How your personal trainer can turn you into a physical wreck

    14 June 2016

    Summer is finally here and some of you may be thinking: now is the time to get properly fit. You already enjoy going for a run in the park — but you know you could do better. Time to build up that stamina, tone the muscles you don’t use when you run and generally instal a biological upgrade.

    Time for a personal trainer! What could possibly go wrong?

    Quite a lot, unfortunately. If you’re unlucky you could find that by the end of summer you can’t run any faster — because you can’t run at all. You’ve buggered up your knee or your back is giving you hell — and your GP is saying: lay off the exercise or you’ll make it worse.

    What’s gone wrong? Simple. You’ve picked the wrong personal trainer, which is a frighteningly easy thing to do these days.

    Full disclosure: I’m a personal trainer. You may suspect that I’m just worried about the competition, dismissing my rivals as cowboys. But I’ve got no quarrel with trainers who know what they’re doing. It’s the guys who set up in business after weekend training courses lasting just six weeks who are doing the damage — real physical damage to the bodies of their clients.

    I see it happening more and more often, in gyms and in the open air. Sometimes it falls to me to repair the damage: some of my clients have been almost crippled by ‘trainers’ who force their victims to do grotesquely inappropriate exercises.

    I’ve been a personal trainer for 12 years; before that I competed as a parallel bars gymnast. I’ve trained men and women covering the entire spectrum of physical fitness, from terminally ill cancer patients to Bear Grylls. My parents are both doctors and I’ve spent a lot of time studying the relationship between lifestyle, nutrition and key medical indicators such as blood pressure and heart rate.

    Five years ago I was proud to describe myself as a personal trainer. Now, such is the wretched unregulated state of the industry in the UK that I’m positively embarrassed. And many of the amazing colleagues I’ve worked with in the past feel the same way.

    I plan to explain what’s gone wrong in a later blog post. But in the meantime here’s one piece of urgent advice for anyone starting out with a trainer. I’m going to keep it very simple.

    Ditch your trainer right away if you experience muscular pain during a workout and he or she tells you to ‘work through the pain’ by repeating the exercise.

    ‘No pain, no gain – let’s do another 50 kicks.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard ‘trainers’ with joke qualifications encourage their clients to do this.

    These guys don’t know the meaning of repetitive strain. They’re ignorantly increasing inflammation and muscular damage that – even without their stupid advice — is rising inexorably as our employers chain us to our desks and then we voluntarily put our bodies through the same contortions as we sacrifice our evenings to the computer.

    To be fair, many people try to make up for it by taking unstructured exercise as recreation. It’s not the quickest path to overall fitness, but it’s far, far better than nothing.

    If this exercise is a real pleasure for you, be warned that a rogue trainer may take it away from you.

    There are many clues to help you spot one of these charlatans. Trainers need to know about (for example) blood pressure and cortisol levels; if they don’t, they could be preparing the ground for a medical crisis. But the ‘no pain, no gain’ nonsense is perhaps the most useful of all. As soon as you hear it, start running. Out of the gym.