I have two questions for you based off your professional experience.
- What are common errors in training and nutrition that you often see in beginner exercisers?
- When people want to try an alternative exercise program (i.e. crossfit, orange theory), what kinds of questions should they be asking the trainers when they go in to check it out? What should they look for? Red flags?
Anthony Perrone, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS
These are good questions that can definitely use some attention. I’ve outlined a few components below in which I believe to be common errors in beginners regarding fitness training.
1. Lack of Education and Lack of Basic Strength
All aspects of physical training require knowledge in exercise selection, goal setting and program design. Regardless of the setting (i.e. police academy, college athletics, personal fitness), there should be a purpose behind your training – exercises must have meaning. If you are new to exercise, it would be wise to start with body weight movements such as push ups, pull ups and lunges in order to develop a base-level of strength. Most beginners lack this basic strength, yet they attempt to bench press and squat heavy weight with shitty form. What a disaster and good way to get hurt. Perform body weight movements first, master them and then progress.
2. Too Much Too Soon
An important concept of training is exercise progression. Start small then introduce new stimuli. There are a few ways to accomplish this. One way is to manipulate volume and intensity. You can increase rep ranges, sets and/or the tempo of an exercise. A simple example, you could perform 10 push ups week one, 15 in week two and 20 in week three. It’s important to structure a program with quality exercises, using appropriate volumes and effort. This will allow your body to adapt, gain strength and build muscle so that your joints become strong enough to accommodate a new stimulus. Going too heavy or just simply doing too much too soon is grounds for injury. Building strength requires time. When time is not accounted for, injuries occur.
3. No Thought-Out Plan
This goes hand in hand with my last point, too much too soon. Having a plan is the difference between reaching goals and not. Setting a plan can be quite fun and challenging. Think of it as a mini competition against yourself (if you’re competitive like me). For example, if you complete the 1.5 mile run in 12 minutes, then a goal could be to complete the 1.5 run next time in under 12 minutes. It gives you something to strive for; something to compete against, rather than going into a program with no intent. Now, that’s a small example but a planned progression. It is a way to stay organized and on task. Throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks is a terrible way to do business. Being organized with a plan is the best way to progress and get results. Whether it is in the gym or in the office, it is something that applies to life.
To answer the second part of your question regarding nutrition…
People eat garbage week after week and wonder why they are not in shape when they try to exercise. Guess what? If you eat garbage, your brain and body will reflect the same. The key to a sound nutrition plan is discipline and knowing what is healthy and unhealthy. If you know that you shouldn’t be eating or drinking it, then don’t eat or drink it. It’s that simple. We all know that soda is not healthy. It contains aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, artificial color and flavor. In one study, sugar (high fructose corn syrup) caused inflammation which can result in memory loss (1). Another study discovered that this type of diet can also lead to DNA mutation and different forms of cancer (2).
Just from this example, we can see that consumption of soda does not put us in a healthy environment. However, the soft drink industry has grown to massive numbers and the population will continue to drink soda, regardless of what research tells us. Eating right is a challenge and requires discipline and priority. The best route to take when cleaning up your diet is to ask yourself a question – do you want to end up on the operating table for heart disease, or do you want to live a long healthy life?
Ok, enough of my rant and onto your question regarding what people should look for when starting a new program.
What questions should be asked to trainers? What are some red flags to look for?
If you are seeking out a private facility where it is small-group based, these are some questions that I would recommend asking the trainer/person in charge of program administration.
What is the purpose of the program?
The trainer should be able to clearly explain the goal(s) and purpose of the program in five minutes or less. If he/she cannot do this, then you may want to think about turning around and walking out the door. Anyone who cannot clearly define their product/service is probably unsure themselves about what they offer. And we’re not looking for “get better” as an answer. We are looking for answers that we can relate to everyday life. Get better at what? Will my joints feel better? How? Can you help alleviate pain in my back? How?
Can the program be modified?
Especially if you are a beginner, this question will tell you everything you need to know about the facility and its staff. A great staff will be able to modify exercises for those who need it – which is everyone.
What is the educational background of the trainer(s)? Experience?
I’m not saying you need to have a PHD, but a sports and movement science education/background would definitely be something to look for. You don’t want Old Hank the accountant to be instructing you or your kids, do you? Or the kid who went for his MBA, failed miserably, and now has decided to run a fitness business. Watch out for these people.. they exist all over the place.
How can they help you and your circumstance?
Fitness is about longevity, it is not a quick fix. Good trainers understand this concept and will explain that to you. Trainers who chase dollar signs will tell you everything you want to hear. So, I would listen to whatever they have to say, and ask enough questions to really test his/her knowledge and intent. After all, you are seeking a trainer for your benefit and health, not his/her benefit to make a sale. Remember that people!
Is the trainer genuine? Do they show you respect?
If you don’t get respect, walk away. Period. There is nothing that bothers me more than a rude and/or disrespectful individual. Doesn’t matter what their occupation is. This is probably the biggest sign of whether or not you will take action. If they are full of sh*t and talk about how great they are in a pompous way, then they will not do you any good. This is your health we are talking about and we want it to be taken seriously in a professional manner. There should be some level of trust that develops along the way with your trainer.
- This is Your Brain on Sugar: UCLA Study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. Elaine Schmidt, May 15, 2012
- High Fructose Corn Syrup and Pancreatic Cancer: a diet high in high fructose corn syrup is associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk. Lena Suhaila, ND, Octover 2012.
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