Friday, August 30, 2013

Still Rocking at 70

What does this post have to do with training? I'm not sure if it has anything to do with training or not. I do  know this, last Fall my wife and I got to see John Fogerty perform live at the Arizona State Fair. What an amazing guy! You might expect that after all the places he has played, a state fair might be a rest stop. You know, some lip synching and just a few numbers. You would be wrong. He jammed for two hours straight and seemed to be having the time of his life. He loves to play his music. The concert below was on his 68th birthday. I only hope I can rock like that when I'm 68. No one enjoys their job more than he does, for sure. I'm not sure if he works out or not, I imagine just playing a concert is workout enough, as much energy as he puts into it. He toured with Credence Clearwater Revival in the 60's and avoided the drug fueled lifestyle of most other bands of the day, taking a blue collar approach to the music. As far as I am concerned he is as good today, if not better, than he ever was. Amazing!
I guess that is what it has to do with training. It is hard work that makes your life enjoyable if you do it out of love. It can make your life better for the long haul. Above all, age is only a number.

Below is a recent interview he did with Men's Journal:
John Fogerty's Work and Life Lessons
By SEAN WOODS   Aug 2013
The voice of Creedence on trusting friends, letting go of anger, and how his paper route made him a musician.
What's it feel like to write an instant classic like "Proud Mary"?
Well, bingo. Believe it or not, "Proud Mary" happened minutes after I discovered my honorable discharge from the army. I turned a little cartwheel right there on the lawn and went inside and started writing. And within an hour, I had started with the chords that make up the beginning and these words, "Left a good job in the city, working for the man...." I sat there almost shaking. Oh, my goodness! I felt in my bones that I had written a really great song.
After Creedence's breakup and your legal battles over your songs, you were so enraged you stopped releasing music for a decade. How should a man let go of anger?
If you can, let go of it right away. Your past grabs you by the shorts, and that's just not a good thing. It's crippling. My life had flatlined. This big horizontal line. My wife, Julie, insisted I go see a shrink, and almost immediately, my line started going up.
So what advice would you give to the younger you?
Oh, Lord, I would've told that guy that any agreement you make with anyone, get it in writing. And also, the troubles you encounter will come from surprising places. You're always looking far away for someone coming over the hill, and not paying attention to the ones that are close to you.
What did you learn about the value of hard work?
I had a paper route in the fifth grade, so I had money in my pocket for the first time. I bought my first guitar with my paper-route money. When I got a little older, my parents had split up, and I got a job working at the Healdsburg Beach for 50 cents a day, and I remember my dad was so proud of me. Eventually I took that money and bought a tape recorder. And it was one of those add-a-track things you could overdub with. That was one of the most meaningful things in my musical life. It taught me how to harmonize, how to make up guitar parts. I spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours working on it.
And I got it because I bought it myself.
How does a man keep in touch with his roots?
I still think of myself as middle-class, even lower-middle-class, but if somebody walked out of my driveway and looked at the fancy European car, they'd probably laugh at me. It's kind of a hoot because my mindset is still the kid with the paper route. I still relate to the world that way. Obviously, I've been able to rise above my childhood economic level, but my brain hasn't changed.

Why do you always wear flannel?
Oh, the wearing of the plaid. I don't want to call it a uniform – there's a certain dignity to it. It describes me, without me having to say a word.
When should a man take a political stand?
This is America, for crying out loud. This is our privilege and our birthright. Even though I've come out and said who I'm for every once in a while, I've been a little bit wary of celebrities chiming in. All they had to do was look at the misguided steps of Jane Fonda. I remember seeing the picture of her sitting on the cannon, whatever it was, with Charlie. I thought, "Uh-oh, what publicist sent this one out?"
What's the secret to a good comeback?

That's all I am nowadays. I'm kind of joking. You know you've heard a lot of people say, "Find something you love because then you'll never actually have to go to work." I'd add to that and say, "Your effort should ring true. There should be no question that this work represents me." If you can do that, the rest should take care of itself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Fallacy of High-Rep Olympic Lifting

Dennis Tinerino is one of the all-time great bodybuilders who built his foundation by doing the Olympic style lifts along with other basic heavy movements. You can bet he didn't do them for high reps.

