Body Awareness, Exercise Safety, and the Potential Pitfalls of a Bad Personal Trainer
Posted Apr 02 2009 5:31pm
I have to say that I am grateful for my gymnastics, dance, and Pilates training - especially in regards to body awareness. I’m sure it’s why so many dancers and athletes are embracing Pilates as a component of their injury-prevention and cross-training program. And it makes sense why so many of my clients over the years have started Pilates, because of an injury or problem that limited their ability to participate in general exercise programs. I feel blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with great coaches, teachers, trainers and mentors, but I know that not everybody out there has had the same experience.
The old saying, “You can’t fix it if it ain’t broke…” Well if you’re not aware of what you’ve been doing to “break” it - how could “fixing” it even begin to solve the problem. The first “fix” has got to be with the mind-body connection and improved body awareness, or old bad habits will be impossible to break.
Regardless of your athletic or dance background, or how old you were when you started your first exercise program, or what physical shape your body is in - it’s never too late to improve your health AND strengthen your mind-body connection! It just takes the desire to work on it - and a good coach to guide you along the way!
It’s been interesting hanging out in the local health clubs recently….I know that there are lots of GREAT personal trainers and Pilates teachers out there...but there seems to be such a difference between the typical weight-room training sessions that I’ve observed lately, and a one-on-one Pilates training session. I suppose unless you’ve experienced both - you don’t know the difference. But they seem to be light years apart in the amount of fine-tuning and corrections a client actually receives to be in the right alignment and improve technique. I’m sure these comments will stir up some controversy!
I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut at the gym watching these poor people do exercises in absolutely horrible alignment with zero support in the right places, or being asked to do an exercise that is way to advanced when there might be something much more appropriate to start with. At the moment… this is probably the best venue for me to express myself!
** (For the purposes of the rest of this article - when I say “Trainer” I’m referring to anyone you hire to assist you with your wellness program (personal trainer, Pilates Instructor, Yoga teacher, coach, or other health professional.)
For the less experienced clients out there who are wondering how to get the most from your workouts and hire the right Pilates teacher, Personal Trainer, or Coach. Here are my tips suggestions:
If you are not asked to complete a fairly comprehensive personal assessment, medical history, and goal setting evaluation before you begin - proceed with caution… I know that it seems like a hassle to fill out all these forms, but this personal information and/or fitness evaluation gives a trainer the information they need to help design a personalized program that’s appropriate for you.
If you complete assessment forms and you have had a recent injury, surgery, or medical issues - don’t keep these details a secret! You might even be pro-active and schedule a consult with your doctor or physical therapist to get written pre-approval to start your new fitness or Pilates program. All this will only help your trainer do a better job for you! Bring any guidelines, therapy exercises, or information with you that might be useful for your new wellness coach.
If you’ve notified your trainer that you have a medical issue, back problem, or injury and they don’t seem to be taking that fact into consideration as they are putting you through your paces…Remind them of the problem. If they ignore the issue - STOP Immediately, Do NOT finish the session, ask for a refund and find a new trainer.
If any trainer works with you and says, “do 8 more reps.” And then proceeds to tell you about their weekend, or asks you questions about the weather - or any other conversation unrelated to how your body feels while executing the exercise - they are distracting your focus , shutting the door on improving body awareness , and minimizing the concentration you might need for your effort. (I need to point out that watching TV, and possibly the music on your IPod may be doing the same thing!)
If any trainer explains how to do an exercise, demonstrates it for you, but then never actually looks at your body to make corrections for your breathing, form, or technique….in my opinion - you’re not really getting your money’s worth. Either they don’t really care about you, or they don’t know enough to critically look at your body and make corrections. Either way your potential risk for injury just got higher, and they aren’t doing everything they could to help improve your body awareness and health.
If you are doing an exercise and it hurts–anywhere - Notify your trainer immediately. If they are NOT able to modify, adapt, or change the exercise to make it safer and more appropriate - find a new trainer! There is a difference between muscle fatigue and pain! A well-qualified trainer will work with you to be sure that everything you do is beneficial AND safe. The better your body awareness is - the easier you’ll be able to distinguish between the two. When in doubt…Leave it out! Or take a break. Or go on to a different exercise. If you’re not used to paying attention to how your body feels during exercise, there may be a learning curve for both you and your trainer to find the right exercises for your program.
If you are at risk for Osteoporosis, or have Osteopenia (the beginning stages of bone loss) your doctor probably wants you doing weight-bearing exercise. However - guidelines in the U.S.A. for exercise safety are no forward bending, side bending or twisting! Is your trainer selecting appropriate exercises for you to help build bone density and avoid fractures? If you’re not sure - Find a new trainer. If you inquire about these guidelines and they can’t tell you why they are important…..Or they’ve never heard of them (and then they ask you to do another ab crunch…) The potential for you to get injured just went way up! Please be safe.
It’s important for every exercise to have a purpose. Can your trainer tell you why you’re doing everything in your workout program? Knowing the benefits will help make everything you do more valuable to your health and well-being. (And you may be less likely to skip the exercises you hate - because you know that they are in fact the very best ones for you to do!)
Ask questions about the qualifications, training, experience, education, certification, and areas of expertise for the trainers you are considering. There is no hard and fast right or wrong rule here. Just realize that you will probably get what you pay for. Sometimes hiring a new or less-experienced trainer because they are “cheaper” may not be in your best interest. But a few sessions with a seasoned veteran - and they might be able to oversee a continuation of your program with a newer instructor (especially if you are starting a program and have medical concerns.).
Your goals and priorities will change - is your workout program changing to help meet your objectives?
Never hesitate to ask to work with a different trainer. It’s always appropriate to make a change, and can be good to get opinions and insight from a fresh perspective – It’s YOUR body!
Discover and develop your own sense of body awareness so that you can make corrections in your form, and pace yourself to get the most of your workouts. Always listen to your body and make safe exercise choices. Know that workouts with a well-qualified trainer will always be money well spent. Use your trainer to help guide and motivate you to stay active and healthy and let them assist you with a safe and appropriate workout program. If you ever have any concerns - express them, and know that there are lots of great fitness and Pilates professionals out there…Keep looking until you find the one with the experience, expertise and personality to meet your needs.