Sunday, December 12, 2010

Personal Trainers, Coaches and You

One important train of thought as you decide on a program, especially if you're a rank beginner, involves Personal Trainers. A lot of gyms offer "trainers" as part of a membership package, or offer them as an extra, maybe with a free trial period.

Let me share some of my past with you before I go much further down that rail.

Several years ago, maybe 8 or 9 (?) I had a relative who very badly wanted to help people, and after a brief tour of massage schools, decided on personal training. They signed up for ISSA (one of the mainstream personal training study/school/certification businesses) and received the study manual. After almost a year of study they attended a weekend seminar that involved intense training and ended with the test. They failed.

In an effort to support them, I picked up the manual and skimmed it quickly, then said "I'll study with you and go with you to the next seminar". Actually I was a huge slacker and picked up the manual half-heartedly, and didn't really care one way or the other about it, whether I passed or not, I was just supporting them. After about three months we went to the seminar, and they failed again. I passed and was certified, though I never did anything with it, since I had a decent job.

Now, I was in my 40's, had been training off and on since I was 19, had read a crapload of books and articles, and had tried dozens of fads, so maybe I was a bit ahead of the 8-ball here, but still, if someone that studied for 15 months and attended two intense seminars can fail, it can't be shooting fish in a barrel, but then, I had merely skimmed the study guide and gone to one workshop, so it can't be that hard? I don't know.

Anyway, after all that, I felt pretty confident about programming (designing a routine that is doable to achieve goals), but it's only been recently that I've discovered "coaching". The distinction is important to you. Here goes ...

A trainer can design a program, walk around with you and help you set up machines, and help you stick to numbers and charts and graphs, talk to you and keep you amused. But you notice how they generally avoid the free weights at most gyms? That's because then we enter the realm of coaching.

I had no clue about the proper mechanics of a squat or deadlift until very recently, and I've been doing them for years. With a machine it's pretty hard to damage yourself, but you can really tear yourself up doing a bad bench press (and a quick google on shoulder pain in bench pressing will show you how easy it is to do). I think too that if you're younger, you can survive and recover from very poor technique and pull it off, so might not even notice (hence the amazing growth of the P90 and Cross stuff).

So what do you need? If you're in a gym using machines, programming is probably fine. If you're ready to take the plunge into free weights and you're young and in reasonably good shape, especially your joints, maybe Crossfit will do. Later, if you decide you want to lift real weights, and use good technique, maybe a coach would be better. IMHO FWIW YMMV ;)