Why working with a personal trainer is different than working out on your own in a gym

As any long-distance runner knows, we try to solve the world’s problems while we are out on those long runs; our brains must do something! This Sunday on my 14-mile run, I thought about why my clients are successful with their long-term weight loss goals and getting fitter to live better lives. Of my current 21 clients, 3 were obsessing my thoughts; a 53-year-old man down 48lbs in 2 years with his knees working better than ever with 40lbs more weight loss to go, a 41-year-old woman down 40lbs with 30lbs to go, and a 56-year-old woman down 18lbs excited to imagine how much better she will feel with 40 more off. All 3 clients had tried for decades to lose the weight by eating less and moving their bodies more, sometimes achieving success in the short term, then long term failure with weight gain and more body pain which broke their spirits and they felt they could never get fit. All 3 have stuck with me since day one and changed their lifestyles drastically since when we met, but not drastically to them because I just gave them one new thing to do every week and weight loss and fitness doesn’t come quickly.

As I watched a client doing the stair machine she said, “how many floors am I doing today, 8?” I laughed and said, “no 20”.
“Vanessa, I can’t do that.”
“Just do it.”
She laughed, she hunched over, she pushed, and she did 20 floors on the step machine. As she leaned against the wall to recover, smiling and laughing because she was happy she could do more floors than she ever could even imagine, I thought about how all those years I spent in commercial gyms and rarely saw people push themselves like that on their own, but I see it almost every weekend at marathons and ½ marathons. No one running a race is embarrassed to be sweating, and screaming and pushing their bodies through pain and feeling the amazing accomplishment of getting to the finish line. And all the runners, fast or slow cheer each other on at races. Is it the human connection, the encouragement of another human that we need?

We have created commercial gyms, glossy videos and books made of pretty people posing, making exercise look sexy and fun when most of the time it is just hard work. With all these readily available tools, the American public is more obese than ever. Just stand next to that row of 20 treadmills at the gym for ½ an hour. How often does someone almost fall of the treadmills from exhaustion? Are you telling me everyone in the gym is already fit? Or are the non-fit people just too embarrassed to push themselves and fail or too scared they will hurt themselves? I think it is a combination of both.

With my clients, young, old, fit or overweight, I use the 20% rule. As they do an exercise, lifting weights, treadmill, bike, whatever, I watch to see when they start to struggle or their breath becomes labored. Now I ask for 20% more. 20% more than when they want to quit. They always make it because we have developed trust in each other. I never give a count or timeframe they can’t make. It is so important to have the sense of accomplishment you finished the task successfully. This is the difference with working with a personal trainer, I can push my clients to use their bodies safely and achieve results without hurting themselves.