Previous installments of Feel the Burn can be found here.
I try to run sometimes. I do yoga pretty regularly. But, I’ve also started seeing a trainer. And it’s great. He’s awesome, pushes me to lift heavier things (which is what I told him my goal was) and he’s super supportive and encouraging. I feel super SWOLE BRO after my training sessions and love bragging about my 105lb bench for reps. Did I mention the Bulgarian split squats with 40 lbs? Getting there felt great.
But, my question: I can’t afford this trainer forever. Sigh. I can definitely stick with it for a while longer, and then probably go down to once a week or something for a little while (I go twice now) But, what tips do you have for both knowing when you can train unassisted (both mentally and physically, like spotting etc?) and for keeping with it without the nice young man saying “Nope, that didn’t count. Do it again.”
I recognize that I’m lucky to have this problem and that some of this is just suck it up, buttercup and go to the gym and do your sets and don’t cheat. But even with a good background in lifting, and not giving a shit about the dude bros in the gym, how should I handle the transition from trainer to self-guided training? How do we do it on our own?
Ah, trainers. I love them! I am very happy to have gotten this question. Let me begin with the exposure to personal trainers that is most common in our modern, workaday world, to make this accessible to everyone: you join a new gym you cannot quite afford, and with your membership you discover you get (depending on how horribly expensive your gym is) one to three complimentary sessions with a personal trainer. Or a pack of three or six sessions for a relatively nominal fee, which you choose to acquire. Good for you! FITNESS.
When you have a complimentary session with a personal trainer, it is similar to the experience of chewing happily on a free sample at a fancy grocery store. “Mmmm,” you say, “I will certainly consider purchasing this chicken hot dog/marinade/freeze-dried banana dipped in dark chocolate. Might I have a second to make up my mind?” Your mind is already made up. You will eat these two samples, and then come back if a new person takes over the shift for two more.
What you want, then, is to shake this person down for everything they’re worth to you, in a transparent and honest matter.
What I mean by this, of course, is that in most situations, personal trainers are really hoping to turn three complimentary sessions they are paid very little for, but are part of their jobs, into long-term clients. BECAUSE THAT’S HOW MONEY WORKS. This is very natural, but, depending on the gym environment, can result in a hard sell. And if that’s not something you’re going to be able to do, let them know in literally the first minute.
“What are your goals?” they will ask you, unless they are terrible. IF they are terrible, ask for a different trainer. Like snowflakes and Bobby Drapers, no two trainers are alike. Some people love being yelled at, some people enjoy endless puppyish enthusiasm and bellows of good cheer! I don’t know your life.
This is what you say. Write this down.
“I can’t afford to work regularly with a trainer, although I would like to, so my goals for our time together involve coming up with an exercise routine or set of routines I can do on my own two or three times a week, and some advice on how to scale it up as it becomes too easy. Can you help me with that?”
And then go from there! And as they are helping you, write it down! Take cell phone pictures of how they set up the whatever! Ask a series of dumb questions. A good trainer will be fine with this, because they want to help you achieve your goals. And if they immediately start into trying to explain why helping you develop a workout routine is NOT their bag, then you say (PROMISE ME YOU WILL SAY THIS!):
“No problem! I don’t want to waste your time, I’ll have someone else do my intro sessions. Have a nice day.”
AND THEN YOU WALK AWAY. (This, by the way, is also what you do if you are a larger person, and your trainer constantly volunteers diet advice or talks about losing weight if it’s not a goal for you. You will not want to keep working out with someone who has a different agenda for your body than you do, so cut ’em loose ASAP, before it’s an established relationship.)
Okay, so that’s how to use a trainer to help you succeed on your own. But, to get more into the particular question we’re answering today, having a trainer start you down the correct path is only part of the battle. You want to know how to make yourself actually do it. To do the extra rep. To not allow things to quietly get easy. Are you ready to train unassisted? Yes! Everyone can train unassisted. If you’re doing something you feel nervous about, ask for a spot. SWEEPING GENDER ESSENTIALISM: men love spotting people, because they are incapable of forming true emotional connections. This is the highlight of their inner life for the week. Now, back to working out:
You want to feel like garbage at the end of a workout, and you’re not sure you can do that on your own.
Oh, I feel you. I feel you hard. As I mention below, I have worked out with my wonderful trainer for ages now, and when I’m out of town for a month visiting my mom in Canada, I always go to the gym and stand there dumbly for the first day or so. I use the Roman chair, I do some squats, I get on the elliptical, I futz around on circuit machines, I stare sadly out the window. And then I get my shit together, because once you get in decent shape, you start to get antsy as balls if you’re not moving around.
Here’s what works for me, and what I always recommend to others:
Write it down. Go in with a PLAN. It can literally be three pages you tore out of Shape, it can be what you worked out with the aforementioned trainer, it doesn’t matter, just go in knowing what your warmup will be and how long it will last, then, like, three sets of six-to-eight reps of six different exercises, then your cooldown plan, and STICK TO IT. Otherwise you may find yourself sitting on a bench idly flipping through your phone, and then you will be filled with self-loathing.
The next day, are you sore? Adjust accordingly (and, by that I mean: everything you worked should be a little bit sore.)
When you start to be able to do eight reps, go up on the weight. And, yes, ask the meatheads for advice, mess around on Stumptuous, the WORLD is your source for workout material. The key is to know what you’re going to do before you walk in the door, to check items off your list, and to be honest about your intensity level. You can have lazy days, but I like to spend my lazy days watching Netflix and staying in my jammies. When I’m at the gym, I want to leave it all on the table.
Bless you. Godspeed.
BRIEF ASIDE ON PERSONAL TRAINERS: I share a personal trainer with a good friend here in Utah (Utah: a cheaper place to have a personal trainer than many places), and we work out together twice a week, and it’s aces. I can afford it, I love it, I do it. When I have visiting friends and family, he makes me bring them to the gym and he trains them for free. He’s trained Mallory! He’s a gem. There’s nothing wrong with working out with a trainer eternally, if you can afford it and if you feel like you are not stagnating in their hands.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.