Study update…

14 Apr

Well, that officially takes care of my second week as a Personal Training Student. I’d forgotten how much fun learning can be, particularly when it’s subject matter that interests me. Here’s the thing though… the more deeply I dig into fitness and bio-mechanics, and all that basic anatomy that they’ve been drilling into me over the last two weeks, the more I can’t help but be in awe at the sheer complexity, and the beauty, and the incredible efficiency of the human body. Yes, sure, there are several “design flaws” with regards to the way the body is put together, particularly this crazy stuff to do with female plumbing and confusion surrounding the placement of both the waste and pleasure bits, and yet if I had the ability to create an efficient biological machine, I would be hard pressed to do nearly as well, and I’d like to think that I’m a pretty smart guy when it comes to understanding such things.

The course itself has been well thought out, and even with some of the teething problems that the provider has been having with some of their on-line content (which is new and appears largely untested), it doesn’t take anything away from the content, the pacing, and the approach to drumming all of this knowledge into the minds of a very broad student audience. I’ve met lots of really wonderful people on this course, and I feel a basic connection with each and every person I am studying with, which is really saying something for someone like myself who spent many years in my youth finding it difficult to connect with almost anyone. Each person brings unique experiences and perspectives to the group as a whole, and I’ve been feeling that it’s a privilege to be able to get to know each and every one of them.

Studying this course has reinvigorated my urge to train regularly, and while it’s been hard to get the extra time, I’ve been finding a way to do it. Yesterday I managed to go for a 6.1km run with my youngest son, and I’ve even squeezed in a couple of sessions in the gym where my studies take place. It’s a good thing too, because the extra exercise will be needed to burn off the extra calories I’ve been consuming ever since my parents-in-law arrived.

Yes, my mother-in-law is a great cook, and she loves to bake. It’s a blessing and a curse both, because her cooking is extremely tasty, and I can’t say no to her, in part because I don’t wish to discourage or insult her, and in part because my resolve to eat healthier and more Paleo is weakened every time I enter the house and see something new and tempting. The good news however is that the prior 3 months of Paleo and lifestyle changing has been great preparation for my in-laws visit, and I’ve been able to find a workable compromise between eating healthy and enjoying a few naughty treats, without completely backsliding into my old habits. This has been a really big thing for me, and shows me just how far I’ve come on my health and fitness journey.

Somehow, I’ve managed over this past week to spend time with my boys, spend time with my wife and her parents, drive everyone about from place to place as needed, and still make the time to study and attend lectures. I’ve grown beyond feeling the need to make excuses about all of the stuff that I allowed to slide, putting aside stress, and simply getting on with stuff as best as I can. it really has been about not sweating all of the small stuff that causes people so much personal anguish and stress, and while the hectic schedule has been difficult, I feel as if I’ve been making the most out of every moment of each day over the past few weeks. It’s like I’ve reached a real turning point where my personal growth gets to accelerate daily and doesn’t seem to look as though it will be slowing down any time soon.

While I’ve been enjoying the education, I’m starting to really champ at the bit for the day when I can finally be turned loose and go out on my own as a PT. I’ll probably look for regular work as a PT or an instructor at a gym or two to start with, while I begin to build a business around this new career that I have chosen. I have a ton of ideas about how to really get the most out of my training, and I can see a huge untapped market out there just waiting for me to not only earn a dollar or two, but to also find lots of people who could really benefit from a little training/ coaching who might otherwise be unable to access (or be unaware of ) the opportunity to have a personal trainer helping them to achieve their health/fitness/life goals.

I’ve been feeling really encouraged by everything that has happened to me over the last few months, and yes I’m even including all of the “bad” stuff. I really feel as if this is my year, and that I’m on the verge of some really great things happening. It’s as if I were a fish that had finally learned to swim with the tide instead of against it, and things just seem to be getting easier and easier. I’m sure there’s a clever psychological explanation for how I’m feeling, but regardless, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and enjoying a period of fulfilment in my life that I’ve felt has been long overdue. Every moment ahead – good or bad – is an opportunity just waiting to be taken, and I intend to be there, ready and waiting to do so. This is perhaps and example I can show to others of how powerful positive thinking has been for me, and how far it can carry you if you allow yourself to be open to it.

