November 1, 2010

Sabotage by Personal Trainer

I now take up the painful topic of how a personal trainer can sabotage your workout.  While I am loathe to speak badly of my profession, the truth is there are a few dangerous trainers out there.   Ever heard of rhabdomyolysis?  This is a relatively rare condition where your skeletal muscles breakdown due to severe injury.  The byproducts can lead to kidney failure and even death.  Highest risk are individuals who take statins such as Lipitor, but supplements such as Hydroxycut have also been implicated. There have been legal actions against trainers (and some group fitness instructors) alleging the workout was intense enough to cause rhabdomyolysis.  Another trainer was sued for causing the death of woman after he recommended supplements that conflicted with her high blood pressure medication.
In reality, these are extremes; most trainers are excellent, at worst, you may waste your time or money,   But how do you find a good trainer?  First off, make sure he or she is certified by a reputable organization.  There are currently no laws requiring a personal trainer to be certified or licensed.  While I believe you do not need certification to be a good trainer, it denotes at least a minimum of knowledge.  In addition, every highly regarded organization requires continuing education; this will ensure your trainer stays up to date.  Unfortunately, not all certifications are equal.  It is entirely possible to get a meaningless online certificate.  There are scores of certification programs out there, many are excellent, but the most prestigious are from ACSM, ACE, NASM, and NSCA. 
Of course, certification does not make someone a great trainer.  If you belong to a gym watch the training sessions.  Does the trainer focus on the client; is he looking in the mirror, schmoozing with other members or on the cell phone?  Does the trainer do the same workout with every client?  Look for some of the warning flags from my previous posts: does she stretch the client before the workout, does he supervise women as they do countless reps with baby weights, does she allow her clients to lift weights with bad form? I see these more often than I would like. You can also try word of mouth, but the trainer your friend loves may not be a good match for you.
Find out what to expect when you interview trainers. Every trainer should be asking your goals.  Your workout will be very different depending on whether you want to run a marathon, lose weight, lower your blood pressure or just feel better, so it is a red flag if a trainer does not ask.  You should be asked about your medical and exercise history. Many trainers will do a physical assessment to determine strengths, weaknesses and imbalances.  The beauty of personal training is having a workout designed just for you.  If a trainer shakes your hand and directs you to a machine without getting to know your needs, you should say no thank you and find someone else.
The most important aspect of finding a trainer right for you is that intangible of chemistry.  You may have to try several different trainers until you find one you are comfortable with. A great trainer will help you look and feel better, but more importantly, will actually make you enjoy and look forward to exercise.  That will keep you going, and guarantee results.

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