Below is another article by Mark Rippetoe who we have featured before. Well Mark, why don't you quit beating around the bush and just say what you mean already?
I've gotta love his straight forward no B.S. style and I agree 100% with his analysis of high rep Olympic style lifts. The whole concept only shows complete ignorance of what is going on so far as physiology, biomechanics, and (un)common sense.  have nothing against Crossfit. It wouldn't matter if I did, it is growing and making money whether I like it or not. But I do think it has it's place and has done a lot of good in promoting fitness and even the Olympic lifts when coached properly. However, like Mark, I have seen more than my share of idiots encouraging high reps of such poor quality that they are barely recognizable. The Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and their derivatives are not made made for high rep work. It is for quality work. Conditioning can mean alot of things, but to me it means getting ready for whatever task you want to perform. There is conditioning for weightlifting, conditioning for throwing far, conditioning for running a long distance, and conditioning for eating as many hotdogs as you can in 60 seconds.......on and on. Being good at any physical task requires conditioning, but it must be specific for the task involved. You can condition for heavy lifting by doing heavy lifts. If you want to add some strength-endurance, do some compound exercises like we have discussed on this site before. Over the years I am convinced that the full Olympic style lifts are best done in sets of 3 or less. Generally I prefer singles in clusters. Pulls can be done in sets of up to 5 reps max. Squats and presses can be done for higher reps, but personally I seldom exceed sets of 8. If your goal is to get your heart rate up, then sprint, ride a bike, push a sled, jump rope, or do a circuit of "bodybuilding" type exercises. Trying to do Snatches or Clean and Jerks for high reps will only make you a poor lifter at best or injure at worst.

The Fallacy of High-Rep Olympic Lifting
by Mark Rippetoe – 8/26/2013
Fallacy of High-Rep Olympic Lifting
Here's what you need to know...
• High-rep snatches or clean and jerks can be done safely by very experienced Olympic lifters. But they wouldn't do them anyway because there's no purpose.
• The average person who does high-rep Olympic lifts is a walking encyclopedia of bad, unsafe, and unproductive form.
• Snatches and clean and jerks, as technique-dependent lifts, fall apart easily in the presence of fatigue.
• There's a time for conditioning, but there are better ways to do it than to perform the Olympic lifts like a jackass.
The use of high-rep snatches and clean and jerks for conditioning must be evaluated in the context of the program. Are we using them for exercise or training? And does it really matter?
First, if an experienced Olympic lifter wants to use snatches and C&Js for conditioning or on a dare, sure, go ahead. An experienced lifter actually knows how to do them correctly. And he has had back position and lockout technique hammered into his head enough that these important factors will not erode that much with fatigue – the reps will just be rested longer in between.
So, for an experienced lifter, high-rep snatches won't be a problem. But such a person won't do them anyway, since high-rep snatches don't accomplish anything productive.
For casual exercisers, CrossFit-types and the like, the calculation is a bit different. The vomit I see on the internet – complete lumbar flexion, everything pressed out, everything intentionally rebounded from the floor, all done under the watchful eye of some moron saying "Nice!" – makes me of two minds.
Part of me hopes the fools hurt themselves badly (after all, orthopedic surgeons gotta eat too), and part of me hopes their incompetent, stupid-ass coaches all die in a great Job-like mass of infection (boils, abscessed hemorrhoids, lungs full of fluid, etc.).
It's both an embarrassment to watch and a testament to the fact that apparently tens of thousands of people don't know what  they are doing, and have no apparent desire to learn.
But Are They Good for Conditioning?
But the real question here is this: what do you hope to accomplish by doing high-rep snatches, done either correctly or incorrectly? And in either case, is there a better alternative, and why?

