The trainer searches beyond the body’s defaults and looks for visceral connections to improve people’s sense of self


The Trainer’s Dilemma
I had a friend ask me recently, “so Rob, what’s a day in the life look like for you? I have no clue what you actually do.”

I love when people ask me these sorts of questions. I used to be rather embarrassed answering it. After all- I took up personal training as a hobby when I was an adolescent because I liked training people in the gym. It is and was by no means a traditional job that most of my friends thought of as a viable option for a career (nor did I). But I kept doing it through college for side money and because I loved spending time at the gym.

Even when I went on to open my own private training facility in Boston in 2011 I had a tough time coming to terms with the path I chose. I used to gulp, dreading answering that question. “What do I do?” When I first started out it even stumped me- what did I do? I knew I coached and motivated- I taught people form when moving, and I kept them engaged throughout the session. But what else did I do? Sure I helped people transform their bodies, I shared nutritional wisdom that worked for me, but I seemed stuck describing my career path. I did more than count reps and yell, but I could only hold people accountable so much- a lot of the work they did was on them more than on me. So how would I answer this question? What do I do?

Language As A Barrier
It took years of getting confident and comfortable in my career to be able to answer this. So I spoke up when my friend asked, “I reintroduce people to their body. I teach people how to feel better in themselves.” A curious face looked back at me- she didn’t get it, “what does feel better feel like?” And this is where it can get tricky explaining what I do.

“Well, take your hip for example, I get people’s hips working in a more operable and efficient way so that it feels noticeably better throughout their daily activity.” But she couldn’t wrap her head around this. To her, her hip felt fine. What would it even mean to make it feel better? “Well I make the muscle system work more efficiently so there’s no stress on your hip.” Again- head tilt to one side, questioning eyes, you can see the person saying to themselves, “what does he mean?” It can make any experienced trainer feel like an alien. Although we all have hips, we don’t understand them, we aren’t taught anatomy or osteokinematics. To us we have a hip, we have no clue what it does, but its there- God gave us a hip and we have it (God is a word I use to describe nature or evolution, this is not intended to be a religious interjection).

An Example For Understanding
“I help wake up and reintegrate dormant tissue from chronically held positions that are unconsciously holding in our bodies. From there we strengthen weak muscles and teach them how to better function in daily movement. We build the body slowly like building a house- one brick at a time.”

Although I think this is an accurate example of what I do, people do better at understanding not so tangible theories when you give them a concept they can experience, feel, and relate to. I use my fist example a lot. The fist example explains, with detail, what it is I try to accomplish being a health-care practitioner in the spatial medicine field. Whether you’re an athlete focused on performance, or someone looking to improve the longevity of their joints- the fist example applies to any body.

The fist example goes like this, “say you were to make a fist and squeeze your hand without letting go for an entire day.” The person will nod (and ask them to do this as you explain). “Now imagine you held it this way for a week, or a month, or a year, or 5 years, or 10, (you get the picture).” Keep them engaged in the conversation, and have them to keep squeezing their fist. “Eventually, the tissues involved with that holding pattern lock up, and layers of muscles bind together, making them almost inhibited, unusable.” People start to get it.

“So one of the first things I teach people everyday is how to let go of and undo holding patterns in their body that are influenced by their lifestyle and causing them discomforts or muscular inhibitions.” Ask them to slowly open their hand and describe what they notice.  Hopefully they notice the ‘stiffness’ you induced. I continue, “from there the client and I explore movements to increase bodily response and end-range tissue flexibility. Through intentional exercises I help people feel grounded in their feet and more connected to their strength. I get them to understand what it feels like to make muscular associations throughout their body to move more easily in their life.” Eloquent, concise, necessary- this is what I do.

An image of how 'locked tissues' or holding patterns can influence our structure and thus our function

An image of how ‘locked tissues’ or holding patterns can influence our structure and thus our function

Summing Up
My friend starts to nod and she gets it. Her hand is back to normal but she felt her tissue constrict and she made the connection that long-term, something like that could lead to all sorts of compensations and sub-optimal results. Now she starts asking curious questions wanting to know more about what it is that I know…and I couldn’t be happier to share knowledge I have. I went through a lot of my 20s nervous about explaining what personal training and bodywork did for me and why I got into it. I felt passionate about the work, but still somewhat self-conscious when telling people what I decided to do with my life. Over time I realized what I needed was a sense of purpose and self-confidence. I had to to figure out why training was important to me and what I wanted to get out of helping people. It took patience and a hell of a lot of trial and error, and I eventually landed somewhere I’m proud to be. Today I couldn’t be happier doing what I do, sharing what I know with people who want more out of themselves.

I wouldn’t say this for the fear of sounding egotistical, but since it is my blog and I like to speak my mind I’ll share it. When I train people I help raise their consciousness. Does it trickle into their daily life? Maybe- but only if they choose to apply it. When you train with me- whether it be on the massage table or on the gym floor, its more than toning and pumping- its waking up. Its seeing and understanding where you are, so that you can step forward into your life feeling able-bodied and capable of anything.

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