Here's the standard first session of the average personal trainer. The humiliating measurements:
- Height, “That's impossible to change, so who cares”
- Pulse, “Probably a touch high, but meh”
- Weight, “Hmm, embarrassing”
- Waist, “Ok, ouch”
- Body fat %, “Seriously, do you have to use the bigger calipers?”
- Flexibility, “I totally thought I could touch my toes”
- Core strength (situp), “Righto, you've made your point, I'm a middle-aged lump of lard, sell me your pain”
Step two is to 'set your goals,' why do you want to [lose weight, get thinner, increase strength]? Invariably all that comes to mind is vacuous superficiality: “Well, I want to look good. Buy a new suit for work, you know. Attract the ladies. [Awkward chuckle]”
Finally the run through the gym, setting the weights embarrassingly low after that slim mum who's just bench-pressed her bodyweight and a half.
If you're lucky, you might get a modern trainer who will also discuss eating. Then sagely remind you that “80% of weightloss is what you put in your mouth.” So watch your diet, ok.
They might even stretch to a No sugar, low carb, Atkins, Paleo or other eating plan.
6 weeks or months later, after an initial 5 kgs, things have plateaued. Again. Your increasingly expensive personal trainer may be indulgent, sympathetic even. Yet not even mildly embarrassed. Their coaching is scientifically based, so the problem must be yours. You're not following the diet or doing the exercise.
D'you know what I'm talking about? I've endured this countless times over the years.
I've lost up to 18 kgs in a three month period. Entirely removed fat (in the early years) and sugar (more recently) from my diet. I've gym'd, swum, cycled, boot camped, and walked. Biggest loser challenges, boxercise. Yet since getting married I've been below the 'ton' just once. Briefly.
There is no problem with my motivation, my attitude, my commitment. Every other sphere of my life reflects dedication, passion, and high achievement. So what gives?
Your average trainer is not remotely empathetic. Sympathetic? Sure. But they can't possibly be empathetic. Pretty much all of the trainers I've ever come across have always been athletic. Mostly elite athletes.
I've never been remotely athletic. Just ask any of my PT teachers at school, heck, just ask my peers. You know that kid chosen last in any 'pick your teams.' Yeah me.
Not that I don't enjoy sport. Volleyball, surf paddleskiing, scuba diving, sailing, waterskiing, cycling, and multi-day hikes. Non contact, leisure is my thing. Not alpha domination, or gruelling sacrifice.
Theirs is not the commute across snarling traffic to the political morass or overwhelming stress of the corporate office. Theirs not chosing between the canteen (everything either brown or orange), the food court (carb city), or the soul destroying sandwich at your desk. It's rare they're ever 'on the road' in strange beds and foreign timezones. Topped and tailed with hours in an economy seat and airplane food. Choosing between the catch up work, or dinner with the family, or sleep.
Not that any of this is an excuse. I simply argue that your average trainer is too far removed from your average lump of lard to even begin to relate and drive sustainable change.
Don't believe me? When last did your gym or exercise program contact you to find out why you missed a session? Miss a payment and contact to the wazoo, miss a session and crickets.
Secondly, my experience shows an entire lack of attention to interdependence in fitness training. Oh there'll be an admonition to fuel up before a competition, or to rest up, but this is tactical at best.
Everything is connected, your relationships, your mental state, emotions, work pressures. Even when they do understand, there's nothing in their training script to address that. Most people lose 20% more weight and perform better simply by just sleeping more. Scientifically lack of sleep is shown to stop any positive benefits from diet and/or exercise.
The Holistic Trainer
How good would it be if the trainer didn't subject you to those humiliating measurements in the first place. If their goal wasn't number of trainees by number of sessions, or number of trainees completing the marathon (boosting their company profile).
How about if your goals were: “I'd like to be healthy, have energy to achieve an outstanding career, be a great role model for my kids, and live longer.”
Imagine your trainer then initially set foundational goals. Like, “For the next two weeks aim to increase sleep by 30 minutes every night. That's all.” You could collaboratively measure that with an app like Sleep Cycle or a Fitbit. They could even track your resting pulse over time. Arguably a better indicator of health and fitness than your BMI or how many pushups you complete.
Fun, Family and Social
Then imagine your exercise routine extended beyond the bi-weekly group session to something like:
- Take the dog for a walk twice before breakfast, or with your spouse after work. Again easy to measure with something like a fitbit or smartphone app.
Imagine sessions were:
- On Friday evening we're going to play frisbee, bring your kids
- Saturday morning is beach volleyball or a bushwalk or a game of indoor soccer
- Next term we're going to fall about laughing on paddleboards
Individual, team, and family games that not only introduce exercise, but interpersonal skills, and healthy competition.
In other words including your family, and moving for fun.
Not a medicine or a chore.
Something you can't wait to enjoy. Sessions you'd invite your friends to, which become a natural part of your social life.
They could plan a year program considering the natural rhythm of the calendar, public holidays, Christmas, Easter, even member birthdays. As well as local events like cycle rides, runs, Spartans and Tough Mudders.
The intent would be to gradually increase intensity through fun activities. Then over time (potentially years) as fitness allows, introduce dedicated training. The object never to necessarily be an elite athlete, but a whole happy, healthy person with the fitness to achieve personal goals. Over time these would increase. You might begin with completing your city “fun run” and later want to climb Mount Kiliminjaro, or do the Kokoda Track.
Or not. That's ok too.
One Food At A Time
How about a competition with all members of the group to “quit chips” for January, then add something else to cut every month. Perhaps chocolate for Lent, saving Easter Bunny Butts for posterity.
Of course you need to replace the crap with something nutritious and healthy. Another competition might be for each member of the group to find a healthy food court meal to add once a month.
Renewing the Mind
Your trainer could recommend TED talks, podcasts and books (audible books to listen on all those long walks) that promote mental health and strength, resilience and relationships.
Once a month after an evening session you could have a BBQ, family members again invited, and one person could do a presentation, or simply tell a story about one of the things they learned in the month.
There's a Program
I'd totally join a program like that. Wouldn't you?
Not a six month “weight loss” boot camp, but an indefinite, holistic, life program.
One where you're surrounded by friends, and introduce movement into your whole life, individual, family and group, in a fun way.
More a community than a program that acknowledges the interconnectedness of your whole life. That isn't about becoming an elite athlete, but a healthy, happy, energetic, alive individual.
Alas, no fitness trainer, or personal coach I've ever met would introduce a program like that.
Because they're interested in their goals, not yours. Or yours only inasmuch as they contribute to their (business) goals.