"Conditioning" is the use of high-intensity, longer-duration glycolytic exercise to elevate heart rate and respiration rate for the purpose of adapting to this type of work. Conditioning is a type of stress to which the body quickly adapts.
You know this is true if you've been paying attention. It doesn't take an already-strong person more than three or four weeks to get back into very good condition if he has somehow lost it. But it takes a distance runner a couple of years to get strong if he's never been strong before.
The task of getting strong vs. the task of getting in condition presents a problem, since the two types of adaptation compete for resources within the organism in a predictable way: conditioning interferes with strength acquisition, and strength training improves work output without doing any conditioning.
If conditioning is important to you, being stronger should be more important, and getting strong is made a slower process if you try to do conditioning – work that interferes with getting stronger – while trying to get strong. There will be time for conditioning, later. After you get strong.
Using high-rep, light-weight "snatches" and "clean and jerks" for the purpose of conditioning is rather pointless, in that these two technique-dependent movements break down under fatigue, especially for a person for whom technique and strength has not been previously established.
For everybody that does them, doing high numbers of reps with light weights and bad form adapts you to doing precisely that: lots of very light reps, done wrong. So doing them this way can't possibly make you better at doing snatches and C&Js, it can't make you stronger, and there are much better and safer ways to do conditioning... when it's time to do conditioning.
So Why Do Them?
Because the "WOD" says so? Because they're "fun"? Because everybody else in the class is doing them, so you have to? Because they "gas" you? Because you want to get "smoked" with a movement that isn't boring, because you're not "tired" of doing them yet because you haven't practiced them enough to really even have any idea at all about how to do them correctly?
If this is the case, you're not training the snatch and the C&J anyway. You're just exercising with them.
From Exerciser to Trainer
What's the difference? I'll refresh your memory. Briefly, capital-"T" Training is the process of driving a physical adaptation in a specific direction for a specific purpose, while capital-"E" Exercise is what we do for the way it makes us feel today: before, during, and after the workout itself.
For most people – housewives, car salesmen, fat people, the dull and torpid – Exercise is enough. It's better than sitting on your ass. But at some point, some of these people will graduate to Training, and when this happens, planning must occur.
Planning means that there will be lots of days when your workout doesn't make you feel like you want it to, but because you're now Training, you do it anyway, because it's part of the process that generates the result for which you planned.
Effective Conditioning
If you want to do conditioning effectively, push the Prowler, run some hills, or do some sprints. They're easier to dose accurately, they don't make you look like an inexperienced fool, and they lack the injury potential of rounded-back, incorrectly-locked-out-overhead, bounced-off-the-floor barbell movements.
They are a much better alternative because they can be programmed into your Training. If you want to do some explosive conditioning work that won't be detrimental to your shoulder and back health (and your self-worth), do some kettlebell swings or some dumbbell snatches. Leave the Olympic lifts to the Olympic lifters.

But if you just want some Exercise, enjoy yourself, make sure you pay your gym dues, and everybody will be happy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Simple or Complex?

Work with your genetics, don't hide behind them!

Below is an article I saw recently concerning obesity and weight control. It is interesting, but in my opinion reflects the growing attitude that people are victims and are at the mercy of some unknown forces beyond our control. Of course it's obvious that genetics has a whole bunch to do with our physical characteristics. We all know that some people can eat anything and everything and never get fat. We also know that there are some who, in spite of great effort, struggle much harder to keep their weight under control. Still, there is much more that we can control than not. True diseases effecting metabolism are rare. Blaming obesity on a virus is like blaming sexual immorality on some "disease" called sex addiction. Really, is it more complex than energy expended vs. energy intake? No doubt some seem to burn calories easier than others. Newsflash: Some people can run faster than others, Some can lift more, and some can sing better. The bottom line is we never know how far we can go with anything until we have invested a lot of time and effort. Some people will have to work harder, longer, and sacrifice more to get the same results. Not a new concept there. Quit looking for excuses and focus on how to improve within the parameters that are inherently ours.

