I am enrolled in a personal training program since January and I am loving it! I am literally rediscovering my body and learning all kinds of things about my relation to exercise, things I had forgotten, stopped paying attention to or never thought about. I will tell you what I have learned but first, some background.
Since I stopped smoking in 1997, I have picked up regular exercising. The goal, of course, was to lose the weight I had suddenly gained. I started going to a gym early 1999 and kept up with this until I was on teaching release and then on sabbatical leave, starting in 2012. When I was regularly training, I would do aerobics classes, cardio training on ellipticals, bikes, steppers, and weight lifting. During the summer, I would jog and bike (I have written about some biking experience here). Whatever I knew about training and weight lifting I had learned from the non-certified staff at the gym where I went from 1999 to 2003. I kept doing what they taught me for years.
Returning from sabbatical with a broken training routine – which had been thrown off by all the travelling I did over 1.5 years – I wanted to resume regular training and wanted to challenge myself. Even before the break in my routine I had felt that I was on a plateau and that my body was no longer responding to training, or at least not as much as it used to.
I had long been intrigued by personal trainers and what they can do for one who already “knows” how to train. I found out about a course here at Brock which was looking for volunteer clients to work with students learning to become personal trainers: PEKN 4P22 “Therapeutic Applications of Physical Activity.” I immediately signed up and have been very happy with this decision!
I have been paired with a team of 5 students in their fourth year of their Kinesiology degree, 2 young women, Al. and S., and 3 young men, An., K. and J. Their task is to design a training program that works for me and allows me to improve and reach my goals. At first, Al. and S. met with me to collect information on my health, goals, and exercising habits. I then met with An., K. and J. and they assessed and measured my strength, flexibility, cardio capacity and balance. After that, we started meeting regularly, twice a week. Other times I just go in the gym and do my cardio on my own.
Here are things I have learned about my body and exercising so far:
- I am stronger than I think! For years I had been in the habit of using weights between 5 and 10 pounds and do 16 repetitions twice. This was motivated by my desire to avoid bulking and by a belief that I did not have strength to lift more. My strength assessment and the exercises we have been doing since tells me I was seriously underestimating myself since I now use weights between 15 and 20 pounds, do fewer repetitions and more sets.
- I can do intervals (and love them)! My personal trainers see me as someone pressed for time (and they are right). So they have designed cardio circuits that involve interval training. I never thought I could pull it off. I suffer from stress-induced asthma and getting out of breath with a sprint is a challenge. But they have made me try it and I am enjoying it a great deal. In fact, I do that on my own now.
- I can be pushed (if gently)! The first sessions, I did not know what to think of my personal trainers’ encouragements. The various “Come on, one more!”, “5 seconds more!”, “You can do it!”, “Keep going!” and “I know you can do better!” made me skeptical. But I am truly enjoying the encouragement now. When training on my own and if challenging myself enough, I hear my trainers’ voices and it does push me. One Monday, Al. made me run faster on the track. My personal trainers record everything we do on a wiki (which I did not know). So the following Wednesday as I was lazingly jogging around the track, S. who was jogging alongside said “So, I hear that if we push you, you will go faster…” Enough said! I sped up right there! I can do it! I now use the encouragements myself with K. who has a hard time stretching. He needs to work on his flexibility. I try to push him gently, the way they do with me.
- I like a challenge (and my trainers too)! My trainers’ approach to exercising is both serious (it is a class) and playful. The other day Al. had designed a bonus challenge. It was meant to challenge me as well as J. and herself, my trainers that day. The challenge consisted in maintaining a wall squat for the time it would take for a trainer to sprint around the track. I asked who was the fastest because I wanted to have a shorter challenge. Al. went first and then J. did. It means I did the challenge twice and they each ran a sprint lap and did a wall squat with me while the other was sprinting. We were all laughing afterwards (with them panting for breath). That was good fun. I would not have done something like this on my own, obviously. We have two other challenges going on now. I was asked by J. which team is more challenging: the Monday team (Al. and J.) or the Wednesday team (An., S. and K.). I still don’t know the answer. They are challenging each in their own way but they would like to know. The other challenge has to do with them finding core exercises that will really make me sore. 3 times now they promised I would be really sore the next day and 3 times I was rather ok. I have conveyed that to them and, knowing them by now, I am sure they will find a way to meet the challenge!
- Less is more (really)! I used to spend up to an hour on a cardio machine and then do some weight lifting. The amount of time spent in a gym was lengthy and still I did not see much profit. I am learning with my trainers now that a shorter and more intense workout is more efficient. I have also learned that there is little value to cardio exercise which puts you at a regular pace for an extended period. I could not believe how tired I was the first time we did a cardio circuit with intervals which, in total, must have been 20 minutes. This, in addition to the other exercises we did that day, left me completely pooped but oh, so satisfied! My body was being challenged!
- My body is powerful and able! My trainers are making me lift heavier weights and I am introduced to some weight lifting exercises that I would not have dared pick up on my own. Deadlifts are now part of my life. They are also making me skip a rope every now and then as part of a cardio circuit. When I was first told I had to do this, my response was “I can’t” to which they said “Try, and if it does not work for you, we’ll find something else.” I tried and kept trying (encouragements, see above) and now I can do it! Yay me!
- I need to pay attention to my body! If you were to ask me what is the best thing I have learned so far I would say: I have to pay attention to my body and what it does. Everything my trainers make me do is sure to be followed by a question such as “How did that feel?” “How is that?” “Did you feel it there?”, making me aware of the importance of being self-reflective in my exercising. An. is the one who asks these questions the most, especially with regard to weight lifting. I used to train mindlessly, just setting my body in motion and then daydream or read a magazine when on a cardio machine that allowed for that. It is so much better to focus on my body’s movement and to feel its effort in accomplishing the task. I still have to learn to do it better but at least now I know I have to do it. However, I will admit I did not know how to answer Al.’s question last week: “Do you feel any different from when we started?” Now that I have thought about it for about a week, I can safely say that yes, I do feel stronger, lighter, more able, and faster.
We are creatures of habit. When we exercise on our own, it is easy to fall into a rut and do the same thing, over and over again. I used to think that my summer 50 minutes jogs were the best thing I could do. I now think differently. Same thing for the extended bike rides at a regular pace. Will I stop doing those? No, I enjoy them and it is better to do things one enjoys. But I will continue to challenge myself to do different things and pick up new things. I have now learned I can enjoy other things because I have learned I am able to do them. I am literally rediscovering my body and its strength and ability, thanks to my personal trainers and the challenges they have in stock for me.
The term is not over. I still have to meet with them a few more times and I hope to learn a few more new things. But one thing I know: I will continue to be having fun!
Christine is a feminist continental philosopher who lives with spouse and cat in the Niagara Region. Biking and training are favorite activities as is gourmet cooking and reading gore thrillers when she travels to conferences, taking a break from writing her monograph on Nietzsche.