Is your trainer treating you like a wimp?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on January 5, 2013

personal trainer works with client

Rowing on an ergometer can get boring—that is, when I’m not doing intervals—so yesterday at the gym I had a chance to get in 30 solid minutes of people watching while I completed my erg session.

Right before my eyes were one of the gym’s staff trainers and a big fellow who is obviously rather out of shape. At a glance, it was obvious that the big fellow has a lot of muscle mass: big calves, big forearms. So although he’s carrying around 60 to 70 pounds of extra fat and hasn’t been taking care of himself, he’s physically capable of making great gains.

In other words, he’s no wimp.

But the trainer treated him like he was.

Trainer-dude set up a little circuit for trainee-dude, consisting of

  • bouncing a ball 10 times off the wall
  • doing a set of pushups on an upside-down Bosu balance trainer (OK, that one wasn’t a wimpy move)
  • performing a set of standing shoulder presses with smallish kettlebells
  • doing some reps of an exercise that sort of resembled a deadlift but with a kettlebell and
  • finishing off with an ab movement.

I had to wonder what trainer-dude’s main objective was. It certainly wasn’t to build strength or muscle mass because the only strength-building move in the mix was the Bosu pushup.

If the point was to keep the trainee moving, that could have been accomplished with straight cardio, cardio intervals, or circuit training with ordinary (read “heavier”) resistance training.

No matter how you look at the program, it was woefully inadequate.

I’m not really singling out trainer-dude. Most of what I see staff trainers doing at big-box gyms tells me that they see their clients as wimps who really don’t want to work all that hard.

Yes, of course, the workout program has to begin with foundational exercises tailored to the client’s athletic history, current shape, history of injuries, age, and so on. But the key concept is tailored. The program ought to be individualized to the client.

And the routine trainer-dude demonstrated yesterday could have been performed by just about anyone. Weaker people would have to do their pushups from the knee, but other than that, it was a one-size-fits-all program.

If I had my hands on trainee-dude, I would have taken advantage of all his nice muscle mass. That’s the asset that’s going to make it comparatively easy for him to burn fat.

So I would have made sure he knew how to squat, bench press, deadlift, and do power cleans. I would want him doing dips, pull-ups, and rows.

Sure, he was perspiring after doing a couple of the wimpy circuits programmed for him. But I would have had him not just perspiring but also doing the kinds of heavier work that provide a big metabolic boost after the workout.

I’d bet money that trainee-dude could put on five to 10 pounds of muscle easily over the next couple of months, which means he would burn more calories all day long. And that certainly isn’t going to happen if he continues to work with trainer-dude.

How you can you make sure your trainer isn’t treating you like a wimp?

  • Make sure she knows your workout goals—to burn fat, build muscle, improve cardio endurance, run faster, prevent injuries, increase bone density, and so on.
  • Ask her to explain how the program prescribed for you is going to accomplish those goals.
  • And don’t be afraid to ask—of any and all exercises—“Is this the most effective way for me to reduce my lower-back pain, firm my rear end, or shave five minutes off my 10K time?”

If you don’t like the answers you get, find another trainer!

Please tell me about your experience with personal training in the comment box below!




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