And yet, my enjoyment of everything that has happened to me lately would not feel so complete if it wasn’t for all of the positive feedback I have received from those of you who have been reading my blog, and for all of you bloggers who I have been reading who have also been turning your lives around. You have all encouraged me to be stronger, not just for myself, but for you also, and you have all been a source of strength for me whenever I have felt my spirits flagging. This wonderful and supportive community has been a great gift when I have needed it, and I hope that you feel that I’ve been keeping up my end and have been able to encourage you also, in my own way.

All my latest news

6 Apr

Well, I’ve clearly been a little slow to get on-line and update this blog these past few weeks. It’s been about a week since my last post and I’ve been so busy that I’ve not made the time, thinking that I’ve got other “more important” issues to deal with. This is really the sort of thinking that I want to cure myself of, because it can be so easy to lie to yourself about the priorities in your life, which can then make it easier for you to allow your priorities to slide and make it even harder to reach your goals. So I guess you could say that it’s one of my goals to remove this pattern of thinking which more often than not results in the creation of barriers between me and my goals.

Blogging has become a bit of a priority for me, even if it is only a minor one compared to some of the other really big goals in my life, and yet it is also a fairly large priority for me to update my blog, because through this blog I have found myself connecting with a large number of people in a very real and meaningful way. It is a big part of the career I have chosen to follow, and the job that I wish to do, so rather than seeing the blog as a chore that I need to do, I now see it as a task that I want to do in order to show others the person who I wish to be, and to show those people who I connect with that their needs are also important to me. I hope this serves to make me a better personal trainer in the longer term, as well as providing me with an outlet for all of those thoughts that I have that I feel so compelled to share with others.

I’ve also needed to push myself to do lots of things that I’d prefer to do “later” instead of doing all of the things that I’d prefer to do “now”, and using this as an excuse for a little introspection and critical thinking I’ve realised that even though I’d like to think that I’m all enlightened and can push myself harder than I expect some of my future clients will, I am still susceptible to the same negative barriers that others create for themselves when approaching something that they don’t really want to do, even though they know that they probably need to. It all goes back to all of that mindfulness stuff that I’ve written about in the last few posts, and developing a bit of self awareness in order to overcome those barriers that we create for ourselves.

Now with all of that said, I really do need to cut my blogging time short today because it so happens that there really is a short term priority that needs my attention. My wife’s parents have recently arrived from Russia, and I’ve been out and about acting as the family chef, chauffeur, photographer, and general “dog’s body” as required. I’m not complaining though, because it’s been a lot of fun having them here so far, even though my life has suddenly become incredibly hectic. The parents-in-law don’t speak a word of English, and I’m only able to use enough basic Russian to ensure I can travel from one side of the Russian interior to the other, just so long as I don’t need to ask for more than a ticket (билет – “bilyet”), a taxi (такси – “taksee”), train (поезд – “poesd”) or airplane (самолет – “samolyot”) , or where the local pharmacy (аптека  – “aptyeka”) is!  Basically I’ve not enough Russian to hold a conversation, so there’s been a lot of pointing, waving, smiling, and on the part of my lovely wife, translating!!

In other news, the reboot of my personal training studies began last Tuesday and I am WAY too excited about my studies at the moment. So much so that I’ve been finding it hard to focus on nearly anything else. This has led to some rather funny moments between my wife and I, as I hug her and start to name the various bits that I’m squeezing at the time. I recently quipped in class that with all of the anatomy we are needing to study, we’ve now found ways to make comments about the appearance of someone’s ass without it sounding too insulting. The studying is really intense. We’ve already finished the first of 9 weeks. In another 3 weeks I’ll be qualified to work as a gym instructor, and 5 weeks later I’ll be a personal trainer. This is one of the big goals that I set for myself late last year, and it feels so exciting to not only be firmly on my way, but also that I will achieve one of the big goals after having completed so many of the other little goals that I needed to complete in order to get here.

