Beware of Sergeant Sprint..finding a good personal trainer

Note: I just completed my first month of interning at Cressey Sports Performance, and I've got more than my learning shoes on. I've got on learning pants, socks, shirts, underwear....I'm learning. As such, I've been spending less time writing, though I expect to have a few more posts up over the summer. 

The first time I ran a college softball practice, we sprinted.

By that I mean they sprinted. The players. They sprinted a lot, they ran a lot, and they were not shy about their disgust with me.

You probably wouldn't want to sprint in these Oregon Waffle throwbacks from 1972, though they were good enough for Steve Prefontane.

You probably wouldn't want to sprint in these Oregon Waffle throwbacks from 1972, though they were good enough for Steve Prefontane.

"We're not a track team.." one grumbled.

"Enough already Sergeant Sprint" another said.

A third player threw up in the corner of the gym. "I'm good!" she yelled. "Totally good."

I took the grumbles in stride and had them do another round of heart attacks (use your imagination if you're not sure), but there was a reason they were doing so much conditioning.

I wasn't sure what else to do with them.

Despite having played softball all of my life, this was my first time running a practice with 15 players. I literally didn't know what to do with them. So they ran. And ran. And after each practice, I researched. And bought videos. And read books. I found drills and learned drills. I knew how to hit a softball, but I wasn't sure how to teach 15 people at one time how to hit a softball. And 15 people that were at 15 different skill levels. 

It took me a full season to find a balance between conditioning and softball skills. And my team let me know in no uncertain terms at the end of the season when they filled out surveys. 

So what does this have to do with fitness? And you? And why do I ask so many rhetorical questions in my posts? 

Basing my practice strategies only on what I knew and not on what my players needed was a poor approach as a coach, and it's a poor approach from a personal trainer as well.

Training is about you, not your trainer

I thought it was important to teach fitness for life when it came to coaching softball, and there's no doubt that conditioning is important in any sport. But coaching softball at an NCAA Division III program was also about providing the team with an experience that was fun, and most of all, positive. It was also about teaching them how to play softball. Your trainer should be asking you about your goals, your experience, and your needs. I'd like to deadlift 300 pounds, but that doesn't mean my client wants to do that. I can and should explain the benefits of strength training, but ultimately, the client has a say in how we move forward with programming.

Your training should be tailored to your needs

I'm learning a lot in my internships at CSP, and one of my big takeaways from the first month is understanding that we all move differently. Some of us are incredibly limber, some of us couldn't touch our toes without bending our knees even if doing so could somehow guarantee we'd never have chin hair again, and some of us are right in the middle. And we all have injury and health histories that are unique to us. 

Just because your bestie has committed herself to running a half marathon and wants you to do it with her doesn't mean it's the best decision for you if you have a history of knee, hip or ankle problems, and especially if you've found that running aggravates those injuries. (I'm not knocking half-marathons, I actually quite enjoy them). Like-wise, just because a yoga class has worked really well for you because you can already turn yourself in to a pretzel, doesn't mean it will be the best decision for your friend.

Your trainer should be coaching you

If your trainer is demonstrating an exercise and then walking away to carry on with Snap Chat, find a new trainer. Training and coaching is about just that; actually training and coaching. Your trainer should be watching you perform an exercise and making tweaks and adjustments until he or she is sure that you not only understand how to do the exercise intellectually, but kinetically as well. And I just used kinetically in a sentence...twice...When I first started training people, I found myself looking away as though my clients wanted privacy while they were trying the sometimes awkward-in-public one legged hip thrusters off of a bench. They don't want privacy. They want to know if they're doing the exercise safely, effectively, and correctly.

Knowing your body

One of the best tools that places like CSP provides clients is in depth knowledge of their bodies. I had no idea that I had a tight thoracic spine (upper back) and tight hip flexors until I had someone actually run me through a battery of tests and take my health history into account. I spent seven years as a softball pitcher which did all kinds of interesting things to my right shoulder, and it's important for me to take that into consideration in my programming. Your personal trainer should be spending some time learning how you move. There are some basic assessments that many trainers use; they may watch you squat, lunge, reverse lunge; test your ankle mobility, hip and joint stability, and at a bare minimum, take an injury and health injury. If your personal trainer isn't doing any of these things, it's time to find a new personal trainer.