Read This Before Starting An Exercise Program Or Employing A Personal Trainer!

Finally Spring Is Here And It’s Time To Get In Shape …

Sports equipment - sneakers, skipping rope, dumbbells, smartphone and headphones. Sport background on wooden floor, top view.

Firstly, I congratulate you for wanting to start a new personal training program … It’s a big, bold step towards better health and Spring is a great time to get refocused or started.

I also understand that for many of you, it’s going to be scary. Starting with a personal trainer or at a new gym is a high level of commitment, often with little to no guarantee of success at the end.

I don’t blame you for being nervous or even apprehensive.

Gyms in general can be horrible places for an inexperienced person who’s new to exercise or personal training. Especially if you’re a little self conscious or uncomfortable in your skin

Cropped shot of muscular young woman taking a self portrait from the reflection in the mirror using her smart phone. Fitness model taking selfie in gym.

Particularly the big chain gyms filled with massive sculpted units that prance around posing half naked in the mirror to take a selfie … and don’t get me started about the men!

Teaming up with such an individual feels like the best option sometimes. They must know what they’re doing right? Just get a look at their damn abs!

Well, I’m here to warn you – be extremely careful who you trust your precious body with.

Here’s why.

If you haven’t exercised for a while – which is highly likely during your winter hibernation – and you’re in a job where you spend more than 20 minutes a day in a chair (seated), then your body – particularly your lower back, neck and shoulders – will be at an increased risk of painful injury.

Man sitting in a wheelchair at the deskNow before you consider switching up your weights room routine for a gentle running program – don’t – you’ll only switch the risk from your neck to your knees!

Alarming right?

Hopefully I’ve got your attention.

Although increased movement is a great way to improve your health. If you haven’t exercised for a while – under the wrong supervision – it can come at a painful cost.

Why …? That’s exactly what we’re about to discuss.

In this article I’m going to uncover the risks you face when entering a gym with the wrong attitude, goals and priorities and why.

Plus, I’ll share how we dramatically reduce those risks and actually use the weights room to overcome the types of injuries i’ve mentioned and achieve incredible transformations.

In my discussion I will also outline what the goal of a good intro weights program should be, plus, I’ll detail our introductory program and summarize the different methods we use to prepare our members for the Foundation Movement System (FMS) – which – in case you’ve been living under a rock, is our very new and totally unique personal training program exclusive to Unity Gym.

My intention is NOT to sell you our way of doing things. But I do want to give you a better idea of exactly what you should look for in a personal trainer and what you should expect to see in a good beginner personal training program.

Because as I mentioned earlier, if it’s been awhile since you exercised you will have changed. Both your brain, and your muscles will have adapted to your daily routine. This can be extremely dangerous if you, or your trainer doesn’t understand why. I’ll explain more shortly.

But first, let’s get started on the basics.

A suitable beginner program should be designed to comprehensively dive into these three following areas:

  • Mobility & flexibility – because your muscles alter as you adapt to the seated position
  • Muscle activation – because brain plasticity overrides neurological pathways not used
  • Muscle sequencing – because all of these changes lead to a big loss of coordination

I’ll explain more on each of these topics in just a moment.

It’s important to understand that there’s a fourth area, which is potentially the most important.

Physical assessment.

In addition to the three integral areas of a beginner movement program I listed above, you should also be put through a thorough physical assessment because let’s face it, some of us have let ourselves go more than others …

Some people will need some serious realignment and others will be ready for exercise much quicker.

In addition, simple lifestyle or a pre-exercise questionnaire can give a good idea of what you may, or may not be at risk from. Remember, your genetics load the gun, but your lifestyle behaviour pulls the trigger.

If your dad, and brother both suffered heart disease and died a young age, i’d steer clear from a sedentary lifestyle filled with processed sugar and refined trans fats.

Trust me, your life depends on it!

At Unity Gym we do things differently, starting with the assessment process. After completing a detailed lifestyle Q&A, we actually use the first few weeks of your training program to assess your movement thoroughly. And we do it during your intro workouts.