As for the course itself, I’ve having a blast! It’s been very hands on and practical, even though there is still a lot of time sitting in lectures and doing written “homework”. There appears to be almost 50% of our studies as being practical and in the actual gym, which has been really great and has helped to put the stuff we’ve learned in the lectures into perspective, and cement some of the concepts and terminology into our brains. I’ve always loved to learn new things, but this has been much better than I had hoped. Learning technique and learning to critically analyse others as they exercise is a very big part of what we’ve been learning, and getting to put this stuff into practice ourselves has not only been great from a learning perspective, it’s also helped me to improve the benefits that I get from my own workouts.

As an example, I’ve always struggled to do a pull-up (aka chin-up), even when using the easiest grip on the pull-up bar. So it turns out that it wasn’t a complete lack of upper body strength that had defeated me, but the lack of technique. I hadn’t realised just how important it was to maintain a firm core and to visualise pulling through my elbows. The great news was that I did my first pull-up, and it felt so easy!!  I then went to do a second one, and I failed mightily as I lost my concentration and let my core relax and forgot to visualise my movement! I’ll chalk that up to being so elated that I had for the first time ever done a complete pull-up! 😛

The down-side of all of this studying (on top of having house guests) is that my blogging time is now seriously curtailed. I’ve been told that these first 4 weeks are the hardest, and that the last half of the course will be easier to manage. I really hope so, because I hate the thought that I might be letting down those of you who have come to expect and enjoy some of the stuff that I write to be a regular thing. Blogging here and continuing to write about my personal journey is still very important to me, yet the reality is that I need to make time for all of the other stuff that is going on in my life at the moment. My in-laws will be leaving in another couple of weeks, and my workload may or may not decrease shortly after that. Somehow I’ll find a way to keep writing, even if for the next few weeks it’s at irregular intervals.

Anyhoo, enough about my news and all of that. I’ve not done any measurements this month, or testing, and I didn’t get around to taking progress photos. I’ll commit to doing all of that once my days become a little less busy. In the mean time, I’m back on track diet-wise, and even though my workouts have been limited to the stuff I do in class, while it’s not been ideal or complete, it’s been keeping me active and causing just enough muscle soreness that I feel confident I’m getting a benefit… and it’s certainly better than I did in March!

Weight loss shows are sending the wrong message

25 Mar

Before I get on my soapbox and have a rant about why I think the weight loss and “transformation” shows are doing the wrong thing, I should probably first start out by admitting that I’ve become a bit of a “transformation show junkie”. Yeah, I know it’s probably not good for me to be sitting in front of the TV watching something that I know will end up annoying me before the credits roll, and yet I can’t help getting my little “reality TV” fix.

So the thing that triggered my urge to write about this topic came last night as I sat to watch the Biggest Loser (Australian edition), and I saw Michelle Bridges doing something that I feel was completely awful. Now before you think I’m simply going to be trying to tear Michelle down, I want it on the record that I admire her achievements and her commitment to her career. Even while I question how commercially focussed she appears to have become – and yes I know that the public view of famous people often doesn’t reflect their true nature, I still admire how well she has done and how focussed and committed she is.

So back to the story I’m trying to tell, where I saw Michelle trying to show a little tough love to a contestant. Now I don’t know if she’s turning up the intensity for the camera, or if she was simply having a bad day and getting frustrated with this particular contestant, but rather than showing him that she had his best interests at heart she instead came across as the worst sort of bully you could imagine. Her whole approach was aggressive rather than assertive, and she used insults instead of support or coercion. Naturally the contestant got angry, and I think that Michelle was lucky that this guy only left the room with a little foul language behind him!! Sure it makes good television – if you like that sort of thing, but what message does it give to the contestant and to the viewers who are watching the program? That the fat person can still be denigrated by the fit person even when that fit person is supposed to be helping and supportive? That it’s OK to be abusive towards the fat person simply because they don’t wish to do what you want them to? That personal trainers have some sort of right to insult their clients?

