It's January y'all, and that means everyone is back at the gym! However, not everyone is seeking out professional guidance on what they should be doing at the gym. Through chatting with clients, friends, family members and strangers I've started a running tally in my mind of all the one-liners people give me for not wanting to hire a personal trainer, let alone go to the gym. I absolutely empathize with the assumptions, anxieties and confusions people have about the gym--it can be an extremely daunting place to visit. However, I want to help break down those thoughts for you.
Here is a list of some top one-liners I've heard over the past 3.5 years in the industry. Whether you've considered working with a personal trainer or simply visiting the gym on your own, I bet you've said to yourself one or two of these lines which I am dubbing: Frequently Feared Assumptions.
1. I'm going to die in the first training session
This statement is a hyperbole for many reasons.
#1 You are most certainly not going to "die" in the first session. Let's be real: that trainer wouldn't even have a job if they had a track record of killing their clients.
#2 A first session with any trainer often starts with a 15-minute conversation, during which you share your reasons for hiring a trainer, your health and fitness background and your personal goals you'd like professional guidance on achieving. After that, a physical assessment is completed at a pretty low intensity so the trainer can learn about your mobility, flexibility, balance, strength and endurance levels. We must first learn where you are coming from and establish a foundation of movement before we can design a program just for you that will help you progress.
Thus, #3: A first session is often the least intense of all sessions with your new trainer. It might even feel boring compared to what you assumed your first session would feel like. That's okay! We're not trying to scare you away from the gym, we're trying to welcome you in to a safe space--killing someone is not how you accomplish that.
2. I need to ramp up my own exercise before I can start with a trainer.
Let's break that one down: folks that are either inexperienced or de-conditioned believe they need to start exercising more before they hire a professional that will educate them on how to properly exercise for their goals. That's typically when they are putting themselves at risk for injury, not using their time efficiently and sustaining the cycle of the gym being this daunting, confusing place people go to sweat.
I understand training is a financial luxury for a lot of folks, but wouldn't your time be better spent hiring someone at the beginning of your return to the gym so you can fully capitalize on the time you spend there on your own? By hiring a trainer and meeting with them a few times in the beginning, you can get on track with a new program that is specific to your training goals, lifestyle and physical limitations rather than googling a bunch of "one size fits all" workouts that may leave you with a strained back and a defeated attitude, keeping you even further from the gym than when you started.
If you're hoping for a change in your gym routine or simply to learn some new movements, set some money (and time) aside to meet with a trainer. I've met with many clients for 3 sessions and then sent them on their way due to financial restraints--this way you've gotten a chance to ask your burning questions, got some insight into what program would be best and started a relationship with a professional that you can continue to reach out to for support.
3. I just need to do more cardio to lose weight
Mmmm, if I had a nickel for every...y'all: cardio is great! If you genuinely enjoy feeling your heart rate spike, sweating out toxins and training for endurance events, then keep up with your cardio. It is an absolutely vital part of increasing your overall fitness levels.
However, when it comes to burning fat as efficiently as possible, lifting weights must be added to your weekly program. Now to talk science: fat storage is directly related to high insulin levels in the body. To optimize utilizing fat as an energy source and burning it throughout our workout (and beyond the gym), we must work to lower our insulin levels in the body--when insulin levels are low, we will mobilize and burn fat at a much more efficient rate.
In a truly invaluable podcast titled Is cardio or weights better for burning fat?, Dr. Pat Davidson (one of my gurus in the industry) breaks down the science behind lifting weights to burn fat. To paraphrase: we must stimulate and fatigue our fast twitch muscle fibers (by producing high levels of force, ie. resistance training) in order to move blood glucose out of the blood into the cell, dropping blood glucose levels and insulin levels in the body.
Cardio can help you lose weight, no question. But running at a steady state for a long period of time will utilize more of your slow twitch muscle fibers; these are primarily used for endurance.
While still a valid form of exercise, cardio is simply not the most efficient way to burn fat. Bottom line: lifting weights will make you work your muscles which will pull energy from fat sources and help you burn more fat at faster rates. But I bet I already know what you're about to say....
4. I don't want to lift weights because I don't want to get bulky!
Ah, the holy grail of all assumptions! Many of my female clients fear they will turn into Chyna, the former professional wrestler (RIP), overnight if they start lifting weights. And if there is any assumption I could squash for you today, I would like it to be this one most of all.
