Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Does it Mean to Hire a Personal Trainer?

Shameless self promotion...
Recovery from any illness takes many small steps, and a few big ones. I was blessed to be able to take a big one this week when I received clearance to return to my work as a personal trainer. By way of celebration and shameless self-promotion, I want to spend some time talking about why hiring a trainer might be right for you... or not... b

First, last, and always, wellness is a commitment that you make to yourself. Training partners and classmates might count on you to be there. Teachers and trainers rely on you for their vocation and income.  Your loved ones depend on you to be present and alive and strong for them. Your country and community might even call upon you to be fit enough to serve in war or peace. Many hold a stake in your wellness, but there is only one person to whom you are really accountable. You are the only one who knows the difference between 98% and 100% effort. Others can help to motivate and educate you, but ultimately, the only person you have to answer to for your wellness is the one in the mirror. Will a Personal Trainer help to hold you accountable? Sure. But sooner or later, you have to decide to save your own life. A PT ain't gonna "take you to raise."

Let's be clear: a PT works for you. You rely on them for expertise and good judgement, but if you don't trust them, you need to sever the relationship with all loving haste. Neither of you should ever forget who does the hiring and firing in this business.

At the same time, hiring a PT involves certain promises from you that you owe it to yourself to keep. You promise to pay your bill, but chances are that your Trainer is working for a gym or club who won't pay them until they have provided you with service. In other words, when you fail to show up for a session, the gym still gets paid, (you probably paid them up front anyway,) but your Trainer doesn't. The doctor can bill you for not showing up. A health club is much less likely to do that. It's more than just common courtesy... it's helping your trainer to pay their bills and stay in a profession that is probably more about passion than wealth for them. Even as you ask them to honor your commitment to wellness, your promise to honor their commitment to professionalism and to your best interest.

But enough about your Trainer's pocketbook... what about yours? Hiring a PT isn't ever cheap. You owe it to yourself to get your money's worth. That means more than just showing up on time and ready to work. It means putting the things you learn to use between sessions. Unless you're meeting with a trainer several times a week, 90% of your workouts are going to be on your own. Your Trainer is there to supplement your wellness program, not to be a substitute for it. Meeting 30 or 60 minutes a week with a trainer is not going to get you where you want to be all by itself. When I worked with Coach Carrie, I knew that I would endure 30 minutes of hell most of the time, but I also knew that she was teaching me workouts that I needed to repeat several times during the week if I was going to see any real benefit from them. If you show up for your Thursday session with your PT knowing that your last real workout was the previous Thursday... you're breaking a promise to yourself and being a pretty lousy steward of those dollars that you spent when you signed up.

Hiring a Trainer costs you a lot more than money. Is it worth it?

In exchange for my investment of time and money and effort, here are some of the benefits I received from my own Personal Trainer:

  • Scientifically designed workouts based on the knowledge and experience of a certified professional.
  • Initial assessment and monitoring of my progress based on my own performance.
  • "Teachable moments" when Coach took the opportunity to educate me about the art and science of the fitness business.
  • Exposure to new exercises  that I would not have found on my own.
  • Careful, specific observation of my technique with feedback to make my exercise safer and more effective.
  • A professional motivator, cheerleader, task master, and fan who shared my goals and worked with me to achieve them.
Look, I'm a very motivated guy. I work hard. I go the extra mile. But my Trainer helped me to levels that I would not have reached on my own. Maybe that's because I wanted to please her. Maybe it was just because she believed in me and convinced me to believe in myself. Whatever the reason, I know that I am faster, stronger, and healthier because I worked with a Personal Trainer. My work with Coach was time and money well spent.

I believe anyone can benefit from working with a Personal Trainer, as long as they are willing to keep the promises that relationship represents.
  • To be present
  • To work hard
  • To apply the things you learn
  • To trust your trainer's judgment, and your own
  • To accept the responsibilities of stewardship for your own money, time, and wellness
  • To end the relationship and find another solution when you are not seeing tangible results.
You may not be ready to keep those promises. In that case, congratulations for being self-aware enough to know it. You can still work out, educate yourself, ask questions, and get fit. Maybe you're just starting out. Maybe you've been working hard for a long time and really need to dial it back a little. Or maybe you have some other reason that's keeping you from taking the Personal Training plunge. There's not a thing wrong with that.