From my “armchair quarterback” position, I think that it wasn’t so good for Michelle to display what I believe is such a great degree of unprofessionalism, and such a lack of respect for someone who – competition or not – was at that moment her client. If I was show that video as my only view of what a personal trainer does, I wouldn’t want to hire one, or I wouldn’t want to hire the person who I saw behaving that way. Sorry Michelle, as great as I think you really are, I don’t think you are really helping either your client, or our industry in general when you behave that way, no matter how good it might be for the show or the ratings.

Which brings be to the other part of my rant, and the heart of the topic that I wanted to write about, and that is that these TV personality trainers have it in their power to do some real good in the world, and to really spread the message not only about how important it is to be healthy, but that it is also possible to undo the damage done by years of self-neglect, and the sad and truly silly thing about this is that these people are squandering this opportunity and allowing themselves to get sucked in to the commercialism of there TV shows, and I believe doing more harm than good with the mixed and often wrong signals that they send out to their adoring public.

Those mixed messages started even before any of these shows first aired. Yes, I’m saying they – The Biggest Loser people – got it wrong the moment someone first pitched the idea of having a variation on the Survivor style of reality TV program where you get a bunch of overweight people to compete in a situation where – from the public’s perspective – elimination ends your journey and with it the education that you need in order to do something that from the obese person’s perspective could literally save your life! It trivialises not only the journey that each of the contestants needs to take, but also the risks and reasons that have led the contestants to take part in the competition, and week to week, you get to see people who will get kicked off the show because they were unable to keep up with the others – regardless of whether it was due to physical difference, poor mental preparation, or sheer laziness. And they’re not just booted out of the show for coming last in a weekly competition, they get voted off by the very same people who are supposed to be a part of their support network during the show!

Even worse in my mind is that there is even a competition at all. You have a bunch of people who have come to a point in their lives as a result of hardship, depression, and self-loathing just to name a few of the reasons for their poor physical condition, and instead of building a supportive environment where they can be encouraged to learn and grow beyond the barriers they have had to getting healthier on their own, these people enter into a competition, where losing means they will not only not win the prize money at the end of the season, but that they will likely also not be anywhere near achieving any of their goals, nor likely to be any healthier or happier unless they are lucky enough to survive the competition long enough to make it reasonably close to the end.

Competition is great if you have the mental fortitude to deal with defeat, yet when you feel the whole world is against you and that a loss will just validate your own self-loathing, why would anyone risk subjecting you to the sort of pressures and behaviours that probably led you into such a negative mental state in the first place?!! Seriously, it’s disgraceful that these poor people are subjected to any of this, let alone the sort of unprofessional abuse which I described earlier. I really find it disgusting, and a part of me feels ashamed that in spite of all of this, I find myself drawn back time and again to watch with an almost morbid fascination as a group of people compete to be insulted, bullied, pushed and prodded for the amusement of the viewing audience, and the ratings of a television station.

There is one show that I have seen that seems to try to break the reality TV nightmare mould a bit, which is Chris Powell‘s Extreme Makeover. Instead of following a bunch of people for weeks on end, you get to see one person transform in each episode, which covers a year long journey. I have a lot of respect for what it is that Chris does, and for how his show generally comes across in trying to show a very difficult and personal journey with a great deal of decorum and sensitivity towards each individual that Chris helps. I like that you not only see the great successes, but that you also see the not so great successes, and even a few of the failures as well. It’s a little more real, more confronting for the viewer as well as the person being transformed, and I can’t recall seeing Chris behaving as anything other than professionally in the gym, and otherwise as a really nice human being, a mentor, and a friend when he is dealing with his clients at other times.

