If you’re deeply missing your gym time amid the pandemic and would give anything for a bit of professional guidance in your at-home workouts (beyond some very helpful videos), you may be itching for some pointers from a personal trainer.
Okay, maybe you didn’t think of it as something you wanted when they were asking you to “drop and give me 20 push-ups,” when you were already exhausted. And while it might be easy to simply write off your personal trainer as just a muscular dictator or a meanie with a stopwatch — especially when you’re sore and dripping from sweat — in reality, they’re the person who wants you to succeed with your fitness goals so that you can become the healthiest and happiest version of yourself. Not to mention they have extensive knowledge about fitness and training that goes well beyond your 60 minute sweat sessions.
So whether you’re secretly cursing your personal trainer or considering hiring one, we spoke with a number of personal trainers who revealed the top things they wish you knew.
Personal Trainers are not there to judge you
“As a Personal Trainer, the first thing I always want my clients to understand is I am never there to judge them,” says Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM, serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. “My primary role is to meet them exactly where they are at, hear and understand their goals, and be a solid support to help them get to where they want to be.”
Being fit and physically active has very little to do with the gym.
When it comes to getting fit, according to Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer and nutritionist, it’s not about spending countless hours on the elliptical or any other machine, but “about embracing an active lifestyle every day,” he says. “Whether that’s parking your car further away to logging extra steps on your Fitbit device or taking a walking meeting, try and incorporate movement and activity into everything you do while using a device like Fitbit to keep you informed and motivated to reach even the smallest goals.”
You don’t need to do high intensity cardio to burn fat
On the days you’re not seeing your trainer, your first instinct might be to hit the treadmill hard to torch calories. However, Nicole Delli Bovi, certified personal trainer at Life Time Florham Park (N.J.), says not so fast.
“Most clients think they need to do high intensity cardio training for long periods of time to burn fat and lose weight, but in reality that is totally false.” While she says high intensity training does strengthen the cardiovascular system and improve sports performance “it should not be used as a form of burning fat.” Here’s why: According to Delli Bovi, everyone has five heart rate zones, which varies from person to person, depending on your age, your gender, and genetics.
“It is scientifically proven that if you work out in your lower zones (zones 1,2, and 3) for an extended amount of time, you will burn way more fat,” she says. Whereas when you are doing super high intensity cardio “you actually burn your stored carb energy.”
Women shouldn’t shy away from strength training
“Strength training is important for everyone, but especially for women,” says Heather Gunn Rivera from Grassroots Fitness Project in New York. While Rivera says strength training has a stigma that it will make you “look like a man,” she says there is no science to back this up. “Scientifically, how can women ‘bulk’ up when they don’t have the muscle mass that a man has to begin with? They have to be in the gym day and night and they need to consume supplements alongside a very specific diet.”
According to Rivera, women lose three to five percent of their muscle per decade after the age of 30, with that percentage increasing after menopause.
“When women strength train two things happen. They get stronger physically, and when women feel strong, they think strong,” she says. “Their perception of what they are capable of shifts. They feel they can do things that they may have otherwise stated as impossible.
They become an inspiration to their friends, showing them what is possible and they set an example to their daughters, nieces and young women that look up to them, proving that women are just as capable as men physically.”
Recovery is about not just what the workouts do to your body — but what the rest of life does to your body.
When you’re not working out, Pasternak says the important things to keep in mind are “food, sleep, and stress management—and part of that is unplugging from technology for at least an hour a day.”
According to Pasternak, maintaining a consistent sleep routine improves mood, diet and brain activity along with heart health. “Lack of sleep can also result in fatigue, lower metabolism, extra snacking, all of which can raise your resting heart rate and contribute to weight gain. In addition, sleep also gives your body time to recover, stay energized, supports muscle repair.”
Pre- and post-workout meals aren’t as important as people think
Unless you’re an athlete doing exhausting, high-volume performance training, like a marathon runner or a college football player, Pasternak says you don’t need to focus too much on what you’re consuming pre- and post- workout. “The majority of people are training to look and feel good; focus on planning your three meals and two snacks a day, and decide where your workout fits among those, not the other way around.”
Don’t Forget to Stretch
“Most clients make it a point to get their workouts in but never give enough time to stretch afterwards,” says Delli Bovi. “Stretching is just as important as your workouts. It’s better to end your workout a few minutes early and stretch than to work out and leave no time to recover your muscles with some stretching techniques. Stretching is key for injury prevention and has so many more benefits than just to prevent future injuries, including improving flexibility, increasing your range of motion, and helping with muscle soreness.”
Communication is key
Just like any other type of relationship, Fiske says it’s important for clients to feel comfortable to express themselves: “I want my clients to tell me if they don’t like certain types of exercise and we can work together to achieve goals in ways that are enjoyable, if they come in tired and just in the mood for a light session one day, or anything else that comes up. You know your body best, and I only aim to push you when we’re both on the same page that you want to be pushed.”
Which is also why Fiske says it’s perfectly acceptable to “shop” for a personal trainer. “Personalities differ and training styles that work perfectly for one person might not work for the next. Don’t hesitate or feel embarrassed to try out sessions with different trainers, and find the perfect fit for you.”
A version of this story was published January 2020.
Before you go, check out these at-home gym essentials that won’t wreck your budget: