About a year after I finished college, I bought my first gym membership. The gym was close to work, a friend from work was a member there, and I had been promising myself that I would do something about my weight for a long while by then…so it seemed like the thing to do. When I walked in and bought my two-year membership (which was a huge expenditure at that point in my life) they asked me to come to a new members’ orientation at the end of the week, where they took all the new gym members and put us through the (TRIGGER WARNING!) Canada Fitness Test. If you’re old enough to remember doing those in school you may be twitching a little bit or having a full-on anxiety attack right now, but don’t worry – we’ll move on in a second. Anyway, I did the thing and bombed it in all sorts of ways, so when they gathered us all up and READ EVERYONE’S RESULTS ALOUD, I realized how bad things had gotten: Cardiovascular Endurance: POOR. Upper Body Strength: POOR. Speed, Power, Agility: POOR, POOR, POOR. Abdominal Strength: POOR. Flexibility: EXCELLENT. (What can I say? I’m hypermobile.) I’d like to say that that experience fired me up and inspired me to get to work on everything that needed improving, but instead what happened was that I walked out of that place feeling judged and mortified and I never went back. Not even once.
Fast-forward about five years to where I actually did start feeling inspired to get moving but didn’t have a clue how or where to begin: do you think I was going to join a gym? HELL NO. There was no way I was going to walk into a gym and get humiliated again. At that point my weight was hovering just under 300lbs, I had two tiny daughters, and I was exhausted most of the time. The last thing I needed was for someone to tell me my physical condition was shit; I was telling myself exactly that (and worse) every damn day.
One more story! Fast forward another couple of years to where I had lost over 100lbs and was doing sales training at my first job as a personal trainer. We were taught to take new gym members through some movement screens, get them on the scale, test their body composition…and then sit them down and highlight all the things that were wrong, impressing upon them that they were simply not equipped to get going on an exercise program alone; they needed training. “Make sure they know how much they suck,” I remember the facilitator saying. “They won’t get it done on their own.” No matter how many grains of truth there were in that statement, its callous and meatheaded delivery turned me right off. It seemed like a backward approach to me; that’s exactly the mentality that had scared me away from gyms and the people in them. I expressed as much to my boss at the time, who said, “don’t worry – just jump through the hoop and then figure out what works for you.” He got it – not many others did.
Experiences like that are the reason why I’m never really shocked to hear people say that they need to get in shape before joining a gym, or hiring a trainer – and I know that my experiences are not unusual. Still, the fact remains that of the people who do join gyms or fitness facilities in order to make a tangible change in their lives, very few (something like 10% or less) of them succeed. As an industry, we just don’t do a great job of drawing in the people that need our help the most.
So, here’s some real talk about getting going with a personal trainer. This is how I want your experience to go, and I’d submit that if this ISN’T how it goes then you should probably find someone that you can better connect with.
The Initial Meeting
Your trainer should be enthusiastic about meeting you. They should be interested in you as a whole person – not just a body that needs fixing or altering, that is unfortunately attached to this brain that holds everything back by, you know, being a human being. They should want to know about WHO you are, what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, how you want to feel about yourself, and what you are willing to sacrifice to feel that way. They should be flexible and realistic about putting together a plan that fits around your life – not the other way around. When I meet with you, I want to know what your life looks like right now, so I have a good idea of where we’re starting from. I also want to know what made that tipping point happen – why you suddenly decided it was time and sent that message or picked up the phone. Those little moments count – they can change the course of a life if they’re given the chance. Also, I want you to enjoy this journey – because once you reach your destination, you have to keep doing what you did to get there. The changes that you make won’t stick unless you actually LIKE how you live.
Most of the time, if you’ve decided to make a change, it’s because you’re unhappy with some part of your body’s performance. Now, no matter why you’re in front of me – whether it’s because you want to lose weight, or you’re tired of hurting all the time, want more energy, etc. it is going to take time. It’s important that we’re on the same page about that – lasting change does not happen overnight; we’re in this for the long haul…so, lean in because this is important: even if the physical changes take a little while to manifest, I want you to feel better about yourself NOW. I want you to take a moment to appreciate that you took that first step, because I get it – that’s one of the hardest hurdles to get over. You’ve opened yourself up and admitted that you need help and that’s some hard shit to do – it takes courage. You should walk out of the gym feeling like now that you’ve got a good coach in your corner, you’ve GOT THIS. The ball’s rolling – all you need to do is build some momentum.
I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions about your health history. Some of them are going to sound pretty weird and you may wonder why I’m asking them; I promise there are reasons why I need to know whether or not you poop every day or if you’re on medication for anxiety or depression or if you’ve sustained musculoskeletal injuries. If you are uncomfortable sharing information or want to know why I’m asking you something, I’m always happy to offer a deeper explanation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed something a little funky in the first workout with a new client, mentioned it, and had them say something like, “oh, I had an injury/surgery/etc but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it made a difference.” IT’S ALL IMPORTANT because YOU are important and I want your program to be a perfect fit.
Generally in an initial consultation, you’ve probably done most of the talking up until now, and it’s time to go move around a little bit. What we’ll do, as far as screening and assessments are concerned, is going to differ wildly from person to person based on the information I’ve collected up until now. If you’re new to exercise, or are coming back from a long hiatus, or are nervous about this part of the consultation, do not fear: this is not going to be too much work. I want to see how connected you are to your body, if you’re limited or hurting anywhere, and get a snapshot of your cardiovascular fitness, strength, and mobility. No judgement here – again, I want your workout program to meet you where you are, so the more honest you are about how things are feeling, the better. No need to try and tough it out today (the time for that will come) and if something hurts, don’t be a hero – I need to know about that stuff so that you stay safe.
Hey, you made it through! Now the fun part starts. We’ll book your first workout and when you show up for that, I will have your program ready to go for you. You’re on your way!