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Exercise Vs. Training – Do Trainers Know The Difference?

Me in Oct. 2013 when I first started working with a trainer. Unfortunately, 3 trainers later, I still haven't graduated from the machines to free weights. So I'm leaving the trainer behind to build strength.

Me in Oct. 2013 when I started working with a trainer. Unfortunately, 3 trainers later, I still haven’t graduated from the machines to free weights. So I’m leaving the trainer behind to build strength.

I really love working out, but I’m finding it harder to get my groove going for the past several weeks. Oh, sure, I go walking and running. I do love those. And I love my spin classes, but it’s awfully hard biking inside when the sunshine calls to me. As for my muscle workouts…one word sums up how I feel about them:  Blah!

After nearly 2 years, 3 trainers (yes 3 trainers), I’m getting bored frustrated by the routine. It feels like I’m doing the same machines over and over. I love working with free weights. Unfortunately, my trainer seems to prefer the same 5 lbs. dumbbells, and doing 4 sets of 25 reps to tire out my shoulders every other session. Grrrr!!!!!

When I decided to workout at a gym, I wanted to build strength. I was so ready to work with free weights. Yet here I am, 2 years later, and lifting free weights isn’t happening.

Instead, my current trainer has me doing high reps on those muscle-isolating machines or light dumbbells. All it does is tire me out. I’m not building strength doing this. I’m just doing cardio.

Exercise vs. Training
My trainer has me “exercising” not “training” … and there is a difference. Exercise is about burning calories, working up a sweat and having great abs. It’s where you go to the gym and do the same thing you did the last time you were at the gym. It makes you feel good immediately, but in the long run, you don’t go anywhere.

So what is training? Strength training guru Mark Rippetoe defines it as:

“…The process of directed physical stress, which results in an adaptation that satisfies a performance goal.

In other words, if I want to deadlift 150 lbs. in 3 months, I need to follow a program where each workout builds on the previous one.

I started my journey 3 years ago with a goal of getting my 325 lbs. butt off the couch and be able to workout without passing out. Exercise was my goal.

But those days are long gone. After losing 75 lbs., I graduated to training. I no longer wanted to simply feel crushed by a workout. I had a specific goal in mind: I wanted to press 100 lbs. And yet, after 2 years with trainers, I still can’t do that.

Not As Strong As I Should Be
When I started working with a trainer, the first year was great. I could feel and see a difference. But this past year, I can’t say I’ve seen much difference. I didn’t realize that exercise only gets me so far. Each session kicked my ass, so that became my measuring stick. I never wondered if my training sessions were making me stronger. They weren’t.

That truth became clear during our recent adventure removing 2,000 lbs. of sod from the backyard. While I passed the cardio portion of the test with flying colors, I failed the strength portion.

Sure, I could work circles around my husband digging up old sod. And clearly I was stronger than I when I’d started my healthy journey 3 years ago. Yet when it came time to carry those black trash bags (each weighing between 75-150 lbs.) to the curb, lifting each 3 feet up to get them into our truck, my hubby kicked my butt. Of the 100 trash bags, I dragged all of them out to our truck (yes, dragged) and lifted exactly 4 bags (yep, only 4) into the truck. I was a beast getting them out, but gravity played a big role in that, not strength.

Clearly I’d built some muscle and stamina the last couple of years. I gained great definition in my arms, stomach, back and legs. But what good is that if I can’t lift a frickin’ trash bag 3 feet off the ground? Over 2 years I’ve spent nearly $7,000 on personal trainers, and I couldn’t muster the strength to lift a heavy bag…something is amiss.

Giving Up My Trainer
As my last training session approached, I asked myself if I wanted to keep going down the same path.

The answer? I don’t.

The assistant director of training talked with me last week about signing up for more sessions. I mentioned that I didn’t want to waste my time on the machines. I wanted to move to the free weights. His response, “That’s great, but you want to be careful because we don’t want you to get hurt.”

Really?!?! I’ve already torn my meniscus working with one of the gym’s trainers. And I haven’t seen any of the trainers or gym staff out with those bodybuilders working the free weights. Can’t they get hurt if they don’t know proper form? Where’s the concern for them? They don’t even have professional trainers helping them! See the double standard?

This just confirmed to me I can’t trust their judgement when it comes to my training goals.

Striking Out On My Own
A couple of years ago I purchased Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. Sure, I’d cracked it open, but I couldn’t get into it. I was so excited about working with a trainer I figured I’d read it if I actually started doing free weights.

Well I’m cracking open the book now and watching his videos on proper technique. Next week, I hope to hit the gym with husband in tow. He knows how to use free weights, so he can give me some pointers as I start out.

My first training goal? Pressing 100 pounds in 3 months.

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10 thoughts on “Exercise Vs. Training – Do Trainers Know The Difference?

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  4. Shannon on said:

    You definitely have the wrong trainer! I have a great trainer and she did have me work on themachines for the first couple of weeks with her but then after that it has been all free weights and using my body as resistance. When I joined this particular gym; I signed up for some training and they assigned me a trainer. I switched after only speaking to the trainer they assigned me! I think we should interview trainers before they work with us. Good luck. You’ll know when you find someone who will push you past the goals you set for yourself!

    • Thanks Shannon! I have a couple of things up my sleeve. I’m reading Starting Strength and watching Mark Rippetoe’s videos on proper techniques for lifting. Nick (see his note in this thread) sent me a link of Starting Strength coaches. Unfortunately none in my area, but I’m going to check this periodically. To me, when I hook up with another trainer, I want someone who knows what they are doing (aka, knows Rippetoe’s system). So for now I’m going to hit the free weights with my hubby this week.

  5. Great post! We have a listing of Starting Strength Coaches here:

    http://startingstrength.org/index.php/site/coaches

    If there’s one of these folks in your area, it’s definitely worth your time to get in a session with him or her. Good luck!

  6. I have been using a trainer for several weeks and I definitely had to have a heart to heart with him about what I wanted. Now, he didn’t try to have me do 25 reps at low weight. He is actually really good about moving me to a higher weight once I can easily do 12 reps. I would never put up with doing more reps than that. We also do a mix of free weights and machines which works great. The big issue was that he was switching exercises each session and I had to stress with him that I didn’t want that and if he couldn’t devise a more consistent program then I needed to switch trainers. Thankfully, he was willing to devise a better program.

    Is switching to another trainer at your gym an option? Or, if that gym just won’t do higher weights and/or free weights, is there a different gym that might work better?

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