How can I get the most out of three sessions with a personal trainer?
August 28, 2017 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I recently won a drawing at my gym and have the opportunity for three free sessions with a personal trainer. I cannot afford to continue with training beyond the three free sessions, so I really want to get the most of of them. I'm interested in establishing a strength training routine to do alongside my already-strong cardio habits. What should I ask the trainer to show me/teach me/tell me? Is it okay to just say "help me set a routine I can continue for the next X months" and if so what kind of stuff should I ask to have included in that routine? Relevant details below the cut!

If it matters: I'm a 35-year-old cis female. Currently weigh 235 lbs. Lowest weight I've reached as an adult is 205 in my early 20's; 220 seems to be where I land when I'm healthy and keeping up with my fitness routine. According to my doctor, I'm in great cardiovascular shape.

I currently do cardio 4-6x/week, mixing 60 minute Zumba classes, 30 minute runs, and 30 minutes of swimming laps. Usually it's Zumba 2x, running 2-3x, swimming 1x, and I throw in Sunday morning yoga when I can make it to class in time. My main workout motivation is mental health; I'm fat, I've always been fat, and I try not to worry about fatness too much. That said, I feel like I've hit a fitness plateau. I'd like to get more out of Zumba; I'd like to be able to run farther/longer; I'd like to swim better; I'd like to feel strong.

I've done weight machine circuits in the past so I'm not a total novice, but I'll need a re-orientation. I understand "core strength" is a thing but I freaking hate crunches; is it weird to tell a trainer "no crunches, please?"

What should I ask/expect of a personal trainer in just three sessions?
posted by adastra to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The big thing I see missing from your workouts is weightlifting, and going over a squat and deadlift seem absolutely attainable in three sessions; they're also motions that you want professional coaching for, at the beginning.
I like weightlifting precisely because it's about feeling strong, and you can measure your progress very easily - last month 135 was hard; this month it's part of your warmup.

And I tell trainers "no crunches" all the time. I don't have the neck stability for it, and there are so many other exercises they should be able to suggest, e.g. planks, plank shoulder taps, pike to plank / dancing dolphin, etc.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your goal is feeling strong, I think using your three hours to learn good form on complex multi-joint exercises would give you the most bang for your buck. These movements are difficult to learn on your own because you can't watch yourself do them easily. A trainer can help you ease into them. Here's some things to ask for:

1) Squats: Specifically box squats and goblet squats with a dumbbell or kettlebell. (Google them for basic descriptions)
2) Deadlifts: Start with kettlebells resting on a step or something to get them to the right height. If your gym has fixed barbells in increments of 10lb, you could use those, too.
3) Kettlebell swings: These looks scary, but are great and would complement your routine really well.
4) Planks: Ok, they aren't a multi-joint exercise, but they aren't crunches, and it's hard to watch yourself do them, so you can pick up some pointers.
5) Assisted Pull-ups if your gym has the machine: They look super intimidating, but they are great for you.

In any case, it sounds like you've got cardio down, and a jump to strength training might help with your plateau. In a lot of ways, it's much more efficient, and it will definitely be a change of pace. Cardio made me miserable all the time, and when I finally picked up strength training, I loved it. For more reading, I came across this post which puts to words my experience going from cardio to strength training in a way I hadn't been able to: Put Down the Pink Dumbbell.
posted by AaRdVarK at 12:59 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most of what you will tell the trainer is what you've told us here. Typically, trainers ask you what your goals are and help tailor a meal/ workout plan for you based on those goals. Try to articulate those on paper, e.g. "I'd like to feel stronger/ reach x% body fat/ build my stamina in order to run a half-marathon", so that you maximize your time with the trainer figuring out how to get you t your goals. If you don't have goals, that's fine too! Good trainers can help you figure out what you want.

