7 Fitness Tips and Rules Every Personal Trainer Knows

A Philly personal trainer dishes on ways to tweak your gym time and your thinking for better gym results.

The term “industry secret” is often used in gimmicky infomercial sales pitches. It makes you think they know something you don’t — and the only way to get it is to buy the product they’re selling. For the fitness industry, it’s what makes millions of people read magazines and articles that promise to spill on “the secret” to getting in shape. The real secret to getting in shape, though, is that … well, there is no secret. But there are a few basic tips and rules that every personal trainer knows to help you get in shape.

Below, seven of the not-so-secret tricks every personal trainer knows to help you you reach your fitness goals.

1. Being a complete cardio junkie won’t get you very far.
Doing cardio consistently gives you a ton of rewards and benefits: burning calories, releasing endorphins to enhance your mood, improving your cardiovascular system, just to name a few. But whether you’re trying to lose inches, look more defined, or bulk up, you need to work out with weights. Strength training not only burns calories, but it also increases your resting metabolic rate, causing you to burn more calories, even at rest. This means that over time, your body will start burning more calories throughout the day than it would if you were strictly doing cardio. Not only that, but having more muscle will help with proper alignment, movement, and form, which will prevent injury during a run or even every day activities.

2. Remember, it’s not always the number on the scale that matters.
Getting in shape shouldn’t be synonymous with losing weight. If you have more energy, your clothes fit better, you can move without pain, and you don’t get out of breath going up the stairs anymore, you should consider yourself in better shape, despite what the scale says. The goal shouldn’t be to lose weight, but to lose fat. After all, weight loss could include loss of muscle mass, which should not be anyone’s goal. Since muscle helps to increase your metabolism, losing muscle will only make you burn fewer calories throughout the day. Muscle is also more dense than fat, so as you gain more muscle and lose more fat, the scale may fluctuate a bit. So remember: No one walks around with a sign on their chest displaying their weight in pounds, so ditch that as your goal and focus on the goals that really matter.

3. If you want to see results, you have to change your diet.
Whatever your goal is, it will be very difficult to reach it without some sort of change to your diet. Food is energy, so if you’re consuming junk, you’re going to look the part. Does that mean you have to eat like a bodybuilder a week out from competition for the rest of your life? Certainly not. But if you’re eating the same foods as you were before you began your quest to get fit and expecting a different result, be ready to be disappointed.

How much change you need depends on what your ultimate goal is. Think about it logically: If you’re really out of shape and you want to look like a professional athlete, simply cutting soda out of your day may not be enough to reach such a lofty goal. However, if you just want to come down a pant size, you could make smaller changes and track progress to see how it’s working for you. Never make changes that are unrealistic to your lifestyle. While that juice-cleanse diet may seem like it will help you drop 10 pounds, is it something that you can realistically do forever to keep the weight off? Probably not.

4. Sometimes you need to ADD calories to lose weight.
If you’re a trainer and want to see someone look at you like you have three heads, tell them they may need to eat more to lose the inches they’re looking to lose. But hold on a minute: Before you go upping your calorie intake, know that this doesn’t apply to everyone — but for people who cut their calories to a dangerously low number, it’s certainly a step your trainer would want you to take. Not only does an excessively low-calorie diet not give you the energy you need to get through your workout, but it may also be slowing your metabolism.

Most people get hooked on low-calorie diets because they can help you lose weight quickly, in the beginning, at least. However, once your body adjusts (and it always does), it may start pulling energy from other sources and you could end up losing muscle mass and actually decreasing your metabolism. So while you may be 10 pounds lighter, it may be all muscle loss AND you may have a slower metabolism than before. Instead of focusing on cutting calories to extreme lows, find out the appropriate amount of calories you need for your lifestyle, goals, and workout routine and focus on getting all the nutrients you need to accomplish your goal.

5. Workouts don’t have to make you sick.
While some trainers and workout trends brag about making you sick and leave you crawling out of the gym, that’s certainly not an ideal situation. Not only does such a grueling workout put your health at risk, but this philosophy can also cause you to have a negative association with working out. If you felt sick every time you ate at a friend’s house, you probably wouldn’t want to go eat at your friend’s house anymore, right? If you feel sick every time you go to the gym, you probably won’t want to go to the gym as often, which would negate that “awesome” workout that made you sick and unable to walk for a week.

In general, a workout should feel tough enough that you feel like you worked out, but not so hard that you feel sick. Adopting less aggressive workouts will not only allow you to work out more often, since you’re not sick or outrageously sore, but you’ll also want to work out more often. And this is useful because working out moderately more frequently will most likely lead to better results than working out to your maximum once or twice per week.

6. Your one-hour workout doesn’t cancel out the other 23 hours in a day.
Even on a day you work out, you spend approximately 96 percent of your day out of the gym. That’s a lot of time for things to go wrong. Just because you had a great workout doesn’t mean you can forget about your goals for the other 23 hours in the day. Going out drinking, sitting on the couch all day, and not getting enough sleep are just some of the ways you can sabotage a great workout. Not everyone is perfect every day, of course, but if you consistently behave for the other hours in the day, your body will reward you.

7. Don’t dread the process, or else you’re doomed to fail.
Yes, there are struggles. Yes, there are sacrifices. But if you dread the process of getting in shape so much that you avoid it all together, you’ll never reach your goal. How many times have you dreaded doing something, only to realize it wasn’t so bad once you did it? Decide which is worse: going through the difficult journey and seeing your goal reached, or not doing it and staying the same.

As a young trainer running around the city all day from client to client, starting with a 5 a.m. alarm and ending at 8 p.m., I woke up dreading the long day sometimes. But once it was over, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I dreamed it up to be. Don’t let your mind block you from your goal and, ultimately, your success. The fact is, when it comes to getting in shape, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone to get the results you want.

These tips and rules may not have been brand new information for some of you, but hopefully it simplified the excess of information that’s put in front of you daily. By keeping things simple and abiding by these seven not-so-secret secrets, you’ll have all the tools you need for a successful transformation.


Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a private personal training studio in the Rittenhouse Square area. He and his staff of personal trainers offer packages to busy individuals looking to make lifestyle changes by improving their overall fitness and wellness. Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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