When the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease, Nikhil Dhurandhar, a researcher and vice president of The Obesity Society, said he welcomed the news as an acknowledgment of the challenges people face fighting the battle of the bulge. But he wondered if the declaration went far enough.
Like a growing number of experts, Dhurandhar believes the accumulation of excess fat is likely to have multiple causes beyond a potato-chip-and-couch-potato lifestyle.
Dhurandhar likens obesity to other chronic diseases. Just as the term cancer covers the numerous conditions that occur when abnormal cells divide out of control, obesity may not be a single disease but rather, a group of diseases tied together by the symptom of too much body fat, he said.
"It may look the same on the outside, but what triggers the condition varies from person to person and may require a different treatment to control," he said. "Down the road, we need to figure out why people become fat and then tailor their treatment to address the underlying causes."
Dhurandhar's own studies at Pennington Biomedical Research in Baton Rouge, La., focus on obesity-causing viruses. He discovered the viruses in chickens back in the 1980s and has since associated the presence of certain viral antibodies in the bloodstream of humans to increased body weight.
In one of his landmark studies of 500 people, 30 percent of the obese patients tested positive for the virus, compared to only 11 percent of the lean individuals.
Dhurandhar is quick to point out that he doesn't believe most obesity is infectious in nature, but said that the discovery of a "fat bug" should be a wakeup call to researchers, physicians and anyone struggling with their weight that there may be more to shedding surplus pounds than simply cutting back on calories and putting in a few extra treadmill sessions.
"What good does a starvation diet do if obesity is caused by a virus?" he asked.
Beyond viruses, scientists have identified at least 84 other potential contributors to obesity, Dhurandhar said. They range from genetic to biological to psychological to environmental. Currently, there are about a dozen of these obesogenic culprits under serious study in labs around the world, he noted.
For example, numerous studies now associate lack of sleep with an expanded waistline. Other studies have found that exposure to certain insecticides and plastics disrupt gut bacteria, which may stimulate appetite, slow digestion and accelerate fat storage. And some studies propose a link between the lifestyle habits of great grandparents and their great grandchildren's weight status.
"Not all the causes will wind up being treatable or preventable -- you can't do anything about what your great grandparents ate -- so we will have to focus our efforts on the ones we can control," Dhurandhar said.

Christopher Ochner, director of research development and administration at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York said he agreed with Dhurandhar's idea that there could be multiple contributors to obesity, but said it complicates matters to classify obesity as multiple diseases.
"At the end of the day, we still have the law of energy balance to contend with," he said. "If you ingest more than you expend you are going to gain weight, period."
Dhurandhar conceded that eating and exercise play a significant role in obesity, but said that role is not as well understood as the general public thinks.
"We've focused almost all our resources on the so-called 'Big Two' of diet and exercise for more than 50 years and it hasn't helped," he said. "We will have to move beyond 'eat less and move more' if we want to make progress."
Ochner said he agreed that trying to lose weight and keep it off in the long term by exercising and cutting back on calories has less than a 1 percent chance of succeeding. He acknowledged that the reasons for weight gain vary greatly for each individual and the precise formula for energy balance through diet and exercise is nearly impossible to determine.

"There is literally, there is no difference between an emaciated person starving to death and an obese person on a healthy weight loss diet in terms of physiological reactions," he said. "That is going to be a tough problem to solve."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Clean and Jerk according to Jim Schmitz

Another concise lesson from a master coach.......

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Snatch according to Jim Schmitz

A nice, concise explanation from a master coach.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Training for Life

It comes for everyone. But maybe not today!!!

Is fitness really worth it? A few weeks ago I was sitting at lunch with a group of people at a youth conference and one of our group, who is a medical doctor by profession, said, "Every bite of cheese cake that you eat amounts to 3 hours less in a rest home." He makes a good point that prolonging life only to exist in a feeble or disabled state is not a wise goal. He also said, "I speak at a lot of funerals of my friends who exercise." I understand that exercise is no guarantee of a long life. Personally I have had two friends who were avid runners, both ran in marathons in fact, who passed away of heart failure in their early 50's. Of course the question that will never be answered is; would they have passed away even earlier if they had not been regular exercisers? There are many factors that determine the length of our lives. Genetics is obviously the major factor. We all know of smokers, drinkers, and carousers who lived into their 90's, but of course, these are the exceptions, not the rule; as are the marathoners who die young.
The article below is very interesting as it makes the point that humans will inevitably age and deteriorate. I am in full agreement. We will all age and experience a decline in our physical abilities. There are no magic formulas or programs that can prevent that. 
Having said that, living a healthy and active life can prolong the process to some degree and can make the years that we have more enjoyable and productive. As another friend of mine says. "We can either wear ourselves out, or we will rust out!" Either way we end up in the same place, the guest of honor at a funeral. But the difference is in how we lived before we got there. For me, I will continue to exercise and while I will eat some cheesecake along the way, I have also developed a taste for fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy lower fat protein sources. I hope to take advantage of each day, but when the end comes, I hope the Lord will be merciful and I can depart without being a burden to anyone. I am placing my bets with exercise and healthy eating habits.

The July 24, 2013 issue of Newsweek online featured a major story: "You can live forever. Is immortality plausible, or is it just quack science? Two experts face off."

