Saturday, August 4, 2012

Personal trainers are worth their weight in protein powder....

The most challenging part of getting older is keeping things in balance.  Balancing work / family, balancing enjoyment of life with saving for retirement, etc.  But in the last couple of years I discovered I was having subtle changes in physical balance -- just getting in and out of the tub I wanted sometimes to tip one direction or the other.  With a sedentary job (software engineer), I started having pain in my right leg due to my IT band binding to my muscle by fascia.  I decided it was time to hire a personal trainer.

I need to apologize to all the people I've seen with a personal trainer in the past.  I thought they looked silly doing exercises with balance balls and tension bands.  "Why aren't they doing real exercises?" I thought.  I stand corrected.  My trainer has had me doing some of these inane-looking exercises and I find they can put a real whooping on me.  Why?  Many are designed to restore my balance by strengthening my core.

Here's the benefits I've experienced having a personal trainer now for 3 months:
  1. I've lost 41 lbs.
  2. Because I've had an appointment with a paid professional, it has removed any temptations to make excuses for not going to the gym.
  3. My left leg started with 1.5 lbs. less muscle mass than my right leg (they have devices for measuring this).  This has now corrected and I have equal muscle mass in both legs.  This is due to all the things my trainer -- Matt -- has done to correct my imbalances.
  4. My balance has improved dramatically.  Some of the exercises I couldn't do at the beginning are now no longer challenging.  But every time I master one, Matt comes up with a different exercise to challenge my balance in another way.  He has explained that much of it is training the neuro-muscular connection.  When your balance is challenged in a new way, your brain has to learn new ways to instruct your muscles what to do.  All of this is resulting in a body that will be less likely to fall when I get older.
  5. My strength has made dramatic improvements.
  6. My blood pressure has dropped 20 points -- both systolic and diastolic -- without changing any medications.
  7. My trainer has become my friend.  We have to "catch up" when our schedule has been interrupted a bit.  Also, I've taught him to play racquetball -- the only thing in the club I can do better than him (but he's improving fast).
  8. My posture has improved dramatically.  Sitting in front of a computer all day caused me to have shoulders that were rounded and slumped forward.  This is called "crossover syndrome."  Matt saw that instantly and set about working to strengthen my rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids.  I now walk much more upright and don't have to work to hold my shoulders back.  It makes me look years younger and makes it less likely that I will be one of those poor elderly people who are permanently hunched over.
  9. My self-image has improved as I can still give guys 30 years younger a good workout on the racquetball court.
  10. I have more control over my diet.  Having put this much effort into getting better, I am far more conscious about making wise choices.  I also bought a BodyMedia Link device for measuring calorie expenditure.  I compare this to my Sparkpeople dietary data and can tell you exactly what my calorie deficit or expenditure is during the day.  When I hit a plateau, I showed this to my trainer who suggested a 1-day "refeed" to trick my body into thinking the "famine" had ended.  So I ate 1.5 times the required number of maintenance calories on 1 day.  It worked.  I temporarily gained 1/2 a pound but then lost 7 lbs. over the next 4 days.  A good trainer understands the dynamics of weight loss and what to do when you hit a plateau.
  11. My cardiovascular condition has improved dramatically.  I feel like I'm 20 years younger after 4 months of training.  Workouts that would have killed me 3 months ago now are just a bit challenging.  It feels great to be in shape and see my blood pressure so low each day.
Costs on trainers vary a great deal.  They aren't cheap at my club.  So we may not continue this indefinitely.  I believe I now have the resolve to continue exercising on my own.  But I still have another 50 lbs. to lose and want to get to where I can do dumbbell chest presses with 100 lbs. in each hand (currently at 55).  And Matt says I still have a long ways to go to correct other problems that come from 30 years of neglecting my health. 

Matt is my chief cheerleader.  I text him when I reach a new weight low or accomplish a new physical feat.  He lets me know when he has free time for racquetball.  Since he goes to my church, he watches what I eat each Sunday at our fellowship meal after the morning service.  I've seen some personal trainers that just look like they're doing a job and aren't all that glad to be doing it.  But Matt is passionate about seeing his clients make progress.  He is constantly encouraging and cheers me through the last 2 or 3 reps of a weight lifting that seems impossible.  He gently "pushes" me beyond my perceived limits but is sensitive to what my real limits are.  And sometimes he holds me back if exercising one part of my body too much would be detrimental to achieving balance with another part of my body.  I sometimes want to push too hard to the next step and he will let me know when I'm not really ready for it.

So if you haven't considered a personal trainer, let me encourage you to find a good one.  He or she should be encouraging, enthusiastic, passionate about your progress, have the ability to be firm but not nasty, and become your cheerleader and friend.  Make sure to get one that is certified by a nationally recognized accrediting body.  A good trainer knows how to instruct you to use the right form.  Matt is always after me about keeping my chin up and shoulders back.  He stops me if I'm doing an exercise wrong.  The right form is more important than an impressive weight.  The right form will keep you from injury.

If you find that person, you'll discover that it probably costs a lot more to NOT have a personal trainer than to have one.  It has been the best investment I've made in my health and in feeling great every day.  I wish I'd done it years ago.  Like everything else, you can price shop.  I know a club nearby where I can get less expensive training.  But I've found the right trainer with the right qualities and I'm sticking with him.  I can't wait to see where I am a year from now!

