Grace wants to gain muscle but not gain weight. Gloria wants to trim down specifically in her midsection. George wants to bulk up but not change his diet. Gina wants to lose weight without sweating or getting sore.
From a customer service standpoint, I, as the hired professional, should deliver on my clients’ wishes. But what if their wishes are misguided? What if they heard they could achieve a result doing something that is actually counterproductive- or worse, completely unsafe?
When a client first comes to me, it’s not their current weight or state of physical health that creates the biggest challenge for me as a trainer- it’s the plethora of misinformation they have absorbed and held to be true before finally realizing that maybe they need a new approach or additional support. And I don’t blame them for soaking up everything the internet spews out! All it takes is one catchy headline to make us second guess the food we eat, the fabric softener we use, whether to get the flu shot this year, or if we’ve been breathing properly our whole lives.
The difference between what I know, and what these headlines would have people believe, is that I have worked hard through a year-long personal trainer program to understand the way the human body works. Unlike the fly-by-night weekend certifications offered online, we delved into the complexities of human anatomy and energy systems so that we could better serve future clients by helping to educate them.
The problem is, the truth about how our energy systems work is something most people don’t want to hear. Let’s start with what is possibly the biggest point of contention in the fitness industry, and a statement that does not typically earn me any new fans:
CALORIES IN VS CALORIES OUT
To lose weight, there MUST be a calorie deficit. Plain and simple. If you burn more than you eat, you will lose weight.
To gain weight then, there must obviously be a calorie surplus. But to gain muscle and lose fat is the trickiest of all: You must increase or maintain calories with a very careful and precise balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein - it can not be a free-for-all!
The reason some of my clients initially resist this fact, is because they have been lead to believe that their inability to lose weight or change their body composition is not their fault. The only way for that to be true is if they have gone to a doctor to have a full blood panel, including thyroid and blood sugar, and know FOR A FACT, their body is deficient in one thing, or over productive in another. So if this is a point they wish to argue with me, I am not afraid to send them to the clinic with a medical release waiver so their doctor can tell me that there is a medical issue preventing them from reaching their goals.
This usually ends the argument.
In addition to the calorie debate, there is an endless list of things people in the fitness industry would love us to believe because it helps sell their supplements, books, or videos. People could argue for days about things like cardio vs strength workouts, being an omnivore vs vegan, what times of day we should eat or stop eating, whether it’s better to work out in the morning or at night… so on, and so forth.
There are many details that will be subjective. But here are a few things that are true for all of my clients: For optimal health and fitness, a program that includes cardio AND strength is necessary. There is no need to go on a formal diet, so long as there is an emphasis on portion control and balanced nutrition. And lastly, one should work out when it is most conducive with their current routine, as that is the best way to ensure program adherence.
So let’s go back to my clients*. See if these examples sound like anyone you know.
Grace wants to gain strength without gaining weight because she read that there are exercises she can do to get long, lean, toned muscles without looking jacked or garish. What I need to tell Grace is that muscle size does not dictate strength, but muscle does weigh more than fat. If she gains muscle and keeps everything else the same, she will see the number on the scale go up – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I tell Grace that I am the same weight as 15 years ago, but I have gone down 4 sizes.
Gloria sees article after article about miracle ab exercises that will give her a flat tummy in just 4 weeks. What I need to make sure Gloria understands is that abs are made in the kitchen. Core control can be felt, but it won’t be seen unless Gloria also exercises portion control.
George has dreams of being a figure competitor, but his macronutrients – carbs, fat and protein -- are all over the place. He thinks if he just drinks this PreWorkout Mix he bought at the big chain supplement store that his muscles will soak it up like a sponge. What George must know is that the body can turn ANY excess calorie into stored fat, even protein. So we work on looking at his overall nutrition to make sure he is not overcompensating with calories every time he leaves the gym.
And Gina… poor Gina hates breaking a sweat. She saw a fitness video that promised an 8-minute low impact routine was all she needed to get the body of her dreams. Unfortunately, the body is very efficient, and it would not be long before the same exercises would hardly burn any calories at all. It’s my job to tell Gina that change doesn’t come easy, and that if she doesn’t get out of her comfort zone, the only other option she has to reach her goal weight would be deprivation dieting, which could make her feel tired, weak and possibly more prone to illness.
If you have a friend who has mentioned wanting a trainer, and is addicted to health headlines but never sees results every time she goes on the Diet Du Jour, she would benefit from just a few sessions with me. I will show her how to work every muscle group based on her current abilities – and answer any question she has before, during, and after the workout.
Even if your friend is not local to Atlanta, or just not ready to start training right now, I would still rather she reach out to me to have her questions answered because I will take the time to make sure the information I share comes from a cited resource, and not from a company-sponsored advertisement disguised as an article.
all else - aside from gaining strength, losing weight, or dropping a pant size - I really want to help your friend find and define what it will mean to HER to feel fit, healthy and happy. I want her to come away from our sessions with confidence and self efficacy. The best marker of my success as a trainer will be her ability to feel like she can continue her routine on her own. Because once the habit is established, that's when the REALLY fun workouts begin!
*Names have been changed, and these are generalized examples of some of the challenges that have been brought to be over the years. I will never disclose personal details or medical information for this or any other media materials without consent.