I wouldn’t be writing this however if I didn’t find something that doesn’t sit quite right with me, and this is one of those mixed messages that the other weight loss shows make an even greater deal about and where they fail quite spectacularly, and that is the correlation made between weight and health instead of dealing with the problem as one of fat vs health. These should not be weight loss shows, but should instead be Fat-loss shows. It isn’t weight that kills obese people. It isn’t weight that causes metabolic diseases and other life threatening complications. These problems are the result of poor dietary lifestyle, inactivity, stress, depression, and on top of all of that it’s ultimately due to an excess of body fat that obesity occurs.

So while I really love what Chris does with his show, the message is all wrong. We don’t need to be bullies as I’ve said earlier, but we also should not be so scared into political correctness that we can’t admit that it is fat that is the killer, that being fat is a big part of the problem for so many people, and that mental health is also something that needs to be addressed, and not this focus on how many units of weight you have gained or lost over time. To Chris’s credit however, and it is one of the reasons that I really like his show, he makes use of the scale, but doesn’t make the scale the focus of everything that his clients do. For that alone I’d admire his work, certainly a lot more than I do with that other show that I mentioned.

Another mixed message which comes from these shows, is that they make it seem as though you can only get the kind of help that these TV shows show from your famous weight-loss TV show celebrity, from personal trainers, or that you need to be obese before you can get that kind of extreme help or intervention. While I can’t claim to have ever reached the massive weights of those contestants and others shown on the TV, I do know that both the mental journey and the physical one have been very intense for me, and I am sure that there are millions of other people in the world battling similar demons of their own. The real help comes from the network of supportive people that you choose to surround yourself with, whether it’s family, friends, your local doctor, your psychologist, nutritionist, or even a bunch of people on-line who read your blog from time to time (Yes, that’s probably you the reader as well!!). Ordinary people with day to day problems sometimes need help too, and this help is available all around them, and shouldn’t require extremes in order to be dealt with.

Your personal trainer is one person out of many, and no matter how much I grow as a personal trainer, I hope that I never forget that I am only one of many people who are there to provide support for my clients. While my skills may be important in helping a person to travel their journey, and even while those skills may touch on other areas such as psychology, nutrition, and general health, I should always keep in mind that there are others better qualified to focus on such areas, and it will remain my job to provide my clients with assertive yet compassionate support, physical training, appropriate advice within my areas of expertise, and the  professionalism that that they deserve, with a direct and simple message minus all of the misdirection that they end up getting from the TV.

Life isn’t a competition, and your problems aren’t trivial or wrong just because someone else doesn’t understand or can’t relate to them. This is certainly  apart of the message that I am focussed on getting out there into the world, and so to is that we are all entitled to live healthy and happy lives. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is or what the reasons are for becoming unhealthy or unhappy. Help should always be available for those who need it, and no-one should learn to hate themselves just because they were unable to recognise their problems or for being ill-equipped to handle them.

If you want a better show, show a person’s journey from start to finish. Show how we can learn from our failures, celebrate our victories, and what sort of help systems there are in the world for those requiring more extreme forms of help. For Chriss Powell, I’d suggest that he follow up on those he felt he couldn’t help, and to see after a year or two whether those people were able to find other ways to overcome the physical and mental barriers that prevented them being successful in their journeys. Did they seek a support group, or counselling, or some other intervention process? Did it work? Did it help? Would these things make a difference to a person who tried to reboot their journey after they had learned a few more skills?

For all of those shows, change the message. Focus on health and fat management more, and less on competition and on having people turn on each other in order to win. Show us that everyone can be successful with a little love and support, and that everyone who has struggled with their health in life deserves another chance to be healthy again without the risk of bullying, abandonment, or showing that the entitlement of health only belongs to those who fight hardest for it, even though we must sometimes fight with ourselves in order to ensure we maintain our physical and mental health.

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