personal trainer

When a Client is Stronger Than You Are

It's difficult to become something you can't see. That's the reason I wrote the post about the value of body size diversity within the personal trainer community. This week I want to address a specific concern I hear a lot from aspiring trainers--what to do if you have a client who is stronger than you in some way, or is ready for exercises that you aren't able to demonstrate?

My philosophy on this is pretty simple. I don't need to be able to do every exercise at its most advanced level. What I do need to be able to do is to communicate how to do an exercise properly. Sometimes that's me demonstrating exactly what I want them to do, and other times it's explaining it in words. And both of those things work just fine.

The other thing is that people don't hire me to exercise with them. They hire me because I have expertise that's of value to them, because I create workouts that are fun and effective for them, and because I keep them safe while they exercise. So, a workout isn't ever about what I can do. It's about what the client can do and what I can teach them to do. Does that make sense? I don't always demonstrate my full range of motion on an exercise with a client who maybe isn't as strong as I am. Conversely, I don't need to be able to demonstrate what a client who is stronger than me can do, in order to be effective as a trainer.

An assumption that a lot of trainers make is that the only reason a client is looking to hire a trainer is to lose weight. There are myriad reasons why someone decides to exercise that have nothing to do with getting thinner. Which brings me to the last point I want to make: focus on your strengths as a trainer and the right clients will find you.

Think about a university and the diversity of expertise it contains. You wouldn't expect a math professor to teach you all about history, or a biology professor to help you become a great writer. They each have their little corner of academia and that's where they live. You will have that too as a fitness professional. You won't be the right trainer for everyone. But you will be the right trainer for someone--many someones, hopefully :-)

If you have specific questions about becoming a trainer, wherever you're starting from, please leave them below and I'll do my best to answer. You can also email me directly at if you'd rather your comment remain private.

That Time I Went All Weak in the Knees

There are things my body is really good at and things it's really bad at. For example, my body is really good at gaining weight. On the flip side, it's also really good at building muscle. My body gave me clear skin as a teenager, but also crooked teeth and frizzy hair. I'm a terrible dancer, but I can spell backwards. It's a mixed bag, being in my body. That's really what I'm trying to say. Knees 1

A little over a year ago now, I injured my right knee badly during a workout. It took a long time to recover, and landed me in physical therapy for 12 weeks. Working my way back from that injury was frustrating and painful and slow.

But what I didn't anticipate at the beginning of that journey was the fear I would experience after my knee was medically, officially healed and I was cleared to go back to my regular activities.

When I was laid up, all I wanted was to be able to move again. But when that permission came, I found that I was terrified of injuring it again. Really, really scared. Scared of the pain, for sure. But more than that; I was scared of not being in control of my body. Of not being able to move. Of not being able to do my job effectively anymore.

Knees 2

I lost confidence in my ability to predict how my body would perform--of how it would react to the demands I placed upon it. I thought if I made one false move. If I lunged or squatted the wrong way, snap would go my ligament.

That fear was paralyzing. It made the prospect of working out again something that filled me with dread. But when I would think about not exercising, that would scare me too. Because I knew that if I stopped moving, the pain would come back, the muscles supporting my knees would weaken and I would be much more likely to injure it again.

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. Not fun.


Have any of you ever experienced this? Maybe you experienced an injury similar to mine. Or maybe you gained weight and then felt uncomfortable or insecure in your body. Or maybe you got the message early and often that you weren't sporty or coordinated, so you've never been confident with anything physical. Maybe you think that you don't know what you're doing and as a result you're either going to hurt yourself or embarrass yourself.

I think exercise is often as much about working through mental limitations as it is physical ones. It's as much about pushing past that voice in your head that's telling you all of the reasons why you shouldn't, or cataloging all of the things that could go wrong. as it is about getting your biceps to curl a heavy dumbbell up to your shoulder. Whether what's holding you back is the fear of physical pain and injury, or the fear of failing, or the fear of people judging you or laughing at you; it doesn't really matter.

So where to go from here? How do we move from that feeling of damned if we exercise, damned if we don't?

I can and will tell you what I did. But I don't want to make it sound like it was some miracle cure and now I'm fixed. I'm not. There are days when I'm still overly cautious with my body. There are still exercises I won't do; classes I'm reluctant to take. There are still moments when I feel a twinge in my knee and am scared it's going to give out. I still sometimes lack confidence in my ability to distinguish what's become a normal level of discomfort in my knees and what's a sign that something is wrong. There are still days when I'm so frustrated that I work so hard and yet my knees sometimes still feel so weak. It's a work in progress for sure.

Here's what helps me.

I got expert advice and I follow it. Because my injury was so bad, I had physical therapy. Those therapists gave me exercises to do every day and I still do them, nearly a year after my last PT appointment. They also told me the warning signs to watch for--things that were flashing red lights to stop what I was doing before I hurt myself. They gave me a list of exercises to avoid. And told me how much pain was okay to work through and how much was too much. I wrote it down and I stick to it.

I take time to take it easy. I never used to spend much time on stretching or mobilization exercises. Now, two of my workout days are active recovery days where I do stretching and "pre-hab" routines.

I learned which muscles needed to be stronger to support my knees. In my case, that's my hamstrings and the muscles of my quadriceps. I make sure I do safe exercises that strengthen those muscles several times each week.

I write down what my fears are, and I get specific. Sometimes naming a fear takes some of the fear out of it. Then I refute it, or I decide how I'm going to address it.


Even if your fear isn't driven by an injury, some of these strategies can still work. Maybe working with a personal trainer would help your confidence because you'd get some expert advice on how to do exercises correctly and safely. Or maybe going to the gym or a class with a friend would take some of the anxiety out of the experience for you.