Belated Father's Day reflections


My Father's Day weekend was awesome.  On Saturday, I started by playing my nephew racquetball for one and a half hours.  Then we lifted weights for an hour – after which I was thoroughly exhausted.  Matt is a first-class guy and I am proud to have them as both my nephew and my personal trainer.  Saturday marked the first time in his three weeks of racquetball experience that he was able to beat me at the game.  Because he is in the best of shape, I knew my racquetball victories would soon come to an end.  I have never seen anyone learn the game more quickly, and therefore I was not surprised to lose to him after only three weeks of play.  In terms of a racquetball handicap, I am a week C level player but hope to get better.  Matt started as my racquetball student, but he will now be giving me instruction.  After a tiring racquetball game and weightlifting workout, Matt warned me that my arms may not hold a shotgun as steadily as they normally would.

I returned home and took my two sons, Richard and Arthur, to the gun range for trapshooting.  We shot four rounds of trap.  Matt's predictions turned out to be true.  Richard handily won every round.  And Arthur, my ten-year-old, even tied me on one round.  Once again I found myself being trounced by young men that I had taught to shoot.

Then on Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to hear my son Richard teach Sunday school at our church.  For the last year he has been teaching a series on the Divided Kingdom -- the history of the nations of Israel and Judah.  God has given him unique insights with profound practical applications.  Richard does not have a seminary degree.  And while it would be wonderful for him to have a greater knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, he really does not need a seminary degree to be an effective teacher or pastor.  God has given him all the gifts he needs.  Richard has had keen insights that I have never seen in Scripture.  I remember teaching him the basics of preaching and often hear him teaching concepts that I taught him he was still young boy.  Now he is a man with his own family – a wife and daughter – and has a successful information technology career of his own.  In many ways, he has already surpassed my accomplishments.  I often find myself being the student with Richard teaching me things that I did not know.

Fortunately for me, there are still young children at home that have much to learn that I can teach them.  And I hope that I will have the opportunity to teach character and my life lessons to my grandchildren as well.  But I realized on this Father's Day that I have reached something of an apex in my life.  Those whom God entrusted me to teach are now teaching me and others.  I see others having developed superior skill in the things in which I encouraged them.  Up until now, I regarded middle-age as the time when your broad mind and your narrow waist exchanged places.  I realize now, however, that it is also a period of time in which you gradually release control and authority and watch others as they bloom and grow and prosper in their own lives.  I have always said that my job as a father was to raise children who would be better Christians than I am.  I have always hoped that my children would exceed the skills, the accomplishments, and the sphere of influence that I had during my lifetime.  From all that I see, I am now seeing the realization of that goal.

I really cannot take credit for anything that has happened.  Nevertheless, I thank God that He has allowed me to be a part of the lives not only of my own children, but several other young people as well.  I am an imperfect messenger with countless flaws and character deficiencies of my own.  Only by the grace of God can I now see greater hope for effective godliness in the next generation of family and friends.

I gave some thought this weekend to what I would do differently if I could do it all over again.  Here is my short list:
  • I would not sell my 1969 fastback Mustang with the Cleveland 351 racing engine, the Cragar mag wheels, the Hurst transmission, and the 850 Holly-4 barrel carburetor. I do not know that keeping the car would have had any profound effect on my life, but I really did like that car.
  •  I would have been more faithful and diligent in Scripture memory.  Few things have benefited my life so much as the Scriptures that I memorized as a young man and even during my parenting years.  Joshua 1:8 promises success to those who diligently meditate upon Scripture.
  • I would have spent less time in entertainment and more time in prayer.
  • As a young man, I would have spent less time striving to achieve success.  Instead I would have focused on those things that are eternally significant.  By striving for fulfillment instead of success, I have no doubt that I might have achieved both.
  • I would have begun each day by reading a written reminder to choose to respond people in a kind, patient, and gracious way.  In so doing, I could have avoided using so many verbal 2x4s to solve problems.
  • My wife and I would not have tried to prevent pregnancy during the first 3 to 4 years of our marriage.  After stopping birth control, it took several years before God blessed us with a child.  I often wonder whether we missed other blessings.  The eight children born to our marriage have blessed us beyond our ability to describe.  They motivate and encourage us to be better people.  They bless not only our lives, but also the lives of others.  Children take a lot of energy.  For that reason, it is better to grow up with your children rather than to wait until you are older to have them.  You do need, however, to make glorifying Christ the goal for your family.  That focus is essential to raising children who will be a blessing rather than a curse.
I received wonderful gifts of written encouragement from several of my children this Father's Day.  God gives us all together too short a time to love, nurture, and train children before they grow up to surpass us and have families of their own.  If you are a father, may I encourage you to make the most of every moment with your family?  I can promise you that in your old age you will not wish that you had spent more hours of work, more hours watching television, or more hours surfing the Internet.  However, you may well wish that you had spent more hours investing your life in the lives of others to produce a lasting and living legacy.  I only pray that I will have the wisdom to make the most of the time I have left with my children and grandchildren – who are such an incredible blessing to me.