But if you are ready... if you feel like you could do better for yourself if you had some help, then hiring a PT might be just the right step for you.

Just be sure you hire a good one. (Insert coy self-reference here...) In our next session, maybe we'll spend some time considering just how you can tell if you've found a good one. 'Till next time...

Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift heavy. Run hard.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thoughts on "Eating Clean"

A friend has asked me to reflect a bit on what I mean by the exhortation to "eat clean" that is part of my closing for RBR. Since I'm not a nutritionist, and not even really a very good role model in this regard, I'm going to throw a little shopping list of thoughts down on paper. Pick the ones you like, and pass on the ones that don't ring any bells for you.

  • If it's good for you... eat it.
  • If it comes from a garden instead of a factory... eat it.
  • If your great-great-grandmother would recognize it as food... eat it.
  • If you have to wash it first... wash it... then, eat it.
  • If it isn't particularly bad for you, and you would never make it yourself... go ahead and eat it if you want to.
  • If it isn't particularly good for you... but eating a little bit of it would make you really happy... for heaven's sake, eat it!

  • If it has a long list of ingredients... careful.
  • If it comes in a jar, a box, or a can... careful.
  • If it requires no expiration date... careful.
  • If it contains things you would never put in there if you made it at home... careful.
  • If Dr. Oz or Jillian or some other celebrity guru says it's the next big thing... do your homework... and be careful.
  • If the label says it's "natural," "light," "organic," "healthy," or in any way good for you... be very careful.
  • If it comes in rows, stacks, or tightly uniform, geometric shapes... pass.
  • If it has a theme song, a cartoon mascot, or a marketing budget... pass.
  • If it includes ingredients that you can't recognize, identify, or pronounce... pass.
  • If you have a hard time envisioning the process by which it made its way from the farm to the shelf... pass.
  • If is is served in a cardboard cup, a Styrofoam clam shell, or out a drive-through window... pass with extreme prejudice.
  • If you just kind of have a funny feeling about it... pass without shame.
  • If it hurts your teeth, rots your gut, damages your brain, or gives you cancer... don't be stupid.
Those are some of my thoughts about eating clean. What are some of yours?

Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift heavy. Run hard.

Who must confess that before his 16 mile run this morning, he had a cup of coffee with skim milk, and half a dozen glazed donut holes. 'Cause rules are made to be broken...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Program Building: Balancing Stress and Recovery

2012 Iron Horse Half Marathon
Recovery isn't always pretty...
Building a training program is about balancing stress and recovery. Allow me to over-simplify for a second here. You ask your body to do something that's hard... much harder than it's used to doing. Something like running a mile or lifting a heavy iron bar with weights on the ends. Once that task is over, the second it is over, in fact, your body starts a conversation with itself. "That was hard. We might have to do that again. We better divert resources to making those muscles and blood vessels bigger and stronger and more up to the challenge."

And that right there is the whole of exercise physiology in a nutshell. Everything else is details. But here's the tricky part. Your body needs the right amount of work to trigger that process, and the right amount of recovery time to allow it to happen. Too little time between workouts, and you never get the chance to rebuild what exercise tears down. Eventually you reach a state called "over-training" where you are actually getting weaker as your body fails to keep up.

So what is the right amount of work for you? Depends on your current condition and your future goals. Right now, I'm trying to run about 25 miles a week. Pretty modest by some runner's standards, but consistent with who I am, what I can do, and why I'm doing it.

And what is the right amount of rest? For me, it's every other day. I run both days on the weekend sometimes, but I don't make a habit of it. Other runners can be out 5 or 6 days a week. I'm not one of them. I start to get tired, I slow down. I don't stop hurting, and worst of all: I stop enjoying my runs. And remember, running is a keystone of my mental health. It's pretty important that I not hate doing it.

