I had a huge epiphany today while I was working with a personal training client. During our first session a few days ago, I told her I was not a weight-loss trainer. That is, I told her, I am a weight-neutral personal trainer who helps my clients focus on how their bodies feel rather than the numbers on a scale. I continued to define this approach for her until I felt sure she understood what I was talking about. Then, this morning, while I was pushing her to do an exercise she felt was extremely difficult, she said to me, “Hey! I thought we weren’t doing this for weight loss!” I’m pretty sure, at that moment, a giant, cartoon lightbulb appeared above my head.
Somehow, when I explained that I was a weight-neutral personal trainer and that we would not be working toward weight loss as a goal, this client assumed I was going to be an “easy” trainer or that her workouts with me would somehow be “easier” than if her goal was weight loss. That was so interesting to me. And, I immediately began to wonder where this disconnect came from.
You see, of course, how challenging a workout with a personal trainer is has nothing to do with your goal. A session with a personal trainer should ALWAYS be challenging to the individual client. Whether your goal is being able to stand up from a bench unassisted just one time or to complete an Ironman or to lose weight, one of the main reasons to work with a trainer is that we can push you and challenge you to meet your, individual goal in a way that you wouldn’t push yourself if you were working out alone. AND (bonus!) we can keep you SAFE while you do that!
I think it’s fascinating that when I say I’m a weight-neutral trainer who will not make weight loss a focus of my work with a client that some clients hear, “Hey! I’m just not going to challenge you as much as other trainers” because, ironically, it’s my personal mission to put you through a workout that is as challenging as possible for YOU. That’s just my style because personally, that’s what I like in a trainer. I just don’t see the point of going to the trouble of getting dressed, driving to the gym, engaging with a trainer or going to a class unless it changes me. I mean, personally, at the end of a workout or a yoga session or ANY fitness-related experience, I enjoy feeling like something just happened, it was worth my time and effort and money.
You don’t have to want to lose weight to work hard in the gym or to WANT to work hard in the gym. This seems all too obvious to me but, based on my experience this morning, I suppose needs to be spelled out. I haven’t had the goal of weight loss for several years now. If you want the scoop on why that is, you can read a couple of the blog posts I’ve written in the past on just that subject. My goal is no longer weight loss but I work hard in the gym because I enjoy doing so. My personal goals of getting stronger, staying healthy, maintaining my balance, power, flexibility and energy levels as well as relieving stress and maintaining good mental health are all well-served by challenging myself to push my limits.
I think it’s also possible that a client might think that weight-neutral personal training is somehow “easier” than weight loss centered training because, as a culture, we still consider weight loss to be the pinnacle of physical achievement. While weight loss is a difficult endeavor requiring a great deal of emotional and mental fortitude as well as willpower and determination, the research shows us it is also fleeting. Most of the time, our bodies don’t like it. Most of the time (95% of the time, actually), our bodies reject it and within 5 years, we will gain back all the weight we lost, with interest. So, all of that emotional and mental fortitude, all of that willpower and determination might be better spent on making peace with the unique shape and size of your own body as well as coming to the realization that there are 1000s of other benefits to a consistent movement practice (otherwise known as, “exercise”) besides the simple calorie burn.
Weight-neutral personal training isn’t easier or softer than weight-loss centered personal training. In fact, weight-neutral personal training requires that you FEEL what is happening in your body, increase your interoceptive awareness and learn to adapt and respond to the cues you are getting from your body. It also requires you to dig for a more meaningful and deeper reason to engage in physical activity than simply wanting to fit into a smaller pair of jeans. It requires you to begin to understand, in your body, that “health” is not – never was and never will be -- a number on a scale. In a world overrun with diet culture and relying on outside numbers, plans, gadgets and programs to tell you how, when and how much to move your body, weight-neutral personal training is arguably much more difficult than traditional personal training for weight loss. At least, the inner work required of the client is more demanding and far more rewarding because it will last.
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is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.