Some editor was tantalized by the highway billboard of Prudential Life Insurance that proclaimed "the first person to live to be 150 is probably already in middle age." He sensed a controversy. Somehow he recruited two "experts" -- Aubrey De Grey, a new age gerontologist from Cambridge, and myself, a traditional Stanford-based geriatrician with 50 years of old patient care, 150+ scientific articles, eight books, and considerable administrative affiliation in my CV. A clash was hoped for.
We had never met each other, but knew ourselves by reputation. Our interface is similar to one that exists between two senior gerontologists Steve Austad and Jay Olshansky. They have bet $1 million that someone will live to be 150 within their lifetimes. Austad bets "yea," Olshansky, "nay." Jay in fact argues that if we don't get a handle soon on our obesity epidemic we will all live less long than our parents.
De Grey actually pushed back from the immortality label, much preferring the more modest "rejuvenation" tag. His, and Austad's, argument simply put is: Given the rapid progress in molecular biology of the past two decades then it is logical to extrapolate to the conclusion that soon several decades may be added to our current estimate of a 120-year max lifespan. Some new app such as stem cells, or telomere lengthening, or upgrade of free radical scavenging enzymes, etc. will fulfill the Fountain of Youth daydream.  Patching Methusaleh.
I follow these various suggestions closely, but find their excitement to be curtailed by realism. I employ the phrase of my friend Ian Morrison "premature extrapolation." It is my sense that 2+2 will always equal 4 regardless of what any new age mathematician may hope for.
Another geriatrician friend is Dr. Steve Coles of UCLA, who is chief of the international register of super centenarians (those over 110). I had Steve lecture here at Stanford last year. He showed slides of his super-cents. The take-home message of his talk was "you really don't want to be 110+. "
My take on all of this is based on my devotion to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that roughly states everything in an open system goes inevitably to greater disorder due to heat loss and entropy. No exceptions allowed. Time has only one direction.
An important codicil to this resides in the fitness advocacy that I favor. This asserts that aging may be slowed but not arrested. Fitness confers a 30 year delay in decay. A fit person of 80 is biologically the same as the unfit person of 50.
So De Grey and I agreed to disagree. I am secure in my advocacy of 100 healthy years that I insist is currently within our biologic and political realms. De Grey hopes for more. I like to see myself as an optimist. Norman Cousins said that "no one is smart enough to be a pessimist," but optimism must be tempered always by reality. To me this means that the Second Law of Thermodynamics rules. Even rejuvenation must obey that law. There is no, and won't be, a perpetual motion machine. We, and everything else, wear out. Sci-fi is sci-fi.

Physical immortality is a fantasy.
FROM Walter M. Bortz II, M.D.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sultan Rakhmanovs (SR's), aka "Sexy Squats"

What a specimen!

 Here is another great article by Jim Schmitz whom we have featured several times in previous posts. This is from the Ironmind website. One of my favorites. 
He describes a great strongman and a simple, but unique way to get stronger with a barbell.

By Jim Schmitz
U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team Coach 1980, 1988 & 1992
Author of Olympic-style Weightlifting for Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD

Sultan Rakhmanovs (SR's), aka "Sexy Squats"
 Here’s another exercise I named after the man I first saw perform the lift, 1979 world champion and 1980 Olympic champion Sultan Rakhmanov. Sultan was a very muscular superheavyweight at 140 kg. I saw him do the following exercise in the training hall at the 1979 World Championships in Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece. He won in 1979 with a snatch of 192.5 and clean and jerk of 237.5, for a total of 430 kg. He won the 1980 Moscow Olympics with 195 and 245 for 440 kg.

The exercise is a half good morning, half squat combo, scooping or rotating the hips forward at the finish. With the bar resting behind your head on your traps, you bend over from the hips, back flat or arched, with your knees slightly bent and your head up—you don’t go down to a full good morning, just to about 45 degrees. Then bending your knees you go into a quarter to half squat. Now stand up, making it a point to bring your hips and knees forward.  The hips simulate a scooping motion. As with anything, it takes practice to get it just right. Remember, it’s not a full good morning and it’s not a full back squat. It should be done in a fluid motion, no stopping, no hitching, but smooth. Your grip should be the same as your clean and jerk, or maybe slightly wider. Your feet stay flat-footed throughout.
Because of the hip-scooping action, some people refer to this exercise as the “sexy squats.” Summer Krasinski, who was coached by Butch Curry and trained at the Sports Palace, was the one who came up with the “sexy squats” name. My women lifters seem to like that name for some reason, as well as the exercise.

