Many people simply think if they join a gym or hire a personal trainer they can get started with an exercise program. For most people, this is true, but for a smaller percentage of the population, this may not be the case. As a clinical exercise specialist and personal trainer with 25 years of experience, I’ll give you the low-down on why I can’t provide you personal training – right away.
1. Your health is an issue. It sounds counterintuitive that a health and fitness professional would tell you that your health may stop you from participating in an exercise program. While many individuals with chronic disease can exercise without much problem, some people may have contraindications to exercise. Contraindications are conditions that would, at least in the short term, exclude you from participation in an exercise program.
Medical assessment and clearance are appropriate for persons with unstable, new or possible symptoms of CVD, diabetes mellitus clustering with one or more of several complicating factors, end-stage renal disease, and symptomatic or diagnosed pulmonary disease. Other contraindications to exercise include acute febrile illness (fever-like symptoms), low blood pressure with fainting or dizziness, new or uncontrolled arrhythmias, and acute heart failure.
Persons who are at risk for cardiovascular disease usually don’t need a pre-screening graded exercise test. However, if the person is going to engage in a vigorous exercise program or if the exercise specialist or the individuals care provider have concerns one may be done.
2. You need to be somewhere else. Some people should take part in a medically supervised rehabilitation or exercise program until their risk of complications is appropriate for independent exercise. For example, if you have recently experienced a heart attack or have had coronary bypass surgery you may benefit from a cardiac rehabilitation program, even if only for a few weeks. Another good example is if you have an acute orthopedic problem that requires physical therapy. This is a question for you and your healthcare provider to discuss and then determine the appropriate level of care for your clinical situation.
3. I don’t know what I’m doing. Let’s face it; we don’t know everything. At the start of my career, my mentor in the field of exercise physiology told me the most professional thing I can do for my clients is say “I don’t know”. Too many fitness professionals give answers to questions or take on clients that they have little or no idea how to answer or what to do with. This is often the case with nutritional advice in particular. This is simply unethical and potentially dangerous. The most skilled exercise professionals know when to say “I don’t know” and either refers to the best resource or tell the client they will research it and find out.
4. We don’t connect. I have worked with many clients who tell me stories of how they have not liked other trainers they worked with. Now and again I know the personal trainer they talk about and scratch my head and wonder why as I know the professional skills that the trainer in question possesses. In the field of counseling, there is a dimension to the client-counselor relationship called the “therapeutic alliance”. Fundamentally for counseling to work well a positive and productive relationship should be formed between the counselor and client. In fact, some feel that the therapeutic alliance is one of the most important factors in success in counseling. There are many factors that influence this such as empathy, positive regard for you and non-possessive warmth on behalf of the professional. However, other factors such as your gender preference are as much a part of the equation. As a professional there are ways for me to increase our therapeutic relationship, but at times, you may be better off with someone else providing you services.
5. You are not willing. There is a body of evidence that demonstrates people are most likely to be successful in counseling or lifestyle interventions when they are ready to make a change. Some research even indicates that people who are not ready but willing will have a greater likelihood of making progress. This brings to mind a client I had many years ago in a group program I was facilitating. The group was in its first meeting and one member was combative and angry. He openly demonstrated significant resistance to the group process. After the second session, he spoke to me and confided that he was “coerced” (by his doctor) into coming to the group. In this case, I was fortunate as the group member spoke up and we were able to talk about his frustration to being in the group and we could get to a state where he was willing to give it a try. I wonder how many people who never use a fitness club membership did so because they were not ready and in some cases willing. As a professional there are things that together we can do to change your readiness for making a lifestyle change, but if you are not willing this likelihood decreases.
As you can see there are reasons why I may or may not be able to work with you. Happily the list is short and modifiable. We all have circumstances and preferences that will influence successful lifestyle change and I encourage you to do some discernment before simply hiring a trainer. Ask questions, seek guidance and be willing!