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!