fitness · health · training · weight lifting

Personal Training: Trying Again

Two 30 pound dumbells with black weights and silver bars.My arms feel like rubber right now. Guess why? Because I went to a personal trainer tonight for the first time in a long while.

It’s been over three years since I stopped personal training, right around the time we started the blog. At the time, I was struggling with my then trainer’s focus on weight loss as a measure of progress. It also seemed like something that, while a worthy investment for the short run, wasn’t consistent with my financial values over the longterm. Personal training costs a lot of money.

But a good friend told me about her trainer and said that he was amazing and a lot less expensive than most. He’s also just down the street from where I usually live (usually because: displaced by the flood for six months so won’t be back there until February or March).

Unlike other studios, her trainer doesn’t charge by the month. Instead, you pay for a certain number of sessions and they never expire. That’s huge improvement over studios where you pay a monthly fee and if you miss a session or two, too bad so sad. And more than that, if you buy a package of 10 classes, it’s close to half of the hourly rate of most other personal training in town, including at the Y. These were all things my friend had told me over about her trainer. For years.

Finally, I decided to give him a try. His name is Paul.

Over email last week, he asked me about goals and I said I’d like to get stronger and leaner, if possible, to support my triathlon goals. He asked me to tell him about my experience with exercise, whether I had any injuries, and whether I’d used free weights before. I gave him the run down of my weight training and other exercise history over the past thirty years.

And he said: I will put together a great workout for you and see you next Wednesday. We will start with upper body (chest, shoulders, biceps, and triceps). I have to say that as much as I enjoy full body exercises, I’m a sucker for the standard upper-lower split workouts. So I’m happy to know that he approaches it that way too.

When I went there tonight I was looking forward to working hard. Paul did indeed put together a great workout for me. We did some things I’m familiar with, like dumbbell presses, lateral raises, and curls. And some things that were new to me, like pully push-ups and ballistic crunches (where he throws a soft weighted ball at me, I catch it, and then do a crunch as I throw it back). My arms felt like jello partway through the hour. With how hard I work when I’m there, I need to eat a bit more than a half a cup of apple sauce before I go next time.

There were lots of good parts. But here’s something I almost still can’t believe. Not once did he say a thing about weight loss or even ask me for my body weight. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing a scale in the gym or the locker room (maybe I missed it).  I love that this isn’t a focal point.  Instead, true to my stated goals, we are focusing on getting me stronger.

Why have I returned to personal training after all this time? Here are a few reasons:

  • I have not been making it to the gym for weight training despite thinking that resistance training is an important part of my overall health regime. Having appointments with a trainer is a great way to make sure I get there.
  • I’m feeling weaker and I want to feel strong again. Nothing makes me feel strong the way regular weight training does.
  • I work a lot harder when I work with a trainer. Paul helped me squeeze out a few more reps in every single set today — reps that I would not have bothered to force if I’d been working out alone. And every time we got to those tough last few reps, he said, “these are the ones that count.”
  • I take the right amount of rest between sets when I work with a trainer. When I’m on my own I tend to skip too quickly to the next round.
  • Having someone else put together the workouts for me and take me through them takes one thing off of my too-full plate. I like it.
  • Working out with a trainer at a private gym means never having to wait for equipment. That keeps it efficient.
  • He keeps track of the weight and reps for each thing we do, and that means I don’t have to. I like that too.

For many of the same reasons, I like to work with a swim coach at the pool and to do coached bike classes in the winter. They know more than I do, so the workouts are more challenging and effective. I work harder without having to think about what’s next — they tell me. And I’m more likely to do the workout if I have a commitment.

Paul knows I have a lot of other training in a week. Right now I’m aiming for two swims, two runs, and two indoor bike classes. I asked him about whether another weight workout in addition to the two we are doing each week would be a good thing. His response: not really necessary. He will make sure I work really, really hard when I’m there, and if we do upper body one day, lower the other, that should be good enough to see measurable progress each week.

That was a relief because realistically speaking, it’s just not likely that I will find another time each week to squeeze in a third session on my own. Not only that, I have carved out space on Sundays at 4 to get to a yin yoga class. This is a really restorative class that is a super antidote to all the vigorous, tough workouts I do on other days.

I’m excited about this new venture into personal training and the prospect of getting stronger again. And though my arms feel like rubber bands right now, I know it’s because I haven’t worked this hard in the gym in a long time.

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