Training the individual

My job as a trainer and coach is a pretty fun one as jobs go.   However, one of the first and most important lessons I learned was that there is a big difference between how I train myself and how I should train others.  Individuality is perhaps the most important factor in developing effective training programs and one must recognize that everyone has different goals, abilities, and perceptions regarding strength training and fitness in general.  Their goals are not my goals and the most important goal is to improve quality of life and make daily activities easier and more enjoyable.  There are a few questions I must answer regarding a new client before deciding on the proper approach to take.

As much fun as I have doing it, most clients don’t want to constantly have to carry or throw heavy things and max out their deadlift.

What is the individual’s daily routine?
The average person’s daily routine will require that he or she be able to be mobile, climb stairs, pick up and carry things or small people, and perform household chores and yard work.  If a person is regularly carrying heavy grocery bags and/or children into the house from the car, we should recognize that part of their training should involve picking up and carrying heavy loads.  If an elderly person is having trouble getting up the stairs in his or her house, we should recognize that we need to strengthen and condition the legs such that this person can continue to get up the stairs and live independently.  If a truck driver is suffering from back pain from long periods of sitting while driving, we should recognize that all the muscles that stabilize the spine need be strengthened and posture improved.  As trainers, we should be able to correct movement patterns, strengthen the muscles that support the joints, and condition the body such that it performs at a higher level.  Simply addressing the activities and movement patterns that one uses in every day life can greatly improve one’s quality of life.

Being a mom is demanding enough.  The most basic resistance training can provide both relief from every day aches and pains and the additional energy needed to keep up with the demands of work and family.

What is his or her sports/activity history?  What is he or she currently doing for fitness?
This question is very important.  I have trained high school students, wrestlers, weightlifters, marathon runners, people recovering from injuries and surgery, and people who have never worked out a day in their life.  Knowing their background will give you a very good idea as to what kinds of forces and effort your people are used to encountering.  It will also give you an idea as to what they may be particularly good at even if its been decades since they last participated in sports or fitness activities.  For example, former dancers usually maintain their flexibility, volleyball and basketball players usually still retain some measure of explosive leg strength, and runners typically have very good muscular endurance in the lower body.

As a former basketball player, Enoch has no shortage of explosive leg strength.  

 However, time away from physical activity means that you need to be very careful with how quickly you get them back to being active.  Someone may have maintained a great deal of strength over the years, but this should be no excuse to hit the ground running.  Going too hard, too soon can result in acute and long term overuse injuries.  You must give the body time to adapt.  A good rule of thumb with beginners is to stop long before they are sore.  If a person is starting to get sore during the workout, he or she is usually in for a few days of extreme muscle soreness which has an effect on motivation to continue.

What are any deficiencies, injuries, or disabilities that we need to correct?
Where you get started with these folks is incredibly important.  It can mean the difference between being able to sustain a long term strength and conditioning program and getting overwhelmed and/or injured before significant improvements are made.  Sometimes, you have to keep things very simple for a long time.  Some of my clients start out immediately with barbells while others use light implements for months while they improve posture and general conditioning.

Resistance training with kettlebells can be a good way to get started or maintain some strength and muscular endurance.  

As an example, we have a broad range of individuals who train with the Raleigh Weightlifting Club.  All ages and activity levels are welcome and we try to accomodate all of them.  Does this mean that we hand everyone a barbell and get them snatching and cleaning as soon as possible?  Absolutely not.  The body has to be conditioned to handle loads at high velocities.  Some of our younger teens do nothing but strength train for months in order to improve their posture under the bar while some of our young athletes have mastered the lifts within a week or two and add weight every week..  Some of our older folks work for months to improve their flexibility and range of motion on the basic lifts.  For some of them, who may have had joint replacements or prior injuries, we simply work within the range of their abilities knowing that they may never be able to execute a full overhead or front squat.  And that’s okay, its not required.

Manuel is one of our high school students and an amazing athlete.  

What are the client’s goals?
Discussing goals and setting realistic ones is probably the most important step in having a successful client relationship.  Most clients will tell you that they want to lose weight and maybe “firm up” or “tone”.   As a trainer, one has to understand that this simply means that they are not happy with where they are fitness-wise. A good trainer will help the client to figure out what exactly he or she is not happy with and work on fixing it.  Back pain, inability to participate in sports, lack of energy and endurance, and joint pain are all things a trainer can address and possibly make better.  Being able to pick up and carry one’s grandchildren, play kickball with one’s kids, or compete in a weightlifting meet or endurance event are all goals that many people don’t consider, but are usually very pleased to realize as a possibility.

Competing in an event like the Warrior Dash is both fun and a reasonable goal to train for.  

Regarding fat loss, I make it clear that I can make my clients stronger and more conditioned and make them feel better in general, but fat loss takes a 24 hour commitment from the client.  Fat loss, and muscle gain, is largely dependent on diet and I cannot control what a person eats.  For my clients who wish to decrease bodyfat, I simply ask them to write down a few days worth of their daily intake.  Usually just writing it down highlights the problem areas.  However, I take the approach of making slow changes that one can stick to and slowly improve things over time.  I have found this approach to be much more successful than a massive and immediate diet overhaul. Sometimes, just changing meal times and/or increasing protein intake can begin to make positive changes in body composition.

Honesty in diet journals is the key to success in body composition changes.

The most important question is this:  How many of the client’s goals am I, the trainer, going to be able to help with?
This is largely up to the client.  It is dependent on how many times a week they will train with me, how much effort they put in to my training sessions, whether or not they follow my “homework” instructions (these include additional workouts and flexibility/mobility work), and/or how diligent they are about eating responsibly.  I have seen individuals make huge strides with one training session a week.  I have seen individuals fail to progress significantly after mutliple weekly training sessions for months on end.

I do not measure progress based on body composition, but on demonstrated improvements in strength, endurance, and cardiovascular conditoning, relief from pain, and/or improved quality of life.  My favorite improvements to note are when a client reports being able to do things with his or her family that were previously out of the question.  Having a mother happily report that she was running races with her kids and having fun is just as exciting as having one of my teenagers hit a personal record at a weightlifting meet.

Megan, another high school athlete, hitting a 66 kg personal record on the platform.

Personally, I train for strength and do things that a lot of my clients consider pretty extreme.  I love what I do and am always happy to share and teach what I do with my clients, but over the years, I have come to recognize that my goals are not everyone else’s goals.  More importantly, I can improve an individual’s quality of life more effectively by viewing him or her as an individual and taking into consideration what he or she is willing and able to get out of my training sessions.  At the end of the day, my goal as a trainer is to make people better at enjoying their lives.  Understanding one’s clients is the first step.

My fellow weightlifting coach Jason Davidson and one of his training groups.  

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