I was reading a recent op-ed by Frank Bruni in the New York Times, Our Pulchritudinous Priesthood, basically trashing the personal training industry. He said having a trainer was essentially a status symbol and a paid friend with no real credentials. “My therapist said…” is so last year; now people site the wisdom of their trainer. He then goes on to quote stuff his trainer said. (Ironic, no?) Anyway, he posed an interesting question: Are personal trainers the new therapists?
I’ve had a lot of personal trainers, in three cities and two states, the bulk of whom I never quoted. Personally, I never hired a trainer to be trendy; I hired trainers because I wanted to lose weight and couldn’t seem to get there on my own. Paying money for their expertise made it more likely for me to follow through with the exercise plan. The majority of these trainers were, as Mr. Bruni described, a friend for hire who could tell me how to do a proper crunch, and as soon as the sessions were over I gained back all the weight and then some.
It wasn’t until last year, when I trained with Daniel Rufini for my first bodybuilding competition, that it felt like therapy. The main difference was that he was the first trainer who made me focus on my food issues and learn about nutrition. I had to keep a food journal. I hated that thing. Every time I lied about eating or made some bullshit excuse about not being able to exercise or follow the meal plan he called me out. He wasn’t a friend who said, “You ate cake? Oh that’s okay,” instead he’d say, “Do you even care about getting fit?” In short, he held me accountable. Through the process I dropped 50 lbs and learned basic nutrition and strength training exercises and have maintained the weight loss for over a year now.
After he moved to Houston, I joined a women’s bodybuilding team called Mel’s Machines. My current trainer, Melissa Coker, also qualifies as a therapist of sorts for me. A former Ms. Figure USA winner, she has a thorough understanding of nutrition and training techniques to reshape your body composition, but more than that, she is our team coach and cheerleader as well. Once a week we all train together at booty camp, and as we squat and lunge we also have support group style conversations. We vent about work stress, family situations and struggles with sticking to the meal plan, and then help each other come up with strategies for dealing with it. “Just get through today. You got this.”
I found the bodybuilding experience so positive I became a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer earlier this year. Nothing makes me feel better than hearing my client tell me that our workouts are therapeutic. If there is something going on in my client’s life that’s making her turn to emotional eating it usually surfaces mid-session, when excess energy is burned off and muscles are starting to fatigue. “I went off the meal plan when my boyfriend said this…” And then we talk about it. Sometimes during a consultation I will also discover people doing seriously dangerous things to try to lose weight, like getting hormone injections, swallowing laxatives, eating 500 calorie a day diets, or exercising excessively for four hours a day. Even if they can’t afford sessions at the time I’ll educate them about the tenets of clean eating so they stop hurting themselves.
Are personal trainers the new therapists? Depends on the trainer and depends the client. Note: If you have a serious problem – go to a real therapist! As for trainers: it seems like a waste of money to me to hire a trainer just to be trendy. But if you need help battling the bulge, are looking to reshape your physique but don’t know how, and/or want learn about healthy eating why not give a certified personal trainer a try? For me, working with a trainer is way more fun than therapy: more affordable, significantly less crying involved (unless it’s leg day,) and I get a bikini body in the process.
What do you think? Are personal trainers the new therapists?
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