Some Things Even Personal Training Can’t Fix

I see a particular woman every time I set foot in my hometown gym. She spends 2-3 hours among the cardio machines and free weights every day, seven days a week. You would not peg her as a fitness buff if you saw her in the grocery store or the shopping mall. She is thin but not gaunt. Her muscle tone does not peak out of fitted pants or the arms of a sweater. However, only one phrase comes to my personal trainer mind when I see her slamming her body back and forth along an elliptical with an incline and resistance her body’s biomechanics cannot properly maintain: exercise addict. Other trainers nod their heads when I inquire politely about her workout habits.

She runs her body through the same workout regimen each week with little or no variation. Her body adapts to the effort, so she simply works for longer amounts of time instead of changing the workout style. She sets intensities on elliptical-style machines so high that she must swing her entire body to keep the mechanisms moving beneath her feet. Her shoulders hunch, her lower back strains, her arms flail as she pushes, thinking that she is simply working harder than everyone else. Take the handles away, and she would likely fly off the machine and onto the floor.

I have yet to see her step on a treadmill. While she could have a former ankle, knee or hip injury that flares during high-impact exercise, my intuition tells me that her reasoning stems from other issues. One, she does not maintain the muscular strength to endure that type of stress due to the way she constantly breaks down her muscle fibers and does not allow them the time they need to rebuild. Two, her other cardio exercise on the elliptical removes the focus from her lower body and channels into her back and shoulders, preventing the development of her lower body strength in the first place.

As a personal trainer, I struggle internally with the choice of addressing these issues or letting them slide when the person is not one of my clients in my gym. I noticed this woman throughout the summer months, pushing her body for hours as well as barking at her two young children for ruining her workout when she could not find a sitter, and I did not say a word despite my boiling agitation. It bothers me to not only watch a person abuse their body but also take a positive environment filled with people working to maintain their functional fitness and fill it with a toxic attitude and poor example.

This morning in attending a spin class with my mother, I found myself with this woman yet again. Seated diagonally from me, she complained that the gears on her stationary bike were not aligned correctly, yet refused to switch to one of the dozen open bikes. She resumed her elliptical posture of hunched shoulders, C-curved spine and jostling from the left side of the bike to the right and back again. She pedaled faster when the instructor said it was climbing time, and refused to stop when it came time to stretch. Leaving the gym after class, I noticed her back on her usual elliptical machine, slamming her body back and forth, back and forth.

It’s one thing to let exercise take over life’s other purposes, and despite my qualifications, I cannot say something to just anybody about it. However, I can point out that this kind of behavior affects everyone else around them, especially in group fitness classes, regardless of their willingness to recognize a problem and accept advice from others. I had never felt so distracted and annoyed by another person in a spin class than I did this morning, despite the instructor’s challenging program and positive attitude. In the end, if I cannot help people like this woman, I would prefer to not have to interact with them at all.

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