Near the beginning of 2016, my trainer, with whom I had been working for the last two years, let me know he was moving into a new career later this year and would be giving up personal training in the spring. The news made me sad, as I have learned a lot from him, but I understand the need to move on to new adventures that call your name.
Over the last month as we have wrapped up our last sessions, I had the opportunity to reflect on some the lessons I have learned from training, and I am not referring to the latest machine or the newest exercise.
- Show up – It sounds funny, but perhaps the most important lesson I learned was always show up at the gym ready to train. It came down to keeping my promise to myself. Part of it came from how I started my sessions – by taking advantage of cancellations. My trainer was much in demand and when I got a slot, it would take a serious issue for me to give it up.
When I was able to get my own regular slots each week, I made sure they were booked into my calendar automatically. That way if a meeting request came up, I could choose a different time for the meeting rather than give up my session. Only noro virus, car trouble, injury (and even then for only one or two sessions), and vacation (his or mine) would be just cause to postpone a session.
- Always put in your best effort – I learned there were things I really enjoyed doing – planks, leg curls, goblet squats – and there were things I did not – split squats with or without the cable, Bulgarian split squats, and kettle bell work. And yet, I embraced it all. I made a point to understand why some exercises bothered me so I could work through them more effectively, and I also took time to understand why my trainer programmed those particular things I didn’t enjoy doing.
In the end, I learned my resistance to certain activities could be attributed to either fear or insecurity. Once I was able to identify the cause, I found the effort required to master a technique was not quite so intimidating. I might not like it, but I learned to lump it. One thing I didn’t do was whine about it. As long as I tried to do my best, it was all good.
- There will be good days and bad days – Not every single workout will be stellar. Even with your best effort, some sessions aren’t going to leave you with that pleasant buzz you get when you’ve done your best and everything has worked really well.
Build a bridge and get over it, I would say to myself as I would shuffle into my outdoor clothes and get myself into the car for the drive home post workout. I built a lot of bridges, and I am sure I will continue to do so.
The key thing here was understanding why I might have a bad day. I learned to pay attention to the messages my body was sending during the workout. I learned to experiment with my breakfast on training days and the amount of sleep I got the night before a training session. And sometime, a poor session was simply just that, a poor session and overthinking it was not helpful.
- Injury may hamper work in one area but you can always work on another – The first time I missed two weeks of sessions due to injury, I was seriously upset by it. I worried about how much ground I was going to lose. I worried that I was going to hurt myself again once I came back.
But I worked with my trainer to redirect my energies to working other areas. The second time I experienced an injury – this time a different part – I wasn’t quite so freaked. Time and again, I discovered that once I resumed work on the injured area, my performance improved.
The corollary was that we always found another way to get the job done. My hands are becoming arthritic, and some days my grip is not what it should be. Those are the days I use lots of chalk, or I attach pads to the dumbbells, or we add in a pause in the first set to get used to the weight before going full throttle.
- Small changes add up – I had a number of goals that I wanted to achieve, and which I discussed with my trainer. One thing I wasn’t interested in pursuing was the traditional measures many people use to judge progress. So my trainer would keep track of my Personal Records or Bests (PRs or PBs) and let me know on a regular basis how I was doing.
Focusing on smaller achievements worked for me, and I noticed over time, how my trainer used small tweaks to shift the effort higher. Technique was always king, but I learned that making small changes to the execution of the exercise – adding a weight to the split squat or using a bar for a walking lunge – meant a bigger pay off in strength and endurance.
What’s next? I have now started with a new trainer, and I will let that relationship grow over the coming months before thinking about what is different and identifying the new lessons I’m learning. For now, these five from my first trainer have been invaluable in giving me a solid footing so I can continue to learn new things in the gym.
— Martha is a writer who has embraced the power and joy of the deadlift, while tolerating the split squat.