This exercise really works your low back, glutes, and hamstrings. I recommend 3 sets of 10 with a light weight, either before or after your workout. I also recommend this exercise for rehabilitation and strengthening the low back. I have been having my lifters do this exercise ever since I saw Sultan do it, and they have had great results.

I saw Sultan Rakhmanov do this exercise with 200 kg for 5 reps as if it were nothing. I also saw him put 25-kg plates on the bar with one hand as if they were 5 kg. He was one super-strong superheavyweight, and one of the nicest and friendliest people in all of weightlifting—a super champion—and it’s a shame he died young at 52 years of age.  However, in my gym and whenever I do a coaching course, I teach this exercise and tell them the Sultan Rakhmanov story; so, Sultan is remembered by having this exercise named after him, Sultan Rakhmanovs, or SR’s for short.

File:RIAN archive 497570 Weight lifter Sultan Rakhmanov.jpg
I believe he could intimidate even a barbell!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Are Personal Trainers the New Therapists?

Who is Keith Richards' personal trainer? lol

I've spilled my guts on this site before ranting on how personal trainers have pretty much high jacked the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). When I joined in the early 80's it was new, small, and focused on training for athletes. Back then NSCA stood for National Strength Coaches Association. Of course one could argue that if the NSCA had maintained that original focus, it would still be a small organization. No doubt the expansion of interests into personal training has greatly increased the size of the NSCA and with more size comes more revenue, recognition, and influence. Unfortunately for those of us who are coaches, I would argue that it has lost us some credibility in the high performance athletic training arena. Few real, in-the-trenches coaches, take the NSCA seriously anymore. I maintain my membership and certification, but don't really see much in the journals or conferences that interests me anymore. I am not against personal trainers. More power to anyone who can make a living helping others to improve physically. I hope someday, maybe after I retire, to start a little business of my own. But the mindset and skills of a successful personal trainer are much different than those of a coach. Having a personal trainer is becoming a sign of status now for the financially elite as the article below explains. I'm not sure if i could ever fit into that world or not.

