Monday, December 8, 2008

Day 3: Meat, Potatoes, Gravy, and MacGyver

What do those have to do with “7 Days of Fitness and Fun” promised by my trial offer of the gym? Read on for the report of last Friday's gym day:

I arrived at the gym with only 10 minutes before my free assessment with the personal trainer. I hopped up on the treadmill and put it through its incline paces. I thought I glimpsed a co-worker behind a newspaper on the way to the locker room, and found out later that yes, I had indeed. Said coworker informed me that we have a pretty good corporate rate. If said rate is still the going one, I really have no excuse to not join--if I want to. (Side note: Yes, Microsoft Word: I AM an English major who boldly splits infinitives when I darn well please.) Heck, if it keeps me out of Whole Foods at lunch time, we might end up saving some real money here.

Free Assessment with the Personal Trainer

"You know what they say about free get what you pay for.” - Red Green, The Red Green Show

"The first and greatest commandment is: Don't let them scare you." - Elmer Davis
(This was, incidentally, Monday's randomly-received quote from a tea bag...whether one should consider randomly-received quotes from tea bags as messages from the universe is really outside the scope of this entry, but hey, comment away!)

I think the trainer and I both felt somewhat deflated by the session: he did not get a wealthy new client who wanted to spend some serious money on personal training. I did not get much in the way of concrete advice. For both of us, it consumed an hour of our time that we both undoubtedly could have spent on other things.

The meeting: I showed him what I've accomplished so far (10 minutes). He did his sales pitch, cleverly disguised as conversation about me and my goals (40 minutes). I have a pretty big aversion to sales pitches, even if I did have the money to spend on working with a personal trainer. (From the range he quoted for personal trainer, the 5-6 sessions he said people did as a start would cost AT LEAST nearly as much as a full year of membership at the gym. I know which one my Frugal Half would say is the better deal.) I'm not even sure I need a gym to reach my goals, and what I heard was that even the gym by itself is not effective to reaching fitness goals. We concluded with taking measurements and calculating body composition and fat-burning target heart rate numbers (10 minutes).

He was persuasive, in that he cited a lot of things that are near and dear to fitness bloggers I admire: core strength is king, strength training is highly effective for fat loss and fitness, you do not need to be reliant on the machines and can create an effective workout with free weights (and a medicine ball and some other ball thing I forget the name of), fat burning target heart rate is different from a cardio target heart rate, and a good trainer is gold. Salesy-feeling aside, I have a hunch that he might be one of the good ones.

I have NO doubt that if you have the resources and want professional help in developing your physical fitness, a GOOD personal trainer would be highly effective. (Of course, I also held that opinion before the meeting, so nothing new there.)

That said....

What I felt I got: Small potatoes.

- Fat-burning target heart rate. (I confirmed Mr. Handsome-and-Handy's comment: yes, there are calculators online that do this. The effective ones will prompt for your age AND resting heart rate, FYI.)

- Body comp numbers. Starting goal: decrease by 3%.

- Instructions for how the core should feel when it's activated, and advice to not sit with my back to the foot of the couch when doing seated exercises.

- Observation of what I do for strength, without the weights.

What I didn't get but hoped for: More meat.

- Getting out on the floor with weights and confirming that I doing my set of existing exercises properly. (When I asked why I was not feeling anything in my triceps when doing a seated tricep extension, he said that was not a very effective tricep exercise. Of course, the thing to do next would have been to say the *polite* equivalent of, "Well, throw me a fricken' bone here: what should I be doing instead?")

- Freebie-quality sample starting program for the beginner. Could even have been a paper handout.

- More specifics about how to achieve the body comp goal; not even a "keep doing what you're doing."

I felt unsure about writing about this experience because I found myself feeling defensive, and a bit deflated afterwards. And when I start feeling that way, I know it's time to get quiet in myself, sit with my discomfort, and think before I write. Or at least write a bit and edit extensively later.

Thoughts that ran through my mind:

- Why did I feel disappointed? Were my expectations realistic for a free assessment?

- Were I to join the gym, would it be totally worthless without a personal trainer? Or, I guess a better question is, if I spend the money and use the gym, will I achieve better results than being consistent with my workouts on my own? I can see that if one joins but does not *use* the gym consistently, one will not reach one's goals, but I'm not convinced that the gym is totally ineffective if used. It's like any other tool for fitness.

- Why am I questioning my ability to find my own way...when I feel like I've done pretty well so far? Is my ego getting in the way of a fair assessment of the experience? That is, do I feel deflated because my ability to research and create my own workouts was challenged? If so, why? I'm seeing demonstrative results in my health. Do I have an unrealistic fear of the "plateau" predicted by the trainer if I did not change up my routine every 8-12 weeks? Or was the ego-sting/uncertainty more to do with the fact that I cannot afford both gym and trainer, and I disagreed with a fitness professional about which would provide the better value for me over the coming year?

