Bad Trainer Advice

posted by Patty Onderko
filed under fitness postings
With gleaming shoulders, sculpted thighs, and washboard abs, your personal trainer sails through the gym, waving hello to clients, stopping beside a treadmill to adjust the speed for one, spotting the weight for another—all with an "I'm the kind of person you'd want around postapocalypse to restart the gene pool" confidence that you, sweating it out in your baggy sweats and T-shirt, feel you'll never have. In this age of Baywatch babes and buff Backstreet Boys, the Personal Trainer takes on a mythic quality. That's why it's easy sometimes to place your flabby body completely in a trainer's hands, trusting him to make you over in his image.

While personal trainers can be an incredible jump-start to a workout program—teaching proper form and finding exercises to best develop your body without risking injury—there are areas of self-improvement in which personal trainers are just not trained. "They often overstep their boundaries," says Beth Rothenberg, a personal trainer for 27 years and author of Touch Training for Strength, of trainers who consider themselves mini gurus. "A lot of young trainers are not well versed in general health information. They think that just because something works for them, it will work for everyone. So they give out nutritional advice or health suggestions that they really shouldn't."

According to IDEA, the largest membership organization for personal trainers, "A trainer should recognize his or her limitations in services and techniques, and engage only in professional activities that fall within the boundaries of his or her professional credentials and competencies," states IDEA's Ethical Practice Guidelines for Personal Fitness Trainers. "Clients should be referred to other professionals for issues that fall beyond the boundaries of the trainer's professional or current competencies."

Many personal training certification programs do teach basic nutrition along with basic anatomy, kinesiology, and health screening, so your trainer may know more than, say, your mom or the co-worker in the cubicle next to you about what's good for you and what's not. And trainers complain that no matter how much work they do with a client, if that client goes home and loads up on Entenmann's, they won't see any results. Still, says Rothenberg, "Your trainer should not plan your daily meals or offer advice about treating a specific medical condition." Compiled from real clients with real trainers, here are some other things your trainer shouldn't be telling you, and what the experts have to say about it.

Trainer Talk: "Don't eat any carbohydrates after three P.M. Eat your carbs in the morning and stick strictly to proteins in the evening."

Straight Talk: "There's no reason to do this," says Nikki Goldbeck, a licensed nutritionist in Woodstock, New York, and the author of eight diet books, including The Healthiest Diet in the World. "Each meal throughout the day should be balanced with both carbohydrates and proteins. Eating carbohydrates alone causes your blood sugar level to rise and fall more dramatically, leaving you with less energy. Eating proteins at night provides no added benefit to either weight loss or muscle tone."

Trainer Talk: "Drink protein shakes throughout the day to help build muscle."

Straight Talk: Again, Goldbeck thinks this is off the mark. "It's very easy to get the adequate amount of protein you need every day through food," she says. Fish, chicken, meat, cheese, yogurt, beans, seeds, and nuts are all good sources. And while consuming too little protein will take its toll on your ability to really build and tone muscle, "extra protein will not make your muscles any bigger or stronger." In fact, she says, excess protein in the body can put stress on the kidneys. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for sedentary adults is .4 g of protein per pound of body weight. Other nutritional experts, like Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, follow this formula: If you're a recreational exerciser, consume .5 to .75 g per pound of body weight, .6 to .9 g if you're a competitive athlete, and .7 to .9 g if you're working to build muscle mass.

Trainer Talk: "Don't eat the hour before you go to the gym."

Straight Talk: Though you do need time to digest your food before a workout (the digestion process slows your body down), Goldbeck says, a half hour is probably sufficient, depending on what you eat. "It's worse to go to the gym hungry," she says, "because you'll feel distracted and discouraged and probably won't be able to make it through." So if beating your hunger means breaking the one-hour rule, go for it. What you eat is also essential; your best bet is to stay away from fat-laden meals and stick to a mixture of carbs (no more than 50 g) and protein.

Trainer Talk: "Supplement with ephedra."

Straight Talk: Ephedra is a Chinese herb (ma huang) that acts as a stimulant and has been marketed as a metabolism booster. As a result, the gym-rat set seized upon it as a weight-loss aid. But Tori Hudson, N.D., a naturopathic physician and professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, says the studies "have been inconsistent" and that ephedra can be very dangerous for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or glaucoma. Although the jury is still out on the harmful effects of ephedra, the FDA has received more than 800 adverse-event reports from consumers and has placed ephedra on a list of supplements associated with illness and injury. The FDA says that ephedra may cause the following health hazards: high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, nerve damage, injury, insomnia, tremors, headaches, seizures, heart attack, stroke, and death.

Trainer Talk: "Take echinacea every day so you'll never miss a workout again."

Straight Talk: Hudson believes this is just bad advice: "It's much more effective, in terms of fighting off colds, to begin taking echinacea at the first sign of symptoms rather than taking it every day as a preventive measure."

Trainer Talk: "Rehabilitate that injury with these moves . . ."

Straight Talk: Though trainers can and should help you find exercises that do not aggravate an injury such as a torn ACL or a torn rotator cuff, they should not diagnose an injury or try to rehabilitate it on their own. "Rehabilitation is beyond the scope of expertise of most personal trainers, and they should refer you to someone who is qualified," Rothenberg says. Physical therapists are qualified to diagnose and rehabilitate injuries, and certified athletic trainers, who are specifically trained to deal with sports-related injuries, are as well. Also, licensed physicians assistants can deal with injuries, as long as they're working under protocols from a physician. If you get hurt, your best bet is to pay a visit to your doctor so he or she can refer you to the right specialist.

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