my experience working with a personal trainer, plus trying to find the next step

My history with strength training has been fraught with failure and injuries. Time and again, I would be highly motivated, armed with a book or set of videos, only to end up worse than when I started. Back spasms, severe muscle strains, deep joint pain, all requiring long periods of rehab -- not the results I was looking for! 

In early 2020, a union sister turned me on to Katy Bowman's Nutritious Movement. Using Katy's methods and stretches, I was able to reduce and then eliminate the lower back pain that had plagued me for decades. I increased my range of motion and felt much looser and more fluid. Hurrah! I wrote about that experience here.

I kept up with the stretching, but as motivated as I am, if I do it on my own, I end up rushing through, doing the bare minimum. Katy's philosophy and exercises are amazing, but they can be very time-consuming. Also, her workouts are not aerobic. I already dedicate about five hours a week to cardio exercise. Adding Nutritious Movement becomes a prohibitive time commitment.

Early last year, the wonderful folks at truLocal were promoting Nielsen Fitness, a personal training company based in Toronto. Like so many businesses, Nielsen converted to a virtual model during covid -- one-on-one sessions via videoconferencing, with a free assessment and trial session to start. I decided to try it.

Nielsen had a good and detailed intake questionnaire, where I was able to specify my goals: I want to improve strength, balance, and flexibility. The end. Just as importantly, I was able to specify my not-goals: no weighing, no measuring. 

I signed up for 12 lessons. The consultant tried to sell me on three times per week, but there's just no way. I wanted one weekly session, and kind of got pushed into twice weekly. As it turned out, because of scheduling, I often ended up having one session per week -- and I enjoyed that the most. 

Incidentally, I think "three times a week or you don't see results" must be another fitness myth. It should be chucked in the bin, along with 10,000 steps, eight glasses of water, and "no pain, no gain". With either weekly or twice-weekly sessions, I absolutely saw progress. My strength, flexibility, and balance all improved. And this included a six-week break.

I had a great experience, one that confirmed everything I have heard about working with a personal trainer.

* She knew a wide range of modifications, so I could progress through different exercises at my own level.

* She designed workouts that were more challenging than I would do on my own, both in skill level and duration. 

* She challenged me to go further than I thought I could, while always respecting my limitations.

* She was highly encouraging and motivating. This isn't a must for me, but I enjoyed it and found it helpful.

* The workout was dynamic and aerobic, so I felt that I had gotten a very complete hour, even more than I do on the treadmill. 

* It was slightly awkward to do this by video. I had to tilt the laptop camera up or down for each exercise. But it wasn't a big deal, and certainly worth it to have a great, personalized workout without leaving the house.

* Nielsen sent me a set of resistance bands, both "mini bands" and "super bands", along with a set of handles and a nice bag, pictured here. These are really useful and they threw them in at no extra cost.

The result: I worked hard, saw progress, went further than I thought I could, and had no injuries. 

I enjoyed the experience very much -- but it is out of my price range. The 12 sessions were a gift I gave myself, an investment in my health. But this is not something I can work into my budget long-term. I don't think the industry's prices are exorbitant, considering it's a personal service, using someone's time and expertise. It's just not in our budget.

So where to go from here? I think my best bet for expertise with affordability is a fitness app. I don't mind paying for a good app; the price for a full year may be less than one personal session. But there are so many fitness apps, I find the field overwhelming. Most seem to emphasize weight loss, or on the other end, body building. I take one look at the choices and run screaming.

This listicle from Forbes reviews several apps, rating pros and cons for each. I'm going to use it as a base for discovery. The trainer recommended one that is on this list: Nike Training Club. I'll report back.


Amy said...

I started working with a personal trainer about 8 years ago. First, in person once a week for half an hour. Then I switched to virtual training during COVID. We did some outdoor sessions last spring before we moved. Now I am back to just virtual. It's worked out fine---I have just a few pieces of equipment but enough. I try to do at least two more half hours on my own each week, but sometimes I don't. I need the trainer to keep me motivated.

I am not sure what you were paying, but now I am paying the trainer directly instead of paying a membership fee to the JCC (where he worked) plus a fee per session, so it's a big savings. If were in the same time zone, I'd connect you with him. But there must be others out there doing virtual training would be less costly than what you were paying through a company. I think you said you were doing an hour each week. Maybe if you did half an hour, you'd find it sufficient?

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. I'm not looking for another personal trainer. If I wanted to spend the money, I would just book more sessions with the same trainer. It's just not something I can (or want to) work into my budget.

I am highly motivated. But I need planned, structured workouts so I don't get bored, and to keep my form on track, to avoid injuries.

Amy said...

I get it. I would think that without someone monitoring your form, it would be hard to know whether you are doing exercises correctly---even if they only checked once a month or so. But maybe there are online or book sources available that will teach you how to monitor yourself.

laura k said...

Books and online sources are where I started -- that's what didn't work for me.

I think an instructor's reminders will be enough, even if it's not live. Reminders to breathe, not to "cheat" by arching the back, and so on.

johngoldfine said...

"I think an instructor's reminders will be enough, even if it's not live. Reminders to breathe, not to "cheat" by arching the back, and so on."

This spoke to the equestrian in me. One is constantly reminding oneself of all the things you've known and done for decades: breathe (one starts shallow-breathing when stressed); lift your sternum; find the saddle with your butt; watch your center of gravity; put some weight in the stirrups; look ahead, not down; feel the horse's mouth; steady your hands. The horse is your guide here, if you are experienced, sensitive, and sensitized: when you fail to do these things, the horse notices and gives feedback by tensing, losing concentration, losing a steady gait; getting flighty--basically, the mirror image of the rider's problems.

None of this is cognitive; one already knows everything there is to know. It's the body; attention span; tiredness; lactic acid; old age....

laura k said...

It must be incredible to have that kind of relationship with a horse. Sounds beautiful.

johngoldfine said...

It is incredible--especially when the horse and rider are simpatico, which is not always the case. My wife remembers the name of every horse she's ever ridden--dozens, maybe hundreds! I only remember the horses that I loved as much as I would love a dog: Threut in Iceland, Huwy in Wales; Stan in England; Lindinha in Portugal. And, most of all, our dear Mosa in Swanville, dead now.

The rest, as they say on the track, also ran....

laura k said...

Amy, turns out that a quick check of form online, through one of the zillions of YouTube fitness videos, works really well (so far). Probably because I started out with the trainer, so the video can be a reminder, rather than a starting point.

I'll post an update in the near-ish future, just wanted to reply to that suggestion.

Amy said...

Good to know! And free!! I will keep that in mind in case I decide to wean myself off of relying on my trainer. :)