So, when I feel muddled, I often turn to a good friend. Fortunately, I have an athletic tech writer pal who is only an IM away. Whether I agree or disagree with his opinions (yes, he's always this blunt), he often has some insights for me:

Me: "What's your opinion of personal trainers? I had a free assessment with one at the gym the other day. I'm writing about the experience, and I'm feeling kind of muddled."

Friend: "I think they are pretty much pure profit for the gym, just like extended warranties at Circuit City or Best Buy. Unless you really don't know what you're doing, I don't see them as a big help; you're better off usually finding a friend and teaming up. Or if you really want to learn, see if the community college offers any sort of evening weightlifting class."

Me: "Oh, that's a good idea. That's the main area where I'm somewhat ignorant: strength training. I've read up a bit on it, and I have some exercise that I do with my hand weights, but I may unknowingly making mistakes in form. I take it slow and haven't felt like I'm injuring anything, so I figure I'm doing okay with it."

Friend: "Well, the good thing about the gym is that the machines, unlike free weights, are pretty much all designed to put you in the right form....Hey, look what's featured on jatbar's front page today!" (Yes, he is also a Net magpie.)

Me [after detouring to read their review of Harry's Hoffbrau]: "Yeah, baby! I sure do agree with their assessment."

And this of course reminds me of a long-ago visit to the Redwood City Harry's with Mr. Handsome-and-Handy. A trainee was filling our plates with all the good stuff and topping it off with a seemingly good-sized dollop of gravy. A long-time employee came over and coached him: "Hey, that's not enough gravy! Give 'em a little more!" And he grabs the label and brings on the veritable gravy tsunami. Who were we to argue with the voice of experience? Definitely time to trust the expert. (Just citing my mindset of way-back-then, of course. Gravy tsunamis are no longer on my menu. I still adore Harry's, though; like many places, it is possible go healthy when dining there.)

Locker Room Redux

Following the meeting, I headed to the locker room. Dang! I forgot my shower shoes. No WAY am I going in there barefooted, even though it is probably the cleanest public shower I have ever used. What to do...what to do...AHAH! I grabbed a couple of plastic bags off the roll (thank heaven for a well-equipped locker room), and a couple of twists and knots later, I have a pair of dandy foot covers. And thank goodness: it would've been a royal pain to dry out my running shoes before Monday. MacGyver would be proud, although he probably could have whipped up the perfect running shoe dryer out of 5 paper clips, 2 Popsicle sticks, and a rubber band.


SeaBreeze said...

If you decide to do the gym or gym drop-ins in the future... this link could be helpful:

It gives sound advice and also provides the named of moves that you could google for pictures if you so desired. It's similar to the one my mom is doing to rehab her shoulder/neck.

Darren said...

As a personal trainer with 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, who has worked for a large national chain gym, as well as small privately owned studios, I think I can give you some food for thought. Unless you really want the extra amenities that a large gym offers such as pool, sauna, steam room, tanning, locker rooms, showers, child care, or aerobics classes, etc, I would avoid the large gyms. If you look for a self employed trainer that either goes to clients' homes to train them, or works out of a small studio with a lower overhead, you can often get much lower priced training without membership fees, and probably a much higher quality trainer(no guarantees on that, so do some research). I know in the seattle area, most experienced trainers end up getting tired of being underpaid slaves to large corporations, and end up becoming self employed private trainers. If you really want to lower the cost of your personal training, try to find a trainer that does small group training with groups of 2-5 clients at a time. This will usually be 2-3 times less expensive than one on one training. It also makes it more motivating and fun, but still offers the benefits of having a professional guide you and push you. You might try and see if there are any crossfit facilities near you. It is more affordable because of the group model, and it is very effective.
To address some of your other points, i'd like to say that although it might be possible to get results on your own, either at home or at the gym, according to statistics and my experience it is very unlikely. Most people if they even use the gym at all, are too sporadic and put in a mediocre effort. They either have no solid plan at all, or they continue to use the same outdated plan forever. Having a personal trainer isn't a guarantee that you will get results, but according to surveys i've seen, it improves your chances by 80-90%. If people could do everything on their own, we wouldn't need teachers, coaches, service professionals, etc. By nature half of our potential is to be lazy and gravitate to what we like to do, or what is easy. Most people need some sort of external force to motivate them to do what is hard and painful. Even as a trainer, I don't push myself as hard when working out on my own, compared to when I have a teacher, coach, or trainer putting me through the paces. The most valuable thing you'll get from a trainer isn't their expertise, it is accountability.
Your friend that told you to just use machines is giving you very poor advice. I can go into a very long winded rant about the science of why body weight exercises and free weights are better than machines, but unless you want to hear my views on that, I'll skip it for now. All i'll say is if you look at people with an elite level of fitness such as dancers, gymnasts, martial artists, power lifters, swimmers, etc, they all accomplished it through body weight exercises and/or free weights, not machines. I'll get off my soap box now. I think my intended comment turned into a sermon. Sorry about that. Anyways I hope some of that info helped. Feel free to email me if do want some more info about how to pick a good trainer, facility or program. Take care.

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