We call this our Corporate Kickstart program. Corporate becuase we specifically cater for corporate individuals who spend large amounts of their day seated. Kickstart because, as it sounds, it’s a kickstart program.

Why do we assess movement during the workouts?

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Good questions.

The difference to most personal training physical assessments is that at Unity Gym we prefer to look at how your body performs in a variety of environments. This includes both during movement and in addition, at rest and also once you’re muscles and nervous systems are fatigued.

This allows my training team to see the full picture – the real picture – how you perform both cold and hot, fresh and obviously fatigued and tired.

Plus, most importantly, we get to identify your ego!

By that I mean, how likely you are to injure yourself during a workout. What types of loads you select, and how you pace yourself etc. We can then provide constructive criticism and a much higher level of coaching.

Without this, we’ve found that people don’t know what their failing point is. By that I mean, when their own body loses coordination and gives up, breaking form. This can be dangerous because a break in form during a hard heavy lift or movement can and most likely will lead to injury in an untrained, unconditioned individual.

This is especially dangerous once your ego steps in and becomes the driving force behind the weight you choose to lift, or the last rep you go for.

Therefore, to assess an individual properly we need to control the intensity and volume of the workout accordingly to ensure every participant is assessed in a safe environment.

At Unity Gym in North Sydney we make sure that during the first few weeks of the Kickstart personal training program, our team closely observes all new attendees movement patterns to establish where everybody’s individual starting point is and at what level they should be migrated into the FMS program.

Naturally everybody wants to fast track their results and rip through the beginner program as quickly as possible, we get this a lot …

I guess you could say we’re used to it.

But, during the assessment process we’re strict. Because it’s not about how heavy you can lift bro. It’s about how well you can move bro!

It’s essential that you embrace this concept because attempting to lift heavy during your assessment phase will potentially slow your progress.

Why?

Because if your trainer witnesses poor movement due to excessive weight on a bar etc., they may interpret the associated struggle as a common movement dysfunctions and not approve your progression.

Remember, as I mentioned earlier, quality of movement is determined by three important factors and this is what a good personal trainer should look for:

  • Mobility & flexibility
  • Muscle activation
  • Muscle sequencing

Let’s quickly look at what these terms mean, because it’s super important you all understand what it is you should be prioritising as you regain confidence on the gym floor this spring.

In addition, it’s super important that you and your new trainer understand what has happened to your body since the last time you exercised.

Mobility & flexibility – this is the backbone to all movement. Most people know what flexibility means. Think, the ability to touch your toes by stretching forwards in the seated position.

Flexibility is important, but it does not determine high quality movement alone.

Little gymnast in a nice suit executes the balance

Although flexibility is a good starting point, without mobility you won’t be able to carry the flexibility over to practical movement patterns. Mobility is the ability to apply strength throughout the entire joints range of motion.

Think a ballet dancer or gymnast being able to stand on one foot and raise their other foot slowly above their head.

A high level of mobility in the hips, legs and shoulders is essential for most gymnastics and traditional weightlifting movements that we use in the advanced levels of the FMS so we prioritise mobility at Unity Gym, especially in the Kickstart program.

And I strongly urge you do the same.

Failing to address mobility is almost certainly going to result in long term injury. That’s because as you spend more time seated, and less time moving throughout your body’s full range of motion your muscle will actually shorten, as they adapt to the chair.

Good for long, boring boardroom sessions or late nights at the computer.

Not so good when you put high demands on your muscles such as when you perform squats, deadlifts or heavy pressing!

The muscles simply won’t be firing properly … which leads me to the next point.

Muscle activation – which is the ability to activate specific muscles when required. This requires both good mobility – plus – healthy neurological pathways running from your brain to the active muscle.

Like muscle fibres themselves, neurons can be strengthened and weakened over time.

This is an area we find extremely problematic at Unity Gym. The human body is incredibly clever and will tend to work around inactive muscles where possible.

This is both good and bad.

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Although on the surface you may find you can perform a movement ok, there might be huge problems occurring underneath.

What looks fairly plausible to an untrained eye, could be creating a big issues resulting in structural imbalance underneath.

That’s because you’re continually strengthening the wrong muscle, which in turn, continues to allow the target muscle (causing the structural weakness) to get even weaker!

