Friday, July 23, 2010

What Beginners (Read You) Need and Maybe Aren't Getting.

So, you are interested in getting healthy and fit. Good for you! That is the the crucial, first step in your health and fitness journey. But, it is a journey and like every long journey your success will depend on your preparation and your guides. In the case of health and fitness, so many people run into a conundrum; how do I find a good trainer or resources to help me reach my goals? You can jump on the internet and find millions of 'experts' spouting off all sorts of information. Some good, some bad, but mostly more confusing than anything. You could go to your local book store and head over to the 'diet and fitness' section. Unfortunately, 95% of those books are a rehashing of the a lot of out-dated, cookie-cutter, generic information, relying on a fitness model or current trends to sell books. What about going down to your local gym and hiring a personal trainer? I am embarrassed to say, but most personal trainers are just supplement salesmen and glorified rep counters. However, there are still many very good trainers out there that I would recommend and even allow them to train me. It is just hard for someone to filter through the hype and sales pitches to find out who is a highly-educated, experienced, patient, quality trainer.

A few good trainers ( Lyle McDonald and Mike Robertson) have written extensively about what to look for when you are seeking a good personal trainer. I wanted to review what a beginner (what the majority of people looking for a good trainer are, even if you belonged to a gym for years or have been a runner or other athlete for years) needs and should focus on when starting out.

  1. Individualized Assessment and Understanding of Specific Needs: I mentioned that most books, dvds, and even exercise classes are just cookie-cutter programs with no individualization. A trainer can and should individualize training based on the individual's needs. And the only way this can be done is to assess a clients needs. The assessment should include an interview to find out about the client's: medical history, old and current injuries, current physical activity and exercise training, nutrition, goals, expectations, commitment, etc. Additionally, the assessment should include some objective physical measurements. That is, a new client should have passive joint range of motion checked, along with other basic, active 'screening' exercises. While these specific active "screening' exercises can and do vary even among good trainers, they can include: standing, sitting, walking, maybe running and some calisthenic-like exercises that can help show a client's posture, flexibility, joint stability, balance, coordination, strength, and even "compensations". This important information will help guide the trainer design an appropriate program. Body fat and resting metabolic rate can be measured/calculated and are helpful, too.
  2. A Good Movement Foundation: Most beginners are looking for the biggest bang for their buck. "What exercises will help me burn fat the fastest? What is the best lower back strengthening exercise?" Unfortunately, there are no special, "best" exercises. As a general rule, more intense exercise is needed to get the best results, but high-intensity exercise is probably not appropriate for a beginner. Beginners need to learn proper technique and how to move efficiently. Sitting 8 to 10 hours per day for years is going to significantly alter your posture, muscle activation patterns and movement efficiency. Spend time developing a solid fitness foundation and movement competency. I can't emphasize this enough. Movement competency (ie good technique) is critical for long-term success and to stay injury free. It takes some time and is a combination of having or developing good joint mobility, stability, coordination, appropriate activation patterns, body awareness, and strength. Rarely, is it done by the average fitness enthusiast. But, it is a solid training principle that I use with all clients. If you don't have the basics down and look like you know what you are doing, you have no business doing anything more advanced.
  3. A Basic Nutrition Framework: I don't write out diets for clients. I do, though teach them basic nutrition principles, have them submit a diet log, and help them apply basic, healthy eating principles, like my diet rules. I am interested in educating clients for life, not selling them the latest supplement. You don't need any fancy, expensive supplements. A multi-vitamin/multi-mineral daily supplement will do. If you are concerned about iron, calcium, vitamin D levels, etc., see your physician who can monitor these for you and give you better guidance.


Azri said...

It is heartening that you feel that there is not enough resources for beginners, and to even point our what you feel would help them in their course to improve their fitness. Love what you're doing here.

I am also working on a site to help beginners with exercise. It is still in its infancy stage. Perhaps you could take a look and see what you feel is good, or maybe lacking. :D


Dan Hubbard, M.Ed. said...


Thanks for the comment. Everyone wants instant results and he/she needs to realize and appreciate that they need to develop the physical abilities and attributes over time. What is you web site. I would be happy to check it out.