two experiences were along the same lines but not as severe. The most recent was this week with another personal trainer at another national chain. The guy at least spent the time somewhat near me and yelled at me but that was about it. For $120, I’d expect a little fucking more than just getting yelled at. If I wanted that, I’d stay home and deal with my SO or her kid.
Don’t do it
If you are a first timer and going to a national chain, don’t get a personal trainer.
Save your money.
Most of them don’t really know what they are doing. Even Lyle McDonald said something similar in his post “Training the Obese Beginner”. He calls out trainers like these 3 guys and explains to them that you don’t train an obese person or even a new person the same way you do someone who is familiar with working out and looks to improve. A lot these trainers don’t care. You signed up for a package, so they got their money if you show up or not and there isn’t much incentive to put any effort in. Everyone gets the same exercise plan and it’s an easy $100 an hour for them.
What to do instead
Your path to fitness is something that will last the rest of your life, so spending a couple months just going to the gym without a trainer isn’t going to stall your progress.
- Get to the gym at least 3x a week.
- You are just trying to develop the habit of going to the gym. It will become second nature in no time.
- Stick to the Cybex and Cardio Machines
- Pick a couple machines and use them. Try some others if you get bored. Still in the habit forming stage here.
- When using the weight machines, use enough weight where you have work to move it.
- People will naturally go for a weight that seems like it is a little too heavy for them to move. That’s where you want to be but add another 5 or 10lbs. Each week add a little more weight
- On the cardio machines, set a pace that is something you can barely maintain for 10 minutes.
- You want the speed just about almost too fast for you to keep up. Once that pace seems like a light walk, up the speed.
- Make friends at the gym
- Either bring one with you or make friends with people who are there. Most people don’t mind helping others out in the gym. People in the gym aren’t that scary. Even that big guy in the back with no neck.
Get a personal trainer
Didn’t I say not too? Yeah, well…
There will be a point where you need to get one. Just not immediately after signing up. Once the habit is established and you are comfortable in the gym, then its time to consider it. The other benefit of this method is you can observe the personal trainers in action with other people and see which ones are worth a damn. Talk to them before signing up, get to know them. Some gyms might only have one personal trainer, others might 3 or 4. There are also independent trainers, but I don’t much about them. One thing I do know, is when you are looking for a trainer, find one that suits your fitness goals. If you are a runner, don’t get a PT that focuses on strongman. Sure there is overlap, but you want someone who knows about the route you are taken to maximize your gains.
No matter who you are at some point you will need to get a trainer to help your fitness goal. I know soon as I move to doing obese strength training methods, I’ll need a personal trainer to help me get the form and technique down. Since my focus is going to be strongman I will need to move from the gym I am at now to one more focused on that type of training. I will need a trainer when I do that as strongman is as much about technique as it is strength. Luckily there is a smaller independent gym not too far from me that does CrossFit and strongman and has people who competed as PTs. Hopefully, that experience will be different.