This is a big problem, and the reason why many gym enthusiast run into muscle and joint pain issues and inevitable injury.

To avoid this occurring to our members – along with mobility – we focus heavily on re-teaching your body to activate the right muscle, at the right time, every time.

To do this, I recommend employing a large majority of isolated, single joint movements that target very specific postural muscles early on in your new program. Just ask your trainer, they should know what I’m talking about.

If you’re lucky enough to find a personal trainer who does do this, be patient and trust in the process. He or she’s one of the good ones!

To bring it all together we’re going to talk about muscle sequencing and movement patterns.

back-squat

Muscle sequencing – makes up the final stage of our beginner kickstart program and it should also be prioritised in yours.

For many people, this is the first introduction to more difficult exercises where you will take your newly acquired flexibility, mobility and muscle control and teach your body how to put it all together into what’s called movement patterns.

This is incredibly important for you and your trainer to understand.

See our brains change and the synapsys addapt and rewrite themselves as we eliminate tasks and learn new skills. In fact, one of the biggest causes of injury I see are caused by people attempting to do the things they used to do after a period of absence at the same, or similar intensities.

Activities like weight lifting, distance running or playing dynamic sports like basketball, rugby, soccer or touch footy.

Here’s the thing …

As the frequency and intensity of your exercise dropped off and you spent more and more time in front of your computer learning new skills at work, your brain actually rewired itself and your brain maps changed.

It’s extremely likely you’ve wiped all, or part of the area of your brain map that supported the old movement patterns associated with your past exercise.

Neuroscientists call this transformation brain plasticity.

Here’s how it works.

Brain synopsys that enable your body to perform specific function – like movement skills – take up valuable brain map real estate.

As your exercise commitments drop off, and you no longer require the coordination and skill to perform those tasks anymore, your brain wipes that portion of your brain map, using the space for something considered more important.

In layman’s terms, it uses the space to strengthen or develop a skill you do use every day like sitting comfortably, touch typing, or even mastering the macro’s in your latest excel spread sheet.

Very quickly you will lose the brain synapses that controlled the crucial movement patterns you grew accustom to when you prioritised exercise to stay fit.

Movement patterns are definitely not new to us.

We learned them as infants during the mammalian and reptilian phases of development. If you’re unsure, this is when you first learned to move across the floor, pulling, pushing, lifting, sitting, crawling then eventually standing and walking.

Often people who present with quite serious spinal injuries must literally learn to walk again. Usually that starts at the very beginning, with crawling.

Sounds scary right? He said he was going to introduce some revolutionary FMS exercise program, now he’s trying to tell me I have to start crawling again.

Yeah right …!

Wait just a minute, I’m not suggesting everyone needs to crawl again to get fit and strong.

But trust me.

As I’ve mentioned, certain lifestyle factors – particularly sitting for periods longer than 20 minutes at a time – have caused adaptations to occur in your brain, joints and muscles.

If you’ve been out of the gym or off the running track for a while, you will have lost the flexibility, mobility, muscle activation and sequencing required to exercise at those same intensities as you used too.

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To quickly recap the important stuff.

Neuroscientists have discovered through intricate brain mapping that as we eliminate certain behaviours – such as exercise – from our daily life, active neurons quickly fight for the valuable mapping space in your brain, quickly overriding the ability to perform those activities.

Essentially, we lose our coordination.

In a nutshell, A kickstart program should be designed to assess how far you’ve gone, what movement patterns have been overridden etc. and then switch these system back on again, strengthening not only the muscles and joints, but the important neural pathways as well.

At Unity Gym in North Sydney we aim to stimulate the good, healthy brain plasticity, going far beyond a regular exercise programs – and instead – teaching your body how to move again.

My advice, be at peace with this phase in your exercise journey, embrace the process, enjoy rediscovering your body and you will progress much faster and the transformation will last much longer.

But whatever you do, avoid working with any personal trainer who tries to rush it, skip it or ignore it altogether.

And for god sake, if they have no idea what I’m talking about, then they probably shouldn’t be trusted with your most valuable asset … your body!