Ask the Trainer
Get your fitness questions answered or request a custom workout by certified personal trainer, Heather Preston, MA, CHES, ACSM-CPT, CHWC.
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Ask The Trainer Q&A:
A: Having certain “problem” areas is a very common concern, especially for young women who are still growing into their natural shape. Your genes determine about 80% of your weight and body shape; however, personal choices and how you exercise still plays a significant role. For instance, some people have larger hips or thicker upper arms. You can’t override your genetic predisposition but you can build muscle to help reshape it and have more toned hips and upper arm with less fat overlying the muscle. The truth is, we all need to do the best we can with what we have to work with; all body shapes can look fit and healthy with proper exercise and nutrition. You are in the driver’s seat and can make the necessary changes to do this.
Cardio workouts are definitely important because this is what burns the fat overtop of your muscles, so this is a good place to start. Add 3-4 days of some form of cardio activity where you get your heart rate up and feel like you are working rather hard. Strength training will also be necessary to shape and define your muscles. You want to do this 2-3 days a week on nonconsecutive days. Choosing higher reps with lighter weight is great for endurance and maintaining your musculature. A smaller amount of reps with a little more weight is used to build strength. For the average exerciser, use a combination of the two by doing 8-12 reps of moderate weight.
Of course, watching what you eat has a lot to do with body composition as well, so try to limit the “junk” and eat more veggies and fruits in your daily diet. Paring down your daily calories will help you shed a few unwanted pounds and allow those newly toned muscles to show through! Lastly, I have an article on the site dedicated to glutes called “”Best Exercises for Women to Lift and Tighten the Butt”. Check it out, and this will help get you started with reshaping your rear view!
A: There are many young guys out there with the same concern; wanting to gain muscle and improve their body form. Many guys feel that they are too skinny and have trouble gaining weight. This is the body type of an ectomorph; a lean and delicate body build. Genetics play a part in how your body is shaped, but our lifestyle and the work we put into it also has a major effect. Young men can certainly chisel their physique with some focused weight training and can gain weight and add to their muscle by eating adequate amounts of protein. I would suggest getting some advice from an experienced personal trainer. Just ask for a couple of sessions to get you started and to make sure your form is correct with whatever exercises they suggest. Investing the money in a few sessions with a trainer, rather than consulting with the local gym rat, will glean much better results in the long run.
Ingesting a protein shake within 15 minutes of your strength training workout will allow your muscles to utilize the protein and help you build up your muscles faster. Whey protein has been the “go to” for many years now, but recently DuPont has been creating and testing various multi-protein powders that combine whey, soy, and casein. By combining these three proteins it has been found that it is immediately absorbed as well as has steady absorption over time for 4-5 hours. It is really the best of both worlds! This protein combination has also been shown to increase lean muscle mass in the upper body of men. So, if you are looking to get that larger upper body and look lean and cut, this might be a good option for you. Here is a link to their study: www.danisco.com/pdf/clinical-insights-protein-blends-study.pdf
Get a few pointers from a professional and add some protein shakes to your day, and you should be bulking up and getting your desired body shape in no time!
A: Wow, who told you that you would never be able to look firm and toned? Why? Everyone can benefit from exercise no matter what their contraindications or restraints. There are always modifications to any exercise and ways to gently work the body while still reaping the benefits of cardio and strength conditioning. With determination and motivation, everyone has the ability to change eating habits and their lifestyle in order to chisel out the best body they can. Will a 50 year old look the same as when they were 20? Of course not! But that does not mean you can’t be fit and toned in the body you have now. Never let your negative voice (or someone else’s) tell you that you “can’t”. You have the power to achieve any results you are after, but it is up to you. If you still have health concerns or certain mobility restrictions, I would suggest beginning with seated workouts or doing water aerobics. Both of these are gentle for the joints and can give you a wonderful cardio workout. Also, water workouts have the added benefit of toning the muscles through the water’s resistance.
There are many ways to tone your muscles as well; you can use your own body weight, use light dumbbells, or use weight machines at the gym. There is a great online community that I am a part of called Boot Camp HUB. (www.bootcamphub.com) We have members of all shapes, sizes, and abilities that workout with us during our daily live videos or recordings. There are a wide range of coaches and workouts to fit everyone’s needs, but especially for those who have not exercised in a long time or have health issues. Whatever you decide to do, know that you CAN do it and there is no reason why you can’t be firm and toned and feel great once again! For help with your self-talk and keeping things positive, please check out my article on the site called “Developing a Positive Fitness Mindset” to get started on your wellness journey. Best of luck Hannah!
A: Chris, Thanks for your questions regarding your fatigue and fitness progress. There are a couple of variables here, but the two things that popped into my mind first when reading your query were overtraining and hitting a plateau.
You said that you exercise for 1 hour every day. Assuming you mean 7 days a week, this can be too much depending on what type of exercise you are doing. Weight training and high intensity cardio workouts can lead to overuse injuries if done every day and “rest” is not part of your training program. I am not sure exactly what you and your trainer do, but let me give you the basic recommendations from the ACSM.
Weight training, when doing a total body workout, should be performed a minimum of 2 days per week doing 8-10 different exercises working the major muscle groups. Intermediate exercisers can do 3 days a week, or 4 if they are doing splits. *(Doing upper body one day and lower body the other, or doing a specific muscle group on each day.) Advanced exercisers and body builders can do anywhere from 4-6 days of alternate muscle training each week. A person should not be doing weight training on the same muscles every day.
Adequate rest periods of 24-48 hours are essential in the recovery process of muscle and tissue. Overuse injuries occur over time, and if you have been working out without giving your body much of a break, you will see stress fractures, chronic pain, and a prolonged healing process. It may seem as if you are never seeing any results because you are never really giving your muscles ample time to rebuild and become stronger.
Now, at your age, onset of arthritis may have something to do with your pain and stiffness as well, so that is also something you might want to look into.
The second thing that really presented itself was that perhaps you are not seeing the results that you want because you have been doing the same thing for 3 years with the same trainer. You may have hit a plateau. If we do not vary our workouts or challenge our body in different ways, we hit a plateau and see little results from our efforts. If