I don't know a single trainer in the business, who has been in for longer than three months, who got into the industry for the money. Every single successful trainer got into this business and stayed because the absolute entirety of their hearts was bound up in helping others. The more results you help realize, the more goals you achieve and lives you change, the more successful you will be. We all may choose different paths and methods to help those around us but that is our ultimate goal. And we do it because for one reason or another we believe that we are good at what we do.
I found out that I failed today.
Just over five months ago, I walked out of a managing and training position at a gym. I left behind many clients and members for whom I cared a great deal. Lately I had been thinking about one member who's life I had been working on helping to make just a little bit better. It had taken me a month to get her to not swear at me when I would say hello to her. She did not like anyone and was pure attitude if anyone got in her way. Aggression and sarcasm like that do not come from confidence, they come from pain. I knew her biggest chance to change her life would be in finding friends. She didn't always feel comfortable working out by herself, at 22 years old and I'd guess around 300 lbs, so her Sunday workouts when she came in without her trainer were always light and lacking motivation. So Sunday, which was my Friday night as manager, I would close the gym up, strip out of my work clothes, and I would drag her with me into the training room. I didn't train her, I didn't sell her, and I didn't teach her. Once a week she and I would sweat our faces off, together, music blasting in the back room. I'd give her the scaled version of exactly what I was doing and she would keep up. She would drill me into the ground actually. I knew she felt powerful when she left. Maybe I did a little to.
When I left the gym it was sudden. I ignored my old work accounts for five months while I resettled into the Walla Walla area to start my new business; I didn't want to challenge the already difficult position my clients were in in finding a new trainer. Having to suddenly leave your client/friend base is never easy.
Today I saw an e-mail from this beautiful, hilarious, and wildly inappropriate young woman. It just said "you left me." It was sent a week after I had left the gym, on our Sunday. I found out today that two months after leaving the gym, she died of sudden heart failure. At 22 years old.
More than any other day I am aware of how desperately important this work can be.
I ask you today to please, value your health, value yourself. There are loved ones out there for everyone and I promise they will miss you dearly.
This is the most age-old debate in the fitness industry. Because let's be honest, any fitness program that is talking to you about meeting your fitness and weight goals that doesn't talk to you about nutrition is absolutely wasting your time. Really. Completely. What you do and do not put into your body will long-term be 80% of your success in terms of determining your body composition.
I promise that if you fail at something 80% of the time, even if your 20% fitness plan is on point, you will still end up failing. So let's talk about that 80%.
A calorie = a calorie is really a battle of semantics. Unfortunately, the fitness industry doesn't want to explain this to you because then they have less power to manipulate you for a few more bucks for the newest hottest fad diet, superfood, magic pill, or what have you.
A calorie, by definition, is the amount of energy required to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree celsius. Yup. It is literally just a unit of energy. This means that calories are not inherently evil!!! If you cut all your calories, you will die. I promise.
So where is all the confusion? Well, calories of energy do come from different places and therefore are bound up in different chemical structures that have different effects on the body! Because chemicals aren't evil either.
There are three main types of MACROnutrients: proteins, carbs, and fats. You may have heard this before. If that calorie of energy comes from protein, my body has the ability to use that protein now for muscle synthesis! Good, we like muscle. If I eat 200 calories of carbohydrates, my body can now use that energy and the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates are various forms of sugars. I can use that sugar now for energy because that is what sugar does for the body; it is metabolized to create an energy molecule that supports our whole body!
Here is the problem. If I take in MORE calories than my body needs, my body will store that energy in my body. Certain macronutrients and foods are better utilized by the body and others are stored more easily. If you just ran a marathon, your body needs all the energy it can get and that 200 g of sugar will be used up in an instant. If you've been sitting on the couch all day and eat a Snickers bar, you've just consumed more energy than you need and BAM, your body is going to store that on for later. Think hibernation. Your body is preparing to support itself through the winter!!! Unfortunately, this is not what most of us are looking for.
At the end of the day though, ANY excess energy, in any form, will be stored on the body as there is no way to use it!!! If you are trying to build muscle, you will eat slightly more than you need. If you are careful to support your body's needs properly with those macronutrients and good exercise, that excess storage will be in MUSCLE and not in FAT, but either way you will be storing energy on your body and getting bigger. Make sense? If we eat less calories than we need, our body will have to TAKE from those stores. Just like before though, depending on how we're eating and exercising, the stores that we take from can be fat OR muscle! Which would you prefer?
When it comes to calories; they really are just calories. Gaining weight, losing weight, maintaining weight is all based on CALORIES and nothing else. However, your health and whether or not that gained or lost weight is from fat or muscle is dependent on those macronutrients.
