| June 29, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 5 min.
In an ideal world, working with a subject matter expert who has spent hours on their education and experience would be the best way to improve on anything. The same idea applies when it comes to working with a fitness professional.
Someone who has gone through the work, continues to educate themselves, and communicates well with your needs is great to have when on the road to your goals. However, this isn’t the case for a lot of people for many reasons. Whether it be financial or something else, working with a personal trainer or coach just may not be in the cards.
If this sounds like you, you may have turned to information that you can easily access on the web, social media, or just observation in your surroundings. Of course, things that you are unsure about should be taken with a grain of salt. You can certainly learn a lot on your own, but not all advice is applicable based upon so many individual factors. But to help distill some information, here are some general tips that can give you a bit of a boost in your approach to solo training.
Also note that if you are very new to exercise, err on the side of caution when it comes to emulating others. This list is not necessarily directed to those who are brand new, but more so general things to keep in mind if you are not under the consistent watchful eye of a personal trainer in your corner.
Record Your Exercises
Extrinsic feedback has been proven to be helpful in many self-correction and improvement circumstances. Simply watching yourself and noticing things to tweak your form can give you additional awareness of your subsequent lifts. Of course, knowing what to look out for is a prerequisite, but if you generally trust your instinct and see something that looks wrong, it probably is. If you eventually get to a point where you are able to work with a trainer, having this footage to share will provide them with great information they can work with too.
An additional benefit for doing this is also to help overcome any self-conscious issues you may have. By being honest with yourself by having proof of your potential flaws can hopefully give you an idea of how much room for improvement you have and give you a goal to strive towards. It’s probably not easy for everyone, but it’s certainly something you can start with.
Back Off If It Hurts
Knowing the difference between feeling the burn and actual pain is important to know. Getting the muscles to burn and pump is beneficial and relates to what you are aiming for, but actual pain (think sharpness and/or stinging sensation) is detrimental to your goals. Sometimes the pain isn’t immediately apparent. These circumstances are akin to cracks in a dam that have yet to cause it to break. Basically, be careful if something just feels off because your body more often than not will let you know before it’s too late.
While you may be thinking of the old adage “no pain, no gain”, the correct way to think about it is “no gain with pain”.
As simple as this may sound, correct breathing during your lifts is important during execution. Many people, especially beginners, show a tendency to to hold their breath as they lift. While there is a time and place for this in some circumstances (such as powerlifting in a Valsalva technique), it is better to get into a habit of patterning your movement with your breathing. As a general tip, inhale during the lowering phase of the movement and exhale as you execute the lift. While this can vary, just remember that if you don’t breathe, you die.
Have A Plan
While this is much easier when working with a trainer since it’s their job, having a plan or at least some general idea of what you want to accomplish is important. Everybody should have an idea of what they are going to do before they start, regardless of your experience. You may not have the technical knowledge on the precise sequence of exercises and prescription, but coming out with all your boxes checked off will at least give you motivation to consistently show up. This can easily be simplified into some as basic as:
3-4 exercises full body
1 lower body push
1 upper body pull
1 lower body push
1 lower body pull
Cooldown and stretch
As stated before in tracking your progress, your eventual trainer will be delighted to have this information and know what they are working with. This will also get your mindset aligned with what to expect down the road. Consistency is key towards any goal, plus it will help take a lot of guesswork out of your time at the gym. This point leads me to....
Lifters of all experiences face distractions during their workouts. Even the most advanced can be directed away for long periods of time if they get caught up in conversation or by something on their phones. In some ways, even working with a personal trainer can be a distraction if they are not on the ball with their time and go off on a tangent with you. (If this happens a lot, reconsider your training relationship with them). Most people have a limited amount of time to actually spend working out. For both personal and physiological reasons, there is a decline in benefit the longer you stay at the gym. It isn’t usually for a lack of planning, which you should also do, but because of getting caught up in something else and before you know it, your body has cooled off.
Phones these days are the most common culprit of distractions. Simply put it away and focus on your workout, or keep it on airplane mode so that you can still listen to your music but won’t get caught up in anything else. To minimize distractions from the chatty people, keep an eye on your rest periods. Excusing yourself from conversations to get back to your lift is understandable and unlikely to cause any issues.
At the end of the day, your own reasons for not being able to work with a trainer will come down to your own decision moving forward. In my experience, I have heard the common excuse of wanting to “get in shape” before working with a trainer. I implore you to not use this information with that idea in mind, but rather to understand your own situation a little better on what you can do to be more effective on your own. Working with a personal trainer is great, and you should definitely strive towards having that experience at least once in your life to truly understand the benefit it can have in your life. Training is a never ending journey, but the tools and experience you gain along the way shape your outcome.
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