When I started working with a personal trainer, I didn’t quite know what to expect — I just knew I was too intimidated to touch the weights by myself. But over the years, I’ve realized the benefits of training don’t just apply to the confines of a gym. In fact, when asked what she’s training for, my trainer would always answer: “Life!” Here are six things having a personal trainer has helped me with that go way beyond just fitness.
The first question a trainer asks is, “What are your goals?” For me, it naturally started with physical goals — more tone, more definition, more lines in the midsection. They broke the work down into smaller goals. The first was to schedule a photo shoot with a professional photographer, so we could work toward it. Then I planned to get my navel pierced. Finally, we worked on a fitness contest. By then, I had my six-pack abs. In retrospect, the goals were not groundbreaking. But the lesson stayed: Break down large goals into smaller ones, then knock those off one by one.
Society that bombards us with distractions, and our image-driven culture is heavily focused on appearance. Too busy looking at our body parts, we forget to feel our bodies. Working with a trainer takes you out of your mind, placing you in your body. They teach you the proper form to avoid injury so you can take advantage of this body for years to come. To maintain proper technique, you need to be fully present or you’ll lose form and balance. The ability to be present and focused on what you are doing or who you are with now is a skill that carries into the real world.
Working with a trainer requires setting a schedule and committing to it. Once you do, the trainer holds you accountable (last-minute cancellations can be costly). Each time you show up, you respect your and another person’s time. Gradually, you strengthen your accountability muscle, not just for others, but also for yourself.
As you work with a personal trainer, they progressively demand more of you, pushing you beyond what you imagined possible. The first box jump, for instance, may seem doable when they place the knee-high step in front of you and ask you to jump on it. The second level, maybe thigh-high, seems challenging. But the third one, a hip-level step? It feels completely out of reach. So, you gather thoughts and take a deep breath. Then with all your might, you squat, bringing your arms back, ball up your fists, and jump! Suddenly, you’re standing on top of the world — well, the box, but it feels like the world. When personal training, seeing my capacity to do what seemed impossible gave me confidence when the next life challenge presented itself.
In their book “Burnout: The Secrets to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” doctors Emily and Amilia Nagoski describe the stress cycle like this: We feel a stressor, our body responds by releasing several hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, etc.), and we act. When the body feels safe, it relaxes. If you see a hippo, they explain, you run away, and perhaps someone opens their door and gives you shelter. The animal leaves, and you can celebrate that you are alive.
In our lives, we’re peppered with stressors daily, from work and finances, to family and other relationships. Personal training after an upsetting day completes the stress cycle by moving the body and connecting with another human being. A calm body and mind are much better allies in conflict resolution.
Working with a trainer provides an opportunity to meet people who share your values. These could be your trainer’s other clients, people who inspire you, or people who are inspired by you, and they can become your network inside and outside the gym.