I don't know that I'm someone who necessarily thinks everything happens for a reason. But I do know that my injury humbled me in ways that were probably good for me as a trainer. I've said before on this blog that I struggled with my weight and with feeling uncomfortable in my body for many years in my teens and twenties. So, before this experience I don't think I would have said that I was unaware of what it was like to feel that way.

But I do think that sometimes I probably forgot just a little. I think that sometimes those feelings weren't as accessible to me as they might have been because I found myself so far on the other end of the fitness spectrum in my thirties.

This injury, while mostly healed, will have lingering effects. There will always be occasional pain. There will always be exercises I don't do. There will always be modifications I need to make and days when frustration and fear override confidence and ambition. And I've gotten to a place where I think that's okay.

Because it means I always have one foot in both worlds. I'm firmly planted in my personal trainer world--in a world where I love moving and challenging my body. But I'm also never far away from that other place. That place of physical pain; that place where your body isn't a predictable, known quantity; that place where moving is a loaded emotional and physical proposition.

If you find yourself there too, you are definitely not alone. And you should give yourself a pat on the back for feeling that way and working through it to do great things for your body and your health.

I Don't Crunch & You Don't Have to Either


Anyone reading who absolutely LOVES abdominal crunches? Anyone especially love getting down on the floor; struggling to relax your neck (kind of an oxymoron, I know); and crunching until your abs burn or your arms get tired of supporting your head? I mean really love crunches? I broke-up with crunches months ago and here's why. They're uncomfortable; it's relatively easy to do them incorrectly and hurt yourself; it's relatively easy to do them wrong and have them be almost completely ineffective as an exercise; they don't really target the deep core muscles (the ones you need to be strong in order to prevent back issues and to support your body in the motion of daily life); they hurt my neck; they are not fun but are very boring. Other than that, I think they're great :-)

This would be a bummer of a post, except for the fact that there are so many awesome exercises that work your core better than floor crunches. Yay for good exercise news! I won't list them all here, but here are my 5 current favorites, making their way through my current workout rotation.

The Woodchopper. I just think this one is so much fun. Not sure why. But I love it.

Dead Bug. Terrible name. Awesome exercise.

Forearm Plank. I love to add knee-drops or hip drops for variety. But make sure you've got the basic plank form down pat before adding anything fancy.

Bird Dog. Great name. Great exercise.

Standing Mountain Climbers. Can make these harder by holding a dumbbell in your hand.


The Most Unexpected Part of Exercise


What does that statement conjure up for you? Are you thinking that I'm about to write a post about how I actually gained weight from working out and how I'm okay with that? Or maybe you're thinking it's going to be about how I sleep so much better because I work out. Or maybe you just know that this post is going to be about how I'm happier, more energized, more insert-positive-adjective-here because of regular exercise...But nope. Not it. You're not even lukewarm, if we were playing the hot-cold game. The biggest surprise about exercise to me is laundry.


Yep, laundry.

The sheer volume of loads of laundry I do in a week because I exercise regularly.

It's ridiculous. If I had a nickel for every minute of the week I spend dumping clothes in the washer; for every minute I spend reading tiny labels to determine which pairs of leggings can go in the dryer and which ones need to air dry; for every time I've scraped lint from the lint trap...Well, let's just say my savings account would have a few more zeros at the end of that number.


For years, out of convenience and because I didn't really know any better, I just hung my clothes to air dry after a workout and then wore them again the next day.

Some of you are cringing right now at how gross that sounds and others of you don't see the big deal. Am I right?

Here's what I learned that made me decide that the place for workout clothes is the laundry room.


We are little bacteria, yeast and fungus-growing factories, we humans. Our sweat is full of bacteria, which when trapped against our skin by workout clothes can cause infections. One example is a particularly lovely acne-like skin rash called, folliculitis. But there are others.

Wearing workout clothes a second or third day in a row will often mean you smell bad. Sorry, but it's true. And no one wants that. The areas of your body most susceptible to bacterial transfer to your clothes are the parts of your body where your workout wear is the tightest and the least amount of air can circulate. Makes sense, right?

Skin rashes are one issue, but if you have cuts and scrapes on your skin and then you expose them to the bacteria on unwashed gym clothes, you can get other kinds of nasty infections. For those of us who exercise in a gym, we're exposing our workout clothes and, by extension, our bodies, to other people's bacteria and germs too. Sometimes people wipe down machines after they've used them, but sometimes not. And you never know how meticulous a given gym is about doing regular cleaning of their equipment.

If the above doesn't gross you out or seem like good enough reason to wash, consider the  lifespan of your clothes. Bacteria and fungus found on our bodies and in our sweat can break down certain kinds of materials more quickly than they would if we washed them after each wearing. They can also grow mold if left to sit damp after a workout. I want to get as much wear out of these things as possible, so it's kind of an investment in my workout wardrobe to care for them correctly.

If you are engaging in light workouts and aren't sweating at all or are sweating very little, you probably are fine to just wash your workout clothes on your regular laundry day. But if, like me, you almost always end your workouts a sweaty mess, you  want to wear once and wash. Here are a few washing options, depending on your preferences.

Run through the washing machine, gentle-cycle, cold water. Air dry.

Hand-wash them in the sink with Woolite and then let them air dry. 

Put them in a ziploc freezer bag and then remove and wash when you have enough other items to justify a spin in the washing machine. (The freezer stops the growth of bacteria.)

Rinse them out quickly in the sink with cold water, before putting them in your hamper, if you can't run them through the wash immediately.