The words I usually I hear when I ask about a new female clients’ goals are “toned,” “tight,” and “lean,” and believe it or not, all of these aesthetic words are achieved by building muscle and losing fat. That is the principle behind every “fit” synonym: you must gain muscle, which will in turn help you lose fat (more muscle = higher metabolism = more calories burned throughout the day), and the most efficient way to achieve this ratio is by lifting weights. And yet there are still so many misconceptions spread by word of mouth.
Lifting weights 2-3x/week will not turn you into Dana Linn Bailey overnight (if only it were that easy to get boulder shoulders like hers). Nah. Girlfriend is consuming thousands of calories, lifting nearly everyday (if not doing 2-a-days), definitely taking some form of anabolic steroids, etc. etc. She is not your average weightlifter--she is a professional bodybuilder.
In short: you would have to dedicate your life to achieving the look of a bodybuilder. Lifting weights a few times a week, regardless of what your body looks like when you start, will only help you achieve the look of "toned, tight and lean" as opposed to make you "bulky"--unless that is part of your goals, in which case: let's talk!
5. I'm not ____ enough to hire a personal trainer
Whether it be age, finance, fitness or physique-related, many people assume they are not the right "type" for personal training. I almost stopped myself from hiring a personal trainer when I was 23 because I thought I was too young--as though learning how to properly exercise was a privilege reserved for folks above the age of 50.
Similar to the concept of needing to "ramp up" one's own experience before hiring a professional, it's easy to categorize those who seek out professional advice--as if you must be "this tall to ride this roller coaster." Everyone has some fitness and health goal they want to pursue, even if you don't consider yourself a "gym goer." More often than not, there is a professional out there that can help pave the way to success.
I have personally worked with folks ages 16 to 78, students to CFOs, powerlifters to weight loss focused, and cis-gendered to non-conforming (just to name a few of your "categories"). That is part of why I love my job! While I may specialize in strength training for women, Kettlebells and barbells, I am always open to meeting people where they are. And hey, if I believe you'll have a more productive experience working with a trainer that has specialties specific to your goals then I am always willing to refer you to another professional. There is always someone specifically for you. That's the deal, baby!
6. I don't want (insert trainer's name) to judge me for being so out of shape
I honestly don't know a single trainer that would ever judge a client for being at a certain fitness level. We may have hesitations to work with a specific injury or limitation because of our lack of experience with it, but I could never hold a judgment against someone who is genuinely seeking out guidance to get better.
There is a bad stereotype out there that all personal trainers care about is weight loss or body transformation. In fact, many of my female clients left their previous trainer because they (usually a guy, sorry...) would shame their clients for not losing 5 lb/week because that is the goal the trainer set for the client. This has become widespread and has scared many people away from seeking out training advice. All training should be client-centered training. Again: I am always open to meeting people where they are, and any professional and passionate trainer would do the same. We want to provide a safe, comfortable and uplifting space for you to get ______er, and everyone starts somewhere.
7. Everyone will watch me
This is a very common fear I've encountered with clients, friends and new acquaintances I meet at cocktail parties (I may have to write another post about FAQs trainers encounter at cocktail parties, HAH). Whether you're self-conscious about your athletic abilities, generally shy about performing in public or feel completely clueless about what to do with all those medicine balls, dumbbells and medieval looking bells with handles, it is totally normal to convince yourself that everyone will watch what you're doing and shake their head at you. But guess what? That couldn't be further from the truth!
No one gives a sh!t what anyone else is doing at the gym. In fact I've only experienced the opposite: people wanting others to look at them. And they typically achieve this by slamming weights, grunting and exhibiting other traits of a monkey in a zoo. For some, the gym is a place they retreat to their ancestral characteristics while others stay focused on their own routines and grind through it!
Everyone wants to be efficient in the gym: they want to get in, do some work and GTFO 'cause they got somewhere else to be. No one is concerned with what anyone else is doing unless they're using a piece of equipment they desperately want. We're all too busy checking ourselves out in the mirror or feeling self-conscious ourselves to look around and judge other peoples' routines. So do your thing, boo boo!
As the assumptions keep coming in, I plan to keep adding to this list—just know that you are not alone in your fears associated with getting into a solid and productive gym routine. In fact, message your new personal trainer ahead of time and explain to them some of your fears and anxieties around the gym—they will be better prepared to counteract those anxieties by tailoring the session to overcome them. We’re quite good at thinking on our feet, but sometimes it’s a little harder to be read minds. Now here’s to you and a confident start to your new routine!
Nikki R. Veit
Personal Trainer at LSAC
StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor