NEW YORK I used to think a personal trainer was like a Rolls Royce a self-indulgent celebrity accessory most working folks couldn't afford.
|The presence of a PT ensures you're doing crunches correctly|
But I found out a personal trainer can be more like a truck that jump-starts your Volkswagen after it conks out in traffic.
During my recent session with Doug Webb, a certified personal trainer on staff at Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York, I not only learned how to strength-train effectively and safely, I got a tune-up on some problem areas and a workout routine that seriously sparked my fitness drive.
First, a health technician took my vital signs and measured my body fat, then took me through a series of physical tests to measure my aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility, strength and endurance. I also had to list my exercise goals and my physical limitations.
Doug sat down with me to go over my results. While I scored well above average on body fat percentage and aerobic capacity, my flexibility and strength were only average. Doug prescribed gentle yoga classes, a weekly stretching class and a twice- to thrice-weekly weight training routine.
Bodybuilding for Geeks
As someone who long ago ditched the world of weight machines for more interesting fitness activities, I have developed something of an allergy to cranking iron. But Doug promised me the routine would allow me to work all my major muscle groups quickly and efficiently. He also reminded me that strength training is an important component to any exercise routine even if you don't want to look like a body builder.
Studies have shown that most people, even joggers and cyclists, begin losing strength in their 30s and 40s if they don't do some sort of resistance training, and can become pretty frail by the time they are 70. In order to prevent this age-related frailty, strength-training routines are fast becoming a prescription for preventative health care.
Machines and Muscles
Doug guided me through a series of weight machines, from leg and hip machines to the chest press, the pectoral press (the kind Victoria Principal used to advertise on TV), rowing machines, lat and tricep machines and a contraption that allows you to cheat when you do pull-ups.
|Squeezing the shoulder blades together makes the back work harder|
I found out you don't have to kill yourself to build muscle. If you lift an amount of weight where you can do three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, this is going to help you get as strong as if you were to do one set of repetitions at a higher weight.
We focused on how to do the exercises correctly, so that the proper muscles would be doing the lifting and I wouldn't strain my back. On the inner and outer thigh machines, Doug showed me how I could get better results by tying a rope around the center and pulling on it as I sat up into the machine.
When we went to a rowing machine that works the muscles in your upper back, Doug put his fist between my shoulder blades, and had me focus on squeezing the blades together around the fist to work my back. Even with this focus, I still felt one side working harder than the other, so Doug showed me an alternative machine where I can work each arm individually to get a more even workout.
When we worked the lat machine, a bar with handle grips on the end, I started to pull it down behind my head. But Doug stopped me and showed me how to pull it down properly in front of my chest. Doing the pull-down behind your head makes you more likely to injure your cervical spinal disks, according to "Weight Training Injuries," an article by Dr. Ronald K. Reeves in the February and March 1998 issues of The Physician and Sports Medicine.
Abs of Steel, Back of Butter?
At the end of the workout, we focused on that area people seem most obsessed with most: the abs.
|Doug advised moderate weight with high reps|
Although I had previously worked hard on crunches to get that line down the center of my stomach, Doug pointed out that these crunches ignored my lower abdominal muscles. This was a common mistake, he said as he showed me how to remedy it by doing reverse sit ups, where I lift my legs instead of my trunk.
He also advised adding back exercises to my ab routine. If you have a stronger back, your back muscles will hold in your abdominal muscles better. On the other hand, lack of back strength may lead to lower back problems. I especially liked "the Superman," where you lie on your stomach and stretch your legs and arms up.
Instead of just holding my hand and offering motivation what I thought trainers did Doug pushed me and gave me a road map to follow when I'm off on my own fitness journey.
"It's like learning Spanish, he said. "You'll have an easier time speaking the language correctly if you get a tutor than if you get a book and study the language on your own."