So ask yourself today: am I gaining weight, losing weight, or maintaining my weight with how I am currently eating? The diet you choose to get you there is really irrelevant. If you want to lose weight, eat a little less (not a lot less) on a consistent basis. If you want to gain muscle, eat a little more.
I'd love to tell you that exercising like a maniac will get you six pack abs and the ability to have them while chowing down on a dozen doughnuts washed down with a beer, but heart-breakingly it does not work that way. I love doughnuts.
So let's get a little sensible here. A slight dietary change, make sure your macronutrient needs are met, exercise regularly, and enjoy your life. Simple in concept. Challenging to perform. All of the fad diets and miracle cures are there because hard work and small changes aren't sexy. They are hard and take a long time. This is a lifestyle.
I can tell you now that I never thought I would be a personal trainer. The original dream was equine neurology and rehabilitation and linguistics (okay, I've always been a little all over the place). I was never a phenomenal athlete but I was one of those people who grew up "naturally athletic". I was hyper-mobile (had laxity in my joints) and so with a little determination I could do the same or more as the girl next to me with half the training or conditioning. Which meant that lazy young me did no training and no conditioning. By 16, my poor body mechanics and abuse of my body for sports began to catch up with me. My shin splints had become stress fractures, my low back ached, and I had constant pain in my legs.
Over the years I picked up more and more adrenaline sports, and with that, more and more physical therapists. Fast forward five years and I am on my 13th physical therapist. At this point I have torn my oblique, fractured my pelvis, and herniated quite a few discs in my low back. I am using a walker to get around; poorly. I've been told by the best spine doctors in Northern Colorado that I will never run again. The therapist I'd been sent to explains that with a lot of hard work I may be able to make my bed again, if I'm lucky.
I'll be honest and say I almost gave up. I couldn't feed myself or go to the bathroom alone. I don't think anyone can understand what humility and demoralization really feel like until they're having someone help with their pants and hold them over a toilet. That is a giving up moment and the doctors were telling me I should just give in.
With help and on my last shred of hope I wandered into the office of a local physical therapist who took me in. He thought he could offer something new. I slowly dragged myself in behind the tennis ball wheeled walker, tears from the pain streaming down my face, and doing everything I could to stay conscious. The guy walks out and starts laughing at me. No introduction or anything else this man just laughs at me. What kind of horrible human being laughs at someone in that condition? I didn't trust him. I didn't like him. He told me my pain was in my head. Well, sort of. He said that my pain was real in that I was experiencing excruciating pain. He explained that the pain at this point was not really in my muscles and it wasn't in my joints or bones. Pain is created in the brain and it has a nasty habit of getting a little out of control. There were some minor structural issues, there were some extremely poor body mechanics, but at the end of the day there was no REAL reason for me to be experiencing the level of constant pain I was experiencing. The trick is; how do we fix it?
That was how I learned about chronic pain and how I began my long journey towards becoming a trainer. Acute injuries are fairly easy to treat. In most cases there are two treatments: the old school P.R.I.C.E method (protect, rest, ice, compression, elevation) with the eventual addition of careful stretching and strengthening over time. The second option is surgery. When we sprain an ankle, we feel instant pain, that pain tends to decrease over time following ice and rest. Over time, we strengthen the ankle, maintain healthy range of motion, and eventually the pain goes away. Chronic pain, my pain, doesn't work like that. Our bodies scream at us to be careful! Don't move that way!!! That's how you hurt yourself before! The more our brains fear that pain, the more frequent the pain becomes. We get stuck in a pain pathway that becomes more guarded, tense, and irritated the more afraid we become it.
What I learned from the therapist that day took 60% of the pain out of my body in our very first session. I walked out on my own two feet. He took my walker from me and threw it away. I wasn't fixed but I suddenly had hope. I could walk. He told me to breathe. He gave me permission to feel the pain, and then move beyond it. Because that place, that place AFTER the pain and the spasming and the fear, that was a place of health and healing.
I've spent years working on perfecting body mechanics. It started with my own. I had fought crippling back pain for a year with rest, ice, and therapeutic modalities and was degrading every day. Within 6 months of very hard work with the RIGHT person, I was running 3-10 miles/day at Colorado altitude without an ounce of pain. I got back into rock climbing, boxing, horse back riding, and learned how to handle my body and my pain. It freed me.
I still have to be aware of my pain but I know that if I keep my body strong, I can live a long, healthy, pain free life and I am so grateful for that. What I was given, besides my life back, was education. Now I have the privilege of providing that education to my clientele.
I love training my athletes and my transformation clients. However, the most inspiring part of the job is when I get to take a client out pain or give them a piece of their life back. The stroke victim who can now raise his arms to hug his wife, the woman with RA who can now sleep through the night, the frozen shoulder client who can undress themselves. These sound like small victories but they absolutely change a life. I am so lucky that I get to spend my days helping those around me achieve them.