What makes a good Personal Trainer? Part 1

So, my girlfriend, and indeed a few other people I know think I’m extreme. Despite the fact that I am a very hands-on personal trainer who likes to lead by example they feel I should slow down and take things a bit easier and understand I’m not 25 anymore. This makes me smile. I do of course realise my age but to me the number is insignificant. My ‘number’ matters not one iota to me, my physical capability is what counts. I guess my girlfriend feels I’m extreme because I do not put limitations on myself, and I genuinely feel anything is possibly with the right approach and effort.

At time of writing I am 59, by the way. Currently, I’m working towards press handstand as a primary goal, which requires high levels of functional mobility. I’m also aiming to maximise strength and aesthetic appearance for my 60th birthday in October 2020.

But age determines physical performance, I hear you say. My answer would be ‘only if you let it’. Increasing in age is inevitable, nothing that we know about yet can stop time, and it is true that the body deteriorates over time to a degree. It’s true that we can develop limitations in our joints, arthritis or bone spurs for example, but these can happen at a relatively young age or not at all (another post on this soon). It is also true that muscles can atrophy, or shrink over time – what’s known as sarcopenia.

Overall, losing fitness, strength or mobility is far less inevitable. Muscle imbalances cause lack of strength and hinder proper movement but can be brought back into balance with corrective exercise.  We should fight it with every fibre of our being, in my opinion, and this is the thing that I consider to be the very essence of the role of a personal trainer – to help clients develop an attitude where they feel they owe it to themselves to delay the inevitable, and feel they can succeed.

So here’s a great mantra courtesy of my Instagram buddy and movement coach Rob Westra, (@yourfunctionalbody):

Age is not the enemy, doing nothing is!

The mind controls everything. Strength and mobility especially cannot be distilled down to muscle alone. Attitude and the nervous system are the governors here. As a personal trainer and coach my job is to help someone understand this as much as it is to design and instruct an exercise programme. The following happens regularly:

Client: I can’t do that

Me: Yet

Client: Eh?

Me: You mean ‘I can’t do that yet’

Client: I do?

Me: Yes, you do.

Client: But it’s hard

Me: That’s because you can’t do it yet. Shall we change that?

Client: I’m scared.

Me: I’ve got your back. Let’s do this.

I have this conversation regularly and I love it. It is the beginning of a new chapter, the start of growth. Whether it’s wanting to do a pull-up, the splits or a handstand or something as apparently simple as a box jump everything is new to us if we have never done it before. ‘I can’t’ is a learned and often automatic reaction that has no real basis and a limiting belief that only exists for that moment. There are few feelings as good as challenging a client to move beyond that moment, challenging them with something new and helping someone rule a fear, break new ground and grow. True, we do have limitations, but most often these are way past where we feel we should stop.

Often, someone can tap into a memory, a past glory. Visualisation is very powerful and very liberating. I recently helped a 50-year old lady use this superpower by remembering her youth as a gymnast to create a whole new world of possibility for herself.

As a personal trainer, to help with goal setting I try to tap into a client’s imagination, their highest vision of themselves and pose the question: what’s the best thing I can help you with? Only an open and unrestricted mind can respond to this. It’s really hard to formulate goals with someone who feels they can’t do things!

Struggle, by its very nature is progressive – I strongly encourage you to actively seek out new challenges, embrace the struggle and don’t give up because struggle is progress. Keep moving, keep aiming for new things. Keep your mind open to possibilities and guess what: with determination and a good personal trainer to guide you, you are very likely to succeed.

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