Right now, I'm not training for any particular distance. I want to be ready to run any 5K or 10K that comes along, and I have a half and a full Marathon in mind for the fall, but this month, I'm in maintenance mode. To allow for the every-other-day pattern I prefer, I write my own programs on a 14 day cycle that looks like this.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Week 1
5 miles
5 miles
5 miles
Week 2
13 miles
5 miles
5 miles
13 miles

XT means Cross-training. Those are the days I swim or ride my bike or walk. I also use those days for strength training. The point is, I don't use the same muscle systems in the same way two days in a row. Recovery happens on a microscopic level. That's why you can run on Monday and walk on Tuesday. You are not challenging the same muscles in the same way. 

I think of the weekday runs as "Purpose" runs. They always have a purpose and there are lots of possibilities. Recovery runs are light and easy, a great way to wring out the joints after a race. Tempo runs help you to learn your ideal speed and to know it by feel. Speed runs are designed to make you stronger and faster. Hill runs... well, they are just what they sound like. Awful. And beautiful. As in, "It feels so good when I stop."

The long runs on the weekend have a purpose too, but it's always the same: to build endurance. The short runs train your legs. The long ones train your will.

When I'm training for a long race, I stretch the distance on one of the long runs and shorten up the other. I've found through experience that I can add about 2 miles every 2 weeks to my long run. When I start training for my next marathon, I'll take that Saturday run out to 15 miles, and drop the next Sunday one down to 8 or 10. The week after that, I should be able to go 17 on Saturday. The following weekend, I'll run 10 or 12. A really long run requires more recovery time. That's why I won't try to run 20 miles two weekends in a row or to run 28 miles the week before a marathon. 

There's a lot of art and science involved in building a program, and I am not going to pretend to understand more than a sliver of it, but this is the way I train myself. Serious runners might scoff at these tiny numbers. Newcomers might despair at them. To the former I say, "Screw You! Don't you people know I'm a natural wonder?" To the latter I say, "Don't compare yourself to anybody. I once thought that a 5K was an unimaginable distance to run. I got to this place one step at a time, and so will you."

Find your own rhythm of stress and recovery. Your legs will tell you when it's time to test yourself, and your heart will tell you when you're ready for the test. Other runners will offer advice, some good, some not. Some authors will speak to your soul and others will talk right over your head. Your job is to listen and learn. And to keep running.

Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift Heavy. Run Hard.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Program Building: Goals are the Bridge

For all but the most self-satisfied among us, there is a gap between where we are and where we want to be. Goals can help us to bridge that gap. I'll offer a couple of my running goals as examples in the hope that they may help you to set your own.

Remember the steps that led me here.

  • Know who you are: I'm a runner whose mental health plan includes regular workouts, whose age and condition requires frequent recovery days, and whose tendency toward over-training can lead me to wear myself down.
  • Know why you're running: I love the peaceful feeling I get when I'm running, no matter how tough the hills or how much my body hurts. I love the way my leg muscles feel when I flex them. I love the solitude of running, but I also enjoy the company of runners. I love the feeling that I keep getting better. Running makes me feel more alive.
It's pretty clear that my running isn't about competing. I'm not really thinking about winning when I run. There aren't that many people I can keep up with, let alone beat in a race. My goals are much more internal. I want to be faster. I want to be stronger. I want to run long distances without hurting myself. I want to keep doing things I've never done before. I've set three goals for 2013, with all that in mind.
  • Run a sub 60 minute 10K
  • Finish two marathons in under 6 hours
  • Log 1000 training miles
Each of these is pretty ambitious for me. Each meets the SMART goal criteria. And they are just far enough out of my comfort zone to be a little scary. Reaching them is going to require me to make a serious commitment to running for the next 6 1/2 months. My program is what that commitment looks like in practical form. The details of that program will be the subject of our next episode. 'Till then:

Sleep well. Eat clean. Lift heavy. Run hard.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Program Building: Why Are You Running?

