Whether the goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, increase strength, increase sports performance, or just to look damn good in a bikini by summertime, most people agree that hiring a good trainer is a way to reach your goals. But what does it actually take to achieve success with a Personal Trainer?
First let's define the role of a Personal Trainer. A Personal Trainer's job is to design and supervise a structured training program tailored to the individual's needs. Duties include demonstration and teaching of proper warm-ups, mobility and stretching, and exercise techniques as well as general guidance on nutrition and lifestyle where applicable. Even if a trainer can design and implement the most cutting edge, effective, and well-designed program, the reality is that the client is only with the trainer for a few hours per week, with 2-3 one-hour sessions being the norm.
Here's a common scenario:
Johnny Doe would like to lose weight. After an assessment by his new Personal Trainer, they decide on the goal of losing 50lbs over the next 12 months, while bringing his body fat percentage into a healthy range. Johnny's trainer happens to be very good and writes up a thoughtful training program, which Johnny implements 3 days per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. At this point, he is spending 3 hours a week working towards his goal. After a few weeks, he has started to see progress building muscle and strength but can't seem to drop the excess body fat. Johnny then decides to hire a nutritionist whom he sees weekly and who provides detailed nutritional guidance to help Johnny lose weight.
Johnny is now seeing a trainer 3 days a week and a nutritionist 1 day a week, which equates to 4 hours each week dedicated to losing weight! But Johnny is frustrated because he does not feel that his body fat is dropping at an adequate rate for all of the time and money he is investing in his goals. Sure he feels better physically and has been able to uncover many of the issues surrounding his diet, but he has still not achieved his goal of dropping body fat. Johnny is becoming increasingly frustrated by the disconnect between his perceived input of effort and his actual results.
What should he do? Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room:
The impediment to Johnny reaching his fat loss goals goes beyond what he is doing in his training sessions or nutritional consultations. The four quality hours that Johnny spends each week working towards the goal of weight loss are far outweighed by the remaining hours in the week during which he has made little to no lifestyle changes.
Since there are 168 hours in one week, the average person's actual time may be broken down like this:
40 hours at work - spending a lot of time sitting in a chair
10 hrs commuting in car (includes work, errands, etc) - also sitting in a chair
50 hours getting that all-important sleep (essential for exercise recovery)! - although this probably is more like 40 hours
2 hours with your Personal Trainer
2 hours exercising on your own
=64 hours remaining
What you choose to do with those remaining 64 hours - an average of 9 hours each day - can make or break your journey toward fitness. It goes without saying that life is filled with time-consuming tasks that have not been accounted for in this breakdown, but the point boils down to time management. Remember, we are talking about how to reach goals here. And for a goal to be achieved it must be prioritized, meaning other things may take a background role for the meantime until success is achieved. I am in no way advocating that an individual relinquish him or herself of all responsibilities in order to reach a certain health and wellness goal. I am merely stating that if an individual's lifestyle is impeding his or her ability to reach a certain goal then something has to give. If that person decides that he is unwilling to make the necessary changes, then it would also be important to have a talk about whether or not his goal is truly his goal.
In order for Johnny to achieve his weight loss, he needs to maximize the use of his remaining hours in the day in addition to following healthy guidelines set forth by his nutritionist and trainer. For example, making the switch from restaurant eating to home cooked eating is typically healthier due to the level of control over what goes into the food. It can also save on time. By grocery shopping once per week and setting aside one hour twice per week to prepare food in advance, it becomes easy to consume healthy meals on a daily basis. With some minimal weekly preparations it should be possible to cook a healthy dinner in 30 minutes or less. Not only does simple meal prep allow for healthy dinners but taking leftovers to work for lunch is a simple way to cut down on time spent driving, ordering, eating, and driving back from lunch on a daily basis.
Another area for focus is increasing non-exercise physical activity. Simple things like parking farther from the store will not only cut down on time finding spaces in many cases, but will allow for some extra steps! For the average sedentary American, a 20-30 min walk per day is a massive increase in physical activity. Maybe one less Netflix show can be sacrificed for a quick walk around the block? I've heard many people say that there is just not enough time in the day to do "(fill in the blank)," yet a summary of the latest TV series they've been binge watching is easy to recall.
Lastly, let's not forget the most important element of all... SLEEP!. If you are looking for the quickest lifestyle change that will decrease fat, build muscle, improve your mood, increase energy levels, and impart a large list of other benefits, then you must sleep adequately and regularly. For most people, this means more sleep than they are actually getting.
The bottom line is that when a client hires a Personal Trainer, she has done so to receive instruction on how to achieve goals. She is not paying to have her goals achieved but rather for guidance on how to do so. There are 168 hours in one week. 1 hour is .5% of your week, 3 hours is 1.5%, and 4 hours is 2%. Time with a Personal Trainer each week is not the only key to progress. The stimulus provided by excellent workouts and programming from a great trainer is a catalyst for change, not a guarantee. If you REALLY want to become fit, build muscle, decrease body fat, and lead a healthy lifestyle, the remainder of your 168 hours each week must reflect the time and energy you're investing with your trainer. Any trainer who tells you otherwise has never had a client truly succeed and is only interested in selling you something short-term.
What are you doing with the rest of your time?
Dylan Smith, Certified Personal Trainer, True Fitness and Nutrition
About the author:
Dylan entered the world of strength training at the age of 14, and has pursued it with a passion ever since. Unfortunately, some of his early instruction was suboptimal, and he sustained a significant lower back injury while following the improper techniques he had learned. Dylan had back surgery and then worked with several physical therapists before returning to the gym. With an L5/S1 herniated disk, Dylan had a newfound motivation to learn the right ways to move, train, and get stronger. Dylan graduated from James Madison University with a BS in Kinesiology and a Minor in Business and became a competitive powerlifter. He transformed his own training and has since brought these healthy and highly effective techniques to personal training clients throughout the Northern Virginia area.
I work with a wide variety of clients who have goals ranging from weight loss, to competitive powerlifting, physique development, and high school athletics. The underlying principles of fitness that get these clients to their goals are the same: muscle, strength, and cardiovascular fitness are forged in the gym, while a lean and healthy looking body is built in the kitchen.
Lower back injuries
Youth athletics and group instruction
BS Kinesiology, JMU
USAW Level 1
NPTI Certified Trainer and Nutrition Coach