Help me help you

We have a very cut and dry policy when it comes to injuries at RPT. It’s very different to what most other personal trainers anywhere will do, and having seen what the competition does locally in Bayside (Brighton, Sandringham, Highett, Moorabbin, Hampton, and Black Rock) it’s actually quite a shock for most people when they first start training with us.

See, if you’re hurt you can’t train. Most trainers will hear you say you’ve got a sore neck and just blaze away with both guns as if nothing is wrong. Your knee has been bugging you too? No problem, we’ll just squat light today. I’m not kidding at all about this stuff. I had to spend six months rehabilitating a woman a couple of years ago because their previous trainer thought the best thing to do with a sore shoulder was handstand push ups. The result of that was shoulder surgery. Having had shoulder surgery I don’t wish it on anyone. Not that my recovery was unnecessarily painful or difficult, just that any time you can avoid having someone cut holes in you the better in my opinion.

If you’re one of our current clients and reading this I know you’ve already experienced this firsthand, and this is not directed at you in anyway. I know you all get it and appreciate how serious we are about helping you not only get in shape but also stay in shape along the way. Too many trainers seem to think it’s acceptable to trade your current health for the potential gain in the longer term. But how fit are you going to become when you have to stop for surgery along the way? And how many sessions can you string together before a short term injury knocks you back?

I see it all the time. We’ve had clients who have displayed massive holes in their own abilities yet refused to address them. For some it is incredibly tight upper bodies making a lot of upper body training nearly impossible as they simply can’t even move into the range of motion needed. For others it’s a lack of core control making them prone to all kinds of injuries. And for others still it’s poor movements caused by years of not having addressed an older injury properly in the first place. In all these cases everything seems fine until suddenly it’s not. The first time it becomes apparent is when someone will say something like, “oh, my knee is playing up again”. That one word – again – is the clue. The knee shouldn’t play up again. The knee should have been fixed when it originally got hurt and rehab should have been done to fully restore any lost movements so that full activity could be resumed again.

And this is why we have our system at RPT. Aches and tweaks occur during training. That’s just how it is, especially with clients who are 35+. My rule is very simple – if the tweak lasts for more than two weeks you need to go see someone. The exception to this is neck and back pain. If you exhibit spinal problems so severe you can’t move properly you’re not allowed train with us until such time as we have received clearance from our physio. For many this come as a shock. “Oh, but so and so used to let me train when I did this”. Well, so and so is an idiot and hopefully they haven’t allowed to cause long term harm to yourself. Given I’m not a medical professional and I don’t have x-ray vision until I hear from someone who is an expert in these matters you’re grounded.

The weird part about this is that people often try to fight me on this rule. As if I’m doing something harmful to them. But here’s the thing. By stopping them from training I am helping them heal. By forcing them to go see one of the few good physiotherapists in Melbourne I am making sure that they heal. That makes me seem like a bad guy. Some, with overly inflated egos, can’t handle being told that their body has broken down and they are in unacceptable condition to be allowed train. Their anger at themselves for their failings will be directed outwards towards their trainer who is looking out for their best interests. But you have to stick to your guns here.

People think that training is all lollipops and fun WODs but every time a client walks through your doors you are in charge of their safety. That comes down to not just the environment and the training plan you set up for them but also in terms of looking after their health. And sometimes they’re too obsessive about training to notice that the warning lights are on and what they should be doing is resting rather than training. As a trainer you need to accept that you are going to be the bad guy in this situation. But your job isn’t to encourage people to go to red line. In my experience people don’t often need a cheer leader. They’re far more likely to need someone to hold them back so they don’t train too hard too often.

There’s this strange thing that happens when people walk into a business. They switch off mentally. In their heads they are in a safe place and their are professional staff on hand to look after them. As the trainer you need to be that safety minded person for them. It may not mean cessation of all training – a sore knee can mean that instead of a lower body session you’ll need to get them doing upper body. Or that instead of doing a form of cardio like running or rowing perhaps you need to use a ski erg. But you do need to address it. And if the pain persists for more than two weeks they need to be referred out.

Just a quick word here on medical professionals. There are some great ones out there, but sadly many are mired in the dark ages when it comes to treatment. If your physio or chiropractor says anything along the lines of, “You need to come see me twice a week for six weeks to fix this” get out immediately. Honestly, they should only need to see you two or three times if they’re any good. If their treatment involves ultrasound and a but of tape it’s probably garbage too. I’ll make this bit as clear as possible – unless you suffered from trauma (hit by a car, fell down stairs, etc) your pain is being caused by poor movement on your behalf. If their treatment isn’t about getting you to move better it is flawed and you need to find a therapist who understands how to fix movement.

Now that I’ve spoken to the trainers, let me speak to all the clients out there. We, your trainers, aren’t here to be your adversaries. We are here to help you become better. You came to us for our expertise and knowledge. So when we say that something isn’t right and needs to be addressed then please listen and take action accordingly. One of the things that most frustrates me is when I make a recommendation to someone and later find out they hadn’t gone to see the physio like they told me they had. As if somehow lying to me and continuing to train was going to fix their neck. But here’s the thing – my neck doesn’t hurt and when you end up having cervical fusion surgery at forty because you tried to win one over on me by not seeing a therapist it doesn’t have a huge impact on my life. If you want to be so juvenile that you resist my attempts to help you, well, you’re on your own then buddy.

There’s this common misconception that it’s clients versus trainers. As if we somehow enjoy having to ask you to push your knees out in the squat one more time. Or that we really enjoy talking to you about the diet you’re not following that you paid us good money to get you to adhere to. We just want to do out jobs and that means that you need to turn up in shape and without injuries, or that if you do get hurt – as happens from time to time – that you address it properly by seeing the therapist we recommend. There is a very good reason why RPT uses the physio that we do – because we have mutual respect and I know for certain that after a client sees them not only will we get a full report but we will also know exactly what that client should and shouldn’t be doing in training. (Here’s a buyer’s tip – if you are looking at starting with a trainer ask who they refer to for injuries and why. If they don’t have a support team perhaps shop elsewhere because that person is operating without a safety net).

Remember we’re here to help. If you’re getting sick frequently, are often injured, or otherwise finding it hard to get any training momentum going we know why. Please listen when we try to help you. And for the trainers out there, stick to your guns and don’t let clients train hurt. Ever.