One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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Why Work With A Personal Trainer?

Personal training is a relatively new profession. A few decades ago, the only people that had trainers were athletes or models earning millions of dollars a year. But now, the fitness industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.

What changed?

Simply put, the public realized that more activity than our daily lives provided was necessary to live a healthy life. In addition, structuring physical activity long-term requires guidance by professionals trained in the human sciences.

Doctors are now recommending patients hire a trainer to help them get fit and stay active. We have started realizing that the standard advice promoting pharmaceuticals and refined foods is not helping the public. Doctors are now recommending patients with severe conditions to seek out the guidance of trainers and nutritionists. It’s becoming understood that personal trainers and nutritionists have more time and energy to dedicate to staying on top of new research and changing science.

But, without a doctors order, why would an individual seek out a personal trainer?

Goal Setting:

In a world filled with photo shopped models and over-sexualized media, it’s hard to figure out exactly what is healthy. Your trainer can help you specify realistic and healthy goals.

Getting Started:

There are millions of articles and suggestions detailing what to do for physical activity, and there are even more movements and specific exercises to utilize. A trainer can take your specific goals, limitations, history, preferences, and time constraints to tailor a program for you.

Education:

Most personal trainers have spent years studying the human body, movement patterns, and kinesiology. Some have educated themselves even further in the field of biomechanics or bio-molecular chemistry.
Keep in mind that not all education is equal though. Look for a trainer that has a college degree in the human sciences or a certification accredited by the NCCA (ACSM, NSCA, NASM, ACE, etc).

Empowerment:

Continuing from the last point, a properly educated trainer will be able to impart their knowledge to you, allowing you to structure your own routines and stay consistent over the long-term.

Rehabilitation & Avoiding Injury:

One final point regarding the education trainers go through – they will be able to help you recover from, or work around, any injuries, restrictions, or limitations you may have.
If you do not have any injuries or other issues, your trainer will ensure that your exercises are safe and effective, thereby avoiding any risk of injury from improper technique or overtraining.

Motivation & Support:

Your trainer will work with you to find what motivates you most! They will help keep you on track, providing a push when needed, or recommending a rest when necessary.
As previously mentioned, many personal trainers are up-to-date on the newest science involving nutrition and other factors, meaning they will be able to support you in every way to help ensure a healthy lifestyle.

Avoiding Boredom:

For many people, going through the same motions and exercises day-to-day will lead to loss of interest, and eventually lack of adherence. A good personal trainer will be able to keep your routines fresh enough to keep you focused, but still consistent enough to track progress.

Making Progress:

Finally, a personal trainer will be able to help you make constant progress over the course of your entire life.

The body will acclimate to any single stimulus in about 4-16 weeks, causing the individual to plateau. Many people will keep pushing, leading to injury, or simply assume they have reached their “limit”. However, if you have well-educated trainer, they will find a simple and effective way to make it possible for you to see continual progress.

There are countless studies proving the benefit of professional guidance, but a very telling and recent study showed that over the course of 10 weeks, individuals working with a trainer increased their strength by 10%, while those without a trainer experienced no improvement. The “novice affect” shows that most strength will be gained in the first 8 weeks of training, but this study was done on already fit and active individuals…yet they still made significant progress.

There are many other reasons to hire a personal trainer but these are the ones that come to mind from my time as a personal trainer.

Almost everyone has a doctor and a dentist, some people have an accountant or a lawyer, and others even have a masseuse or personal assistant. A personal trainer is just one more member of this team that works to serve and benefit you. The only difference with a personal trainer is that they can help keep you healthy for every minute of every day, for your entire life.

So, give it a try today! Look through the trainers available your local gym, investigate their credentials, and pick one you think you’d work best with. After that, the results will speak for themselves!

Heart Rate Training

On aerobic equipment, heart rate charts, or in fitness magazines, you may see what is labelled as “The Fat Burning Zone”. This is an area around 60% to 70% of your max heart rate that, when maintained during aerobic activity, is supposed to be more beneficial for burning body fat and improving heart health.

We now know that this heart rate range, common for many during steady state cardio, will produce the least amount of reduction in body fat, and the most loss of lean muscle mass, than almost any other activity. In addition, the formula for estimating max heart rate, referred to as the Karvonen formula, acquired by subtracting the individuals age from the number 220, is extremely inaccurate.
A more accurate formula for predicting max heart rate, based on studies in the last few years, would be 211 minus 64% of age. But, even this formula will not account for specific differences between individuals.

Once you have your predicted max heart rate, work at 40-60% of your max if you are warming up, cooling down, recovering on rest days, or attempting to improve your body’s ability to burn fat.
If you want to compete in aerobic events, spend most of your cardio workouts around 70-80%. Keep in mind, this won’t be the most efficient at improving heart and lung health, or burning fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, but it will prepare you for events you plan to compete in.

Finally, if you want to get the best benefit from your time exercising, start doing those high-intensity intervals I mentioned a few posts ago. Warm up for a few minutes and then alternate 30 seconds of intense work, heart rate around 80-95% of your max (based on fitness level), with 30 seconds of easy rest. Alternate these intervals until you feel you could only compete 1 or 2 more, but would rather not, and then cool down.

The interval training should take around 10-20 minutes and will improve your heart and lung health to a greater extent than 2 hours of steady state cardio.

Also, there is the factor of “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”, or EPOC. For a couple hours following intense exercise, the body’s oxygen intake is increased, aiding in improved hormone function, nutrient partitioning, and cell repair. During this time, the body will access its own body fat stores to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used as fuel.

The numerous benefits of EPOC are significantly lowered with less intense, continuous exercise (such as steady state cardio), or if there are major insulin spikes during the first 2 hours of recovery (so keep carbs to a minimum following high-intensity intervals).

As my experience as a trainer grows, I tend to rely less and less upon a single number such as heart rate, calories, and even bodyweight. There are just too many factors to justify basing a fitness or nutrition program upon numbers predetermined by distant agencies or studies that are reversed every few years.

Plus, I have seen too many people start off with simple calorie counting or bodyweight tracking, and end up becoming obsessed, basing their whole existence upon a single number.

There are endless examples and specific situations I could reference but, simply put, no two people’s bodies are the same and therefore, bodies will behave differently in regard to calories, bodyweight, macronutrients, heart rate, etc.

My favorite method of determining intensity is rating of perceived exertion. I’ll use a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 5, or simply say “would you classify this as easy, medium, or hard?”

If a person already has a heart rate monitor on, or has very specific endurance goals, I love having one more number to track. I also like to measure how much time a client’s heart rate takes to return to resting levels, as a way of determining their hearts performance.

However, at the end of the day, it’s just one tool in what is an almost limitless toolbox to track intensity level and progress.

So, if you’re used to tracking heart rate, and know what your optimal ranges are to achieve your goals, stick with it! Conversely, if you are considering spending a hundred dollars and hours of your time on a heart rate monitor and watch, it may not be necessary.

But, as always, determine what will work best for you! And if you need any motivation or professional guidance along the way, feel free to contact me!