Believe or not, the last day of a conference is typically my favorite. Although mental and physical exhaustion has fully set in, there is often one more final ‘a-ha’ moment just waiting right around the corner. One that makes you glad you stayed all the way through that last session.
When Chuck Wolf asked the attendees in his lecture (Movement Training for Special Populations) “How many of your clients have back problems, knee injuries or hip replacements?” almost everyone in the room raised their hands. As discussions evolved, Wolf demonstrated ways exercises could be broken down to their most essential movements. With back, knee and shoulder being the top three most common areas for injuries, it seems likely to come across a client who isn’t plagued with some type of debilitating issue. How do you modify a squat if your client has little-to-no dorsi flexion?
During Hayley Hollander’s session Smart Programming for Peri- and Postmenopausal Women, there was no shortage of intelligent questions. Attendees were actively looking for ways to effectively train clients experiencing mood changes, bone loss, weight gain and decreased energy levels. “Clients on hormonal therapy still need to train their metabolic engine,” she said. “While medicine can combat perimenopausal symptoms, physiological changes are still occurring in the body.” To think, women between the ages of 40-60 are increasingly seeking the help of fitness professionals. It makes sense to want to further understand the acute variables that impact their exercise prescription.
Sitting through these sessions, it became apparent that more and more personal trainers are having to reconsider their approaches due to clients’ limitations. It got me thinking--are ‘special populations’ becoming the norm? If so, is this changing or expanding the scope of our practice as fitness professionals?
It’s amazing the amount of science that exists that supports exercise prescriptions and fitness practices. Yet, I still feel like there is so much we need to learn about the human body. A-ha!
Yesterday’s sessions at IDEA’s Personal Trainer Institute™ left me with cerebral overload. After sitting for hours, my mind needed a little break. So to counter my “day 1” experience, I did what any fitness professional would do to add variety—I headed to a workout session, of course!
And no one kicks your butt like Douglas Brooks. In his workshop BOSU®: Plyo Progressions–Mere Mortals to Elite Athletes, he included ways to apply principles of progression to teach explosive and challenging movements on the BOSU, effectively. Eric Beard’s workshop NASM®: Dysfunctional Functional Training: Are “Fun” New Trends Leading to More Injuries? didn’t disappoint, either. Using ropes, kettlebells, and medicine balls, he stressed the importance of regression to make ‘trendy’ and potentially high-risk exercises much more effective. What was interesting was how each presenter used the opposite approach to achieve the same end-goal—to advance client progress without injury.
This led me to think more about what client progress means. What does client progress even look like? Is it quantified with a number? Three sets, instead of two? Five push-ups instead of one? A 13-pound weight loss? A 5K completion? How are we assessing our clients’ successes?
In Tom Purvis’ session Progressing Beginning Clients, he challenged us to question assessments and evaluation protocols. “Sometimes the starting movement looks nothing like the end movement,” he says. What if my client couldn’t even do one push-up? Is there a way to pre-assess before the pre-assessment? Purvis suggested ways to work within the client’s capabilities and use trial-and-error methods to evaluate clients frequently throughout all movements. “Every rep is an assessment,” he says. “If it’s a choreographed assessment (i.e., sit-and-reach, etc.), then you are already starting out with expectations and assumptions.”
As fitness professionals we have a repertoire of equipment, exercises, encouragements and evaluations. When a client comes to us we sometimes feel like we should already have their solutions, starting points and workout plans. But I’m quickly realizing that the correct answers lie within our clients, not us. They know themselves better than we do—what they like, what motivates them, what mood they’re in, what exercises they can do, etc. Perhaps we should leverage this information in a way that allows us to be better at leading them through their fitness journey. Maybe that is true success.
Having only attended IDEA World Fitness Conventions™, I figured IDEA Personal Trainer Institute™ would be a small-scaled version (minus the group fitness track, of course). Boy, was I wrong (in a good way)! The intimacy of the event allows for greater time to get to know the presenters and dive into issues that spark quality conversations with colleagues.
As someone who typically keeps to myself in sessions (nose in my notes), I found plenty of opportunities to chat with other attendees. It turns out there are more than just personal trainers at this conference. There are personal trainers who also happen to be writers, singers, capoeira practitioners, upholstery designers, body builders and Downton Abbey fans. (Love that show!)
Why am I telling you this? Because I quickly realized that this became the leading theme in today’s sessions: getting to know your clients. I mean, really getting to know them.
In Scott Josephson’s session on The World of Popular Diets and Weight Management Solution, he stressed the importance of understanding clients’ eating behaviors beyond their food journal analyses. In fact, he recommended delaying asking sensitive client questions about weight and medications until after you’ve built initial rapport. “Clients will tell you when they are ready,” he said. All we had to do is offer a welcoming environment--this is a bit of a departure from filling out a traditional client intake form, right?
In her session The Exciting New Research on Happiness, Mary Yoke suggested we consider happiness as a variable in assessing our clients’ dispositions. I didn’t even know there were scientific metrics for measuring happiness, did you? Happiness levels provide insight behind motivations and habits. As trainers, we can strive to find ways that strengthen a client’s positive association with exercise. Hmm, perhaps I should consider asking clients if they are happy (instead of ‘ready’) to workout.
In Breaking Barriers to Exercise, Rodney Corn offered this advice: “Train the client NOT the guidelines,” meaning we shouldn’t be too quick to structure client fitness programs in the traditional way (i.e., warm-up first, minimum of 30 minutes of cardio, lunges etc.). “How do you know your client like lunges? Did you ask him?” True. I guess I never really did.
He suggested we ask each client these three questions:
1. Do you like structure or a challenge?
2. Do you prefer routine or variety?
3. Are you practical or adventurous?
A client who prefers structure, routine and functionality in his workouts may enjoy those traditional exercises or formats we know and love, (i.e. bicep curls, dead lifts, group fitness classes, etc.). But a client who prefers challenges, variety and adventure may be more progressive and open to new types of workouts. Exergaming, anyone?
I know personal training is supposed to be personal. And most of us work hard to establish meaningful relationships with our clients. But it still never hurts to be reminded to take a holistic approach to assessing their wellness, especially since you may be essential in influencing it.