Beware of Young, Enthusiastic Fitness Coaches

I was lifting weights in 1962, and have been reading about physical fitness for 40 years. Most of the personal trainers I talk to don’t know a fraction of what I know. And yet, I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert.

As my friend JM says, “A personal trainer is just someone who takes a six-week course and gets a certification. Six weeks doesn’t teach you shit.” (JM is a physical therapist, a qualified Pilates instructor, and has been teaching fitness to Navy Seals and professional dancers for many years.)

The worst kind of fitness trainers are the young kids who believe their mission is to get you to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. They yell at their clients and encourage them to do more reps with weights, without having any idea of how the body really works or how it ages.

I watched a terrible example of this – a clip of “The Greatest Loser” – on the plane recently. “The Greatest Loser” is a reality TV show that challenges extremely obese people to lose maximum poundage. The very idea of the show is stupid – and one of their instructors is an absolute maniac.

She was screaming at some pathetic 275-pound woman to run faster on the treadmill without using her hands. The woman kept saying, “I can’t! I can’t. If I let go, I’ll fall!” And the 116-pound fitness instructor screamed even louder, “Damn it! If I tell you to release your hands, release them!”

So the dangerously obese lady – whose tendons and ligaments were not ready for this kind of running in the first place (forgetting about the pace) – did what she was told … and promptly fell off the machine and hurt herself.

My good friend EP and his wife had a similar experience. Their trainer was in incredible shape and believed that they should be in the same shape. Why? I don’t know. Because he worked out two hours every day … and EP and his wife are 50-something professionals.

They were challenged by his tough workouts, and kept with him for several years. But they were always in pain and/or injured. Finally, I told them, “Don’t you think it’s stupid to be walking around in pain all the time? What’s the purpose of all this working out, anyway? Yes, it can get your bones and muscles working better. But that’s not happening for you. You are walking around crippled. And it won’t help you defend against heart attacks or cancer. (You need to use Dr. Sears’ PACE program for that.)

They took my advice – which was to dictate the lessons themselves, to slow them down, to lift less weight, and to spend much more time stretching. Now, they are pain-free and looking better.

Not all fitness trainers are bad. On “The Biggest Loser,” one of two trainers was very good. He took time to interview his clients, assess their fitness, and determine their goals. He didn’t treat them like soldiers in his private platoon. He treated them like the enormously obese and unhealthy people that they were.

The bottom line is this: Don’t expect your personal trainer to know what kind of workout is best for you. Rely on what you read in ETR and on what your body is telling you … and adjust your workout accordingly.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]