My goal with every person I train is the same – I want them to not need me at all. I want them to learn how to create an effective program on their own and perform each exercise with beautiful technique. I want them to be able to walk into a crowded gym at 6 p.m. on a Monday and still be able to get in a good workout because they’re so learned in the ways of training, their body is the only piece of equipment they need.
The challenge with this approach is managing to impart these lessons on a truncated timeline without frying my clients’ brains. People pay trainers like me so that they don’t have to think about what they’re doing, they want to show up and have someone else do all the mental manoeuvring so they can focus on the business of getting fit.
With that in mind, I’ve whittled my teachings down to two essential tenets. If you can grasp the following you’ll be one step closer to total gym autonomy.
Where do we go from here?
Lifting, as in life, is all about forward progress. You should be doing more work tomorrow than you did today. This is called linear progression, and it’s one of the most important concepts in strength training. People seem to forget that the whole point of lifting weights is to build strength. This may sound obvious, but I constantly see the same people doing the same workouts with the same equipment every time they enter the gym, sometimes for years on end. If you’ve been curling the same pair of 20-pound dumbbells for three sets of 10 since George W. Bush was in office, you haven’t gotten any stronger and you’ve wasted years of your life.
It’s unrealistic to expect a jump in weight every time you lift. That’s why it’s important to set attainable goals, choose appropriate exercises, and start with a manageable level of resistance. The idea is to leave plenty of room for progress, but keep one thing in mind: Progress doesn’t have to mean more weight on the bar. It can be more reps, another set or less rest between sets. What’s important is that you establish some performance metrics and bust your butt moving the needle forward. Standing still isn’t moving forward, and in the gym you always want to be moving forward.
Do your homework
A mistake too many lifters make is thinking their training is over when they walk out of the gym. They spend no time reflecting on that day’s performance, no time reading blogs or listening to podcasts or watching tutorials. Developing a skill to its fullest requires a serious investment of time and energy. And make no mistake, lifting weights is most definitely a skill. This is why I give all of my clients homework assignments that complement the work we do in the gym. We’re not talking about anything too intensive or demanding – I don’t expect people to casually dig into the complete works of famed Soviet-era coach Vladimir Zatsiorsky – but a modicum of effort is appreciated and will pay off down the road.
Learn the names of basic exercises. Understand the fundamentals of human anatomy and biomechanics. And if your goals relate to body composition (i.e., you want to either gain or lose weight), you need to learn about nutrition. None of this is mandatory, of course. I don’t punish clients for not knowing who the Pallof Press is named after, but if you’re still struggling with basic lifting theory after four weeks of personal training, one of us isn’t doing our job properly.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA. Follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.