What Does It All Mean?
Posted April 28, 2022 by Matthew Romans
The desired outcome of any exercise session is to achieve a meaningful stimulus that provides the body with a good reason to make physical improvements. A clinically controlled environment and private setting within the Total Results studio enable us to eliminate the distractions that can interfere with achieving the best exercise experience possible. Specially engineered equipment combined with our unique exercise protocol form a combination that cannot be replicated or matched in a traditional gym setting or group exercise environment. As important as all of those elements are, none of them matter very much without a willingness on the part of the exercise subject to learn and give their best physical and mental effort. An experienced, conscientious, and diligent instructor is just what is needed to ensure this level of performance.
My friend and fellow instructor Al Coleman has said that exercise instruction is as much art as it is science, and I believe he's right. Sure, knowledge of anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and biology are important, but I think having an understanding of people is just as critical. Life is about relationships, and the instructor and client must be able to connect before they can truly form a partnership. When a personal connection is made, that is when the pupil and teacher can bring out the best in each other. There should be a clear understanding between both parties from the very beginning as to what the expectations are, so that there is no confusion. Communication is paramount and must be a two-way street.
Exercise instruction is not a physically demanding occupation, but it does require stamina, patience, attention to detail, and a willingness to be critical. The last part scares some people off from the profession, because it isn't everybody's cup of tea. However, a part of the job entails telling people (who are paying for your services) things that they may not want to hear. The exercise instructor critiques performance, makes corrections, and provides the information that the client needs in order to optimize the exercise stimulus on every exercise of every workout. Some clients will get frustrated by being repeatedly corrected, but this goes with the territory. Being an instructor looks much easier than it is. There is a lot to observe, and it entails keeping track of weights, settings, and time under load, in addition to ensuring the safety of the client above anything else. When instructions are given, they should be concise; what I say is just as important as what I don't say, and it's about giving the right instruction at the right moment. I must avoid overloading the subject with too much information at once, so it's best to keep things as simple as possible. If multiple form discrepancies are being committed at once, I will correct the mistake I believe to be the most egregious.
There should be very little (if any) talking done by the client once the workout is under way. It's not that we don't enjoy conversing with our clients; we chat with them before and after a session. It's just that our studio is not a social setting, and we want to eliminate any potential distractions. Every so often I may have to ask a client a direct question pertaining specifically to their workout. In this case, a brief response is all that is required. I also don't consider myself to be a motivator, even though I do help to push clients beyond a level of effort that they would be able to produce on their own. The best motivation, after all, is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. My function is to communicate specific information in order to achieve a certain outcome, not talk as much as possible. Many "personal trainers" babble incessantly, shout, or simply offer nonsensical platitudes and cliches. That may be acceptable for social media videos and marketing, but I don't believe that is instruction. I also consider myself to be a teacher, but teaching and instructing are two different things. Instruction is what goes on during a session, while teaching happens outside the heat of the moment. When an exercise subject is experiencing labored breathing, extreme muscular discomfort, and is mentally coming to grips with the onset of momentary muscular failure, intellectual information simply will not get through. Any teaching that will take place needs to happen outside of the exercise room. Whether teaching or instructing, I believe it's important to vary my verbiage and not say the same things all the time in order to keep things fresh.
Achieving an optimal exercise stimulus requires focus and concentration on the part of the client. While the workouts only last about twenty minutes, they require tremendous mental and physical effort. The elimination of mental distractions is paramount, not only for efficiency of form but also to maximize safety. I have seen many clients over the years lose focus and take liberties with their form, and they have injured themselves due to their own behavior. For the duration of the workout, the client needs to be 100 percent present and not thinking about something else during that time. This may sound very difficult, and it is, but it is something that can be improved over time.
The exercise subject should strive for as smooth a movement as possible, in order to maximize muscular loading. When we say that the muscles are "loaded", it means that they are under meaningful tension. We don't want the musculature to get even a momentary respite during an exercise, because this runs counter to our main objective of inroading the skeletal muscles. The more effectively the muscles are loaded, the better the eventual exercise stimulus. Moving slowly is important, but it isn't enough. Going too slowly (more than 12 seconds in each direction) encourages segmentation of the movement, which alternately loads and unloads the musculature and thwarts the stimulus that we seek. Novice clients often have some difficulties with pacing and segmentation early on, which is to be expected when learning something that is new. This usually will improve over time, as one builds skill and works toward a more meaningful level of resistance. Clients that have motor control difficulties may be better served by moving at a slightly faster speed, in order to achieve a smoother movement, but I still believe that moving any faster than 6-8 seconds in either direction is too fast.
Remember what we are working toward: we want to reach the point of momentary muscular failure, because it is the only way to ensure that we have given a maximum effort on each exercise. Efficiency is the key, and it's important to remember that exercise has a narrow therapeutic window. This means that, just like with medication, not enough accomplishes little to nothing, and too much is toxic. We want the minimum dosage of exercise necessary to stimulate positive change. Attention to detail as far as pace, speed, and turnarounds help us to fatigue the muscular more efficiently and without wasted movement. Lower turnarounds are especially critical, as this is where clients often will unload the musculature momentarily or fire out of the stretch (bottom out) position. Keep in mind that the body's recovery resources are finite, and that we don't want to artificially prolong the exercise just to complete an arbitrary number of repetitions. We desire to achieve the stimulus without overtraining. That is the key to sustained progress and avoiding injury. When muscular failure has been reached and the client continues to push against the immovable movement arm for an additional five to ten seconds, he or she has done everything they can possibly do to create positive change.
Anything that is worth doing is worth doing to the best of one's ability. My personal purpose is to attain something meaningful every day, and I believe that exercise instruction and connecting with Total Results clients is a worthwhile endeavor that makes me look forward to getting up at the crack of dawn every morning. I hope that our clients see their workouts and the entire exercise experience as an opportunity to achieve something great every time they walk through the studio doors. Together, we are capable of accomplishing extraordinary things.