Training the Non-Athletes

Sara Fleming

One need not be training for a long distance race
 to enjoy the benefits of running.

The majority of the folks I train in my home gym are not elite athletes.  They are average folks who are trying to fight the ravages of aging, families, work, and stress.  They may have some bodyfat to lose, some nagging aches and pains, or just lack the energy they feel they need to get through their daily routines.  A lot of these folks have tried the gym routine of going to a few classes and working out on the weight machines, or tried something a little more intense such as a fitness boot camp, P90X, or similar high intensity interval circuit type training.  It seems that the majority of folks feel they have to choose between the boring and mostly ineffective gym routines or these much higher intensity programs that are hard for the average person to maintain for the long term without suffering injuries or burnout.  However, there’s a great big range of methods in between these two extremes that are not only effective, but also a lot of fun.

Circuit training is a great format for the beginner, but the
goal should be more specific than making one tired.

Kettelbells, medicine balls, sandbags, hills, ropes, barbells; these are all tools that you can use with your every day clients to increase their fitness level and quality of life.  Fitness is about a lot more than making someone sweaty and tired.  The average person requires strength, power, endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and flexibility to live and perform well.  You can address these qualities in combinations or individually, but you need to address all of them to be effective as a trainer.  You also need to know to what degree you are going to address each of them.  How do you determine this?  Very simply.  View your clients as individuals. Once you know where they are coming from, and where they want to go, all of this falls into place.  Realize that although a lot of clients’ initial requests will center on body composition, this goal is quite easy to fit into an overall program that will also address their ability to get through the demands of their daily life with less pain, more energy, and more overall function.

The key to the scientific method is observation.  If you
don’t record your methods, how can you improve upon
them?  And yes, there’s always room for improvement. 

Sooner or later, we all figure out that no matter how hard one works in the gym, one will not reach one’s body composition goals without having one’s diet in line.  Likewise, doing the wrong sort of work in the gym will also result in a skewed version of one’s goals.  A restricted diet and constant high intensity cardio work can get one into single digit body fat numbers, but often at the expense of muscle mass, strength, and joint health.  Therefore, we have to balance both and more importantly, keep track of both.  A training and diet journal is perhaps the most powerful tool an individual has at his or her disposal.

As for the training itself, don’t be afraid to challenge your clients.  Think safety first, but if you can teach an exercise and have your client perform it pain free and with good form, there’s no reason you can’t use it.  I taught a seventy year old woman to throw a shot put the other day.  Not only did she have fun with it, it was good power training for her entire body.  Now, did I take her to the ring and have her doing full glides or spins?  No.  I had her warm up with medicine ball throws until I was sure she was using her hips and legs to drive the movement and then had her perform standing throws before progressing her into the power position.  I then had her finish up with kettlebell swings and light farmer’s walks.  It was a beautiful day, she enjoyed being outside and she got a full body strength and power workout.  I typically train this individual using barbells and implements, but every once in a while we do something completely different to keep things fun and new.  We’ve done modified plyometrics, agility drills, and even had a mock powerlifting meet with some of my older clients.  Her goals began with body composition, but now center around being able to live independently and play with her grandchildren.  And she does both of those very well.  

Half the people in this photo do not enjoy running, but
they did that day.  

I have a lot of unique clients and a lot of stories to tell about them and the things we do that keep them coming back, but I’ll save those for another time.  My main point here is this:  Training should be somewhat challenging, but it also needs to be fun.  One of the most humbling things about being a trainer is how much trust our clients put in us to not only make them better physically, but to do so safely and with their best interest in mind.    Be creative, but also be mindful.  We only have one body and our goal with training should always be to improve that body.  Consider the risk to benefit ratio when considering training methods for your clients and always put their needs and safety first.  Most importantly, make their training enjoyable.  It will not only keep them coming back, but develop a joy for physical activity that will get them out of the gym and into a healthy and active lifestyle.

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