You can approach running as a scientist or an artist or a little of both, but whatever your approach, you need to know why you're running to set goals and build a program that will get you there.
  • Maybe you're trying to get yourself into shape, (or back into shape!) You don't want to compete and you don't want to spend hours and hours pounding the asphalt. You do want to strengthen your heart and burn some fat. You want to get yourself a pair of those fantastic legs. 
  • On the other hand, maybe you think you'd like to test yourself. You like the idea of running fast or even piling up some distance. You've watched as other people run organized races and thought to yourself that you'd like to try.
  • And you might be an experienced runner who wants to go farther, but isn't sure how to break through the plateau you've been on for a while 
  • You might hate running, but you think it's the best way to get yourself fit. You have put it off for years, but you're finally ready to get serious.

Everybody is going to have their own reason for running, but it's important for you to know yours before you start. That will tell you how much you value running, and where it fits into the rest of your life.

You're wanting to get fit? You need a program that is tough. A little light jogging isn't going to cut it for you. You need to burn calories.

Your goal is distance? You might need to take the opposite approach. Don't get me wrong. You'll still have to work plenty hard to get up to those 3, 5, and 10K events, but your priority is going to be efficiency. The fat burners want to use up energy fast. You need to learn how to go fast and far and still have gas in the tank for the finish.

Stuck on a plateau? It may be time to try something different to your training. You could be missing out on the benefits of long-slow runs, or of short, hard intervals. The other possibility, and a dangerous one, is that you could be over-training: burning yourself out by running too hard or too frequently and breaking down your strength instead of building it up.

Are you a running hater? There might be good reasons for that. Maybe you've hurt yourself running in the past. Maybe somebody used running as a punishment in practice or gym class. You might prefer team sports and not like the idea of training as an individual. I want to be clear: you can work around some of these, but the bottom line is if you really hate the idea of running, you shouldn't run. You will quit. No sane person will commit to doing something that they hate when they don't have to. The reasons to run might seem strong now, but once your feet start throbbing and your eyes burn from the sweat in them you will start finding much more compelling reasons not to run. Look elsewhere for your fitness life. Walk. Lift weights. Take a class in Yoga or Spinning or Dancing. What matters most is that you find a way to move that you enjoy. You won't get Marathoner benefits from bowling, but you won't get any benefits if you stay home and watch poker on the TV. If running doesn't do it for you, keep looking. Something is going to appeal to you.

Knowing who you are, and why you're running are the foundation for your program, but you need to build a bridge that takes you from where you are to where you want to be. Choosing the right goals, SMART goals can make your program just that. And that's what we'll talk about next time.

Till then, sleep well, eat clean, lift heavy, run hard.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Program Building: Knowing yourself

I want to talk about how I build a training program for myself. And let me make that clear as spring water. This is how I lay out plans for ME. My approach is very specific to 1) my physical condition and 2) my running goals. This approach could be perfect for you, or it could put you in a world of painfully slow times (or worse, painful injuries.) It really benefits you to learn from an experienced runner, or even better, an experienced coach as you make a plan to suit your own body and personal goals.

First, know what kind of shape you are in. This is the surface stuff. I'm 52 years old, (but not for much longer!) quite a bit over-weight, and prone to fatigue and stubborn over-training. This is stuff I know about myself. Some of it is quite obvious, but some of it is the fruit of hard lessons learned from past mistakes.

One other thing: physical exercise and running in particular are the core of my treatment plan for my mental health. When I don't run, I get depressed. When I get depressed, I don't feel like running. And so the bipolar monster feeds itself.

When I stack all this data together, I come to some conclusions:
  • My program must involve frequent, moderate workouts that give me the emotional boost I need without wearing me out so badly that I have to take a long break to recover. 
  • Frequent recovery days are as important as workout days... maybe more so. 
  • I have a tendency to push myself hard, so I need a disciplined approach to workouts that allows me to test my limits without breaking myself down.

And that is step one in program building. Step two is a little more introspective. Why do I run, and what do I hope to achieve? I'll take a look at those questions in our next installment. Till then...

Eat clean, Lift heavy, Run hard, Sleep well.