July 27, 2013
Our Pulchritudinous Priesthood
I NEITHER spotted a psychotherapist nor heard mention of therapy in Woody Allen’s newest movie, “Blue Jasmine,” which pokes fun at faddish, pampered New Yorkers, as Allen tends to do. But a personal trainer flits across the screen and factors into the plot.
That pretty much says it all.
What therapists were to the more cerebral New York of yesteryear, trainers are to the more superficial here and now: designated agents of self-actualization, florid expressions of self-indulgence, must-have accessories, must-cite authorities.
“My therapist says” is outmoded. “My trainer says” is omnipresent, at least in the coddled precincts of most cosmopolitan cities coast to coast.
The ranks of trainers metastasize and the adulation for them swells, even as their precise function grows fuzzier — or more variable from trainer to trainer and client to client. Trainers are the new priests. Trainers are the new escorts. They’re paid listeners, paid talkers: friends for hire, who charge by the hour, water not included. And they’re ludicrously apt emblems of, and metaphors for, this particular juncture in America, where people of means seem to believe that there’s no problem — from a child’s grades to a belly’s sprawl — that can’t be fixed by throwing money and a putative expert at it. Anything can be delegated. Everything can be outsourced, even perspiration.
As David Zinczenko, the editorial director of Men’s Fitness, told me: “There are people who organize your closet, walk your dog, build your social media profile. We’re evolving into a personal-service culture.” Or devolving, as the case may be.
Personal trainers are a luxury that illustrates how different the lives of affluent Americans and the lives of the less fortunate can be. But people well outside the 1 percent or even the 5 percent make room in their budgets for trainers, and that bespeaks the particular intensity of our obsession with health and beauty, not to mention the Sisyphean contradictions in our pursuit of both. Many food lovers I know intersperse their trainer-monitored calisthenics with lavish meals at the latest restaurant: one lunge forward, one waddle back.
I too belong to the hopeful tribe of the personally trained, which I joined back in 2002, when I needed to lose some 50 pounds. So I can attest that what’s most remarkable of all is the sheer oddity of the personal-training ecosystem, which I’ve observed across a series of gyms and a sequence of my own trainers: Aaron and then Ari and now Andrew. I seem to put a lot of stock in the first letter of the alphabet.
Andrew, last name Ginsburg, is also a stand-up comedian and does riffs, onstage and off, about the way the boom in personal training has permitted struggling actors, failed athletes and even ex-cons to repurpose themselves as trainers, with meaningless credentials from certificate mills.
“If you have $400 and a pulse, you can be a trainer,” he told me during a recent session, referring to the licensing fee from one organization, which administers a multiple-choice test. “A chimp could pass it. The questions are like, ‘If a client complains of tightness in the chest, do you: A) chocolate, B) chocolate, C) chocolate, D) consult a physician?’ ”
“So the answer’s B, right?” I said.
He told me to focus on my leg presses, during which we marveled at a nearby client, whose “workout” was a 15-minute soliloquy about her weekend plans, delivered while her flirty male trainer stretched her ever so tenderly.
There’s a trainer at my gym who routinely gives clients graphic details of his libidinous escapades. There’s a trainer who travels with and to certain clients, who can’t be without him. There’s a trainee who exercises, if you can call it that, in a full coat of makeup, never smudged by sweat. There are teenagers dropped off by their parents, who apparently believe they owe their children not just good educations but six-pack abs.
How did this happen? And when? Fifteen years ago I didn’t know a single person who had a personal trainer; then, suddenly, every third friend had one. Personal trainers are like automatic tellers: one minute they didn’t exist, the next they were everywhere, and considered indispensable.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 234,000 people employed in the category of “fitness trainers and aerobics instructors” in 2012, an increase of about 40 percent from 10 years earlier and a robust exception to a stagnant or deteriorating job market along most other vectors of American life. This is our great nation’s future: an army of men and women in Lululemon apparel, barking about the importance of a “strong core” and meaning muscle, not character.
Harry Hanson, a longtime trainer who runs the American Academy of Personal Training, a professional school with branches in New York and Boston, told me that at some point over recent years, the market for personal training became so huge that “everybody who was a college athlete or had a good body thought, ‘I can be a personal trainer.’ ”
“There is no shortage of personal trainers,” he said. “It’s a glamorous occupation.” His own school’s mission, he said, is to turn out trainers who really do know what they’re doing.
AT the Equinox fitness chain, members who want to sign up for personal training answer questions about the kind of motivation and motivator best suited to them, and there are different levels of trainers, signifying different altitudes of expertise.
When I contacted a publicist for the chain to learn more about this, and to ask what percentage of members use personal trainers and how many trainers the chain employs, I was given only a blanket statement. “As we consider ourselves in a ‘category of one,’ it is our policy to be overly sensitive about how we are positioned in the industry,” it began.
It asserted that Equinox is “at the forefront of personal training” and is advised by “top experts in the fields of personal training, nutritionist, and sleep.” (That’s verbatim.) It was as if I’d been trying to lift the veil of Scientology.
But then there’s a kooky degree of mysticism surrounding personal training and the demigods who mete it out, no small number of whom — like Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper of “The Biggest Loser,” or like Tracy Anderson, who once took credit for Madonna’s triceps — have become celebrities. It’s a mysticism that extends these days to the whole world of exercise, which is more religion than chore, and to its many sects. Not for nothing is one of the most popular spinning franchises known as SoulCycle.
I think the explosion in personal training indeed owes much, as Zinczenko suggested, to our totemic, slightly lazy faith in expertise, no matter how dubiously claimed. There are private tutors, lactation consultants and nutritionists where they barely existed before.
The explosion also owes something to the increasing striation of privilege and convenience. A gym membership is the coach section. A personal trainer at the gym is an extra-legroom seat. A personal trainer with his or her own gym and a cult following: that’s first-class.
And the personal trainer benefits from how broad and diverse a cluster of needs he or she meets, by how easily he or she can be customized: the Mr. Potato Head of service providers. Like a therapist, a trainer can challenge or affirm you. Unlike a therapist, a trainer can touch you. The conversation can stray in all sorts of directions. So can the relationship.
In “Blue Jasmine,” it strays to the ballpark, which is where a rakish plutocrat takes his trainer. You’ll have to see the movie if you want to know which base they reach.