The thing that stands out to me is that you've reached a plateau despite your already decent routines, and that's what you should emphasize to your trainer as well. You haven't provided much information here on your eating plan, so it may be that a trainer will be able to help you tweak that to get over your plateau. In addition, building muscle is important, and with a cardio-heavy workout like yours, some strength training may help. A trainer will be able to ensure you have correct form so you don't risk injury if strength training is something they suggest you add to your regimen.

Never hesitate to let them know what you like or do not like. Consistency is the key to reaching your goal once the sessions are done, and if a trainer puts things in a plan that you don't like, you probably won't reach your goals. Good luck, I hope you get the most out of this great opportunity!
posted by Everydayville at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2017

It is okay to write down information while you're with the trainer, and even take pictures of him/her demonstrating proper form. The correct posture and concentrating on the right muscles can make a big difference in how much benefit you get.

I'm slightly below your weight range, and exercise alone never helps me much for weight loss.
posted by wryly at 1:11 PM on August 28, 2017

If I were in your position, I'd try to contact the trainer in advance to communicate what you've outlined here. Not for an extended conversation, and not expecting them to put in time outside the session (unless pre-session prep is standard with this trainer/gym), but just to maybe send one well-structured, short e-mail so they know ahead of time what you're looking for. This might also give them a chance to tell you what to expect or to let you know, ahead of time, what input they'll ask for -- so you can prepare your responses and you don't forget anything.
posted by amtho at 1:23 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great advice, especially from batter_my_heart and AaRdVarK. I'd just suggest that if you can, you space out the sessions, so you can practice what you learn by yourself. Session 1, then a few weeks of trying the workouts by yourself to try to learn them and to get a sense of what you like and don't. When you come back a few weeks later, the trainer can check your form and coach you on something new if you decide you want a change. Then repeat for session 3.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:27 PM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

It is absolutely okay to see a trainer for the express purpose of learning things to do on your own! That's what I do. I'd recommend scheduling your sessions at least one week apart so you can get comfortable doing the exercises on your own and figure out what you like and what you don't, and then each subsequent session can build on that. And if you have room in your budget at some point, you can hire a trainer for monthly check-in sessions so you can change things up.

Definitely look into strength training and weightlifting, since your current routine is missing it. Instead of the weight machines, ask the trainer to show you stuff with dumbbells and kettlebells - you'll benefit more from a trainer checking your form on them, you'll work more muscle groups, and you'll be able to continue with them if you travel or switch gyms (even tiny hotel fitness rooms usually have dumbbells; not everywhere has machines). AaRdVarK 's list is good.

It's also okay to ask the trainer for advice about the things you're currently doing; mine helps me figure out running plans when I've plateaued. Since you've got a lot of different cardio activities on your plate and may need to fit in strength training sometime soon, I wouldn't be surprised if your trainer suggests you focus on only one or two of them, so it's not a bad idea to think about what you might want to prioritize.

Although trainers will help with weight loss and meal planning if you'd like, it's fine if you don't want any advice in that arena and a good trainer won't give unsolicited advice.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:17 PM on August 28, 2017

When you get strong from barbell squats and deadlifts, crunches are not enough weight to challenge your body. So that's could be a goal.
posted by bdc34 at 2:20 PM on August 28, 2017

Think a lot about precisely what you want to gain from your workouts. Be as specific as you can. You'll only have a brief period to explain your goals to the trainer before he/she plans out your sessions. It is absolutely okay to also be clear that you want the trainer to develop a routine for you that you can then follow on your own. Bring a notebook so the trainer can write down some notes for you, like instructions for a specific exercise, the weight you should use, and so forth.

it's up to you to set the boundaries. Any good trainer should then be able to fill in the pieces for you. And don't be embarrassed about only having a small number of sessions. I did a few sessions (I think it was four) with my gym's personal trainer who I'd known for years (but never hired) and I still see him practically every day when I work out on my own. It's the farthest thing from awkward. In fact, he's been very helpful with suggesting variations or accommodations I can try.
posted by DrGail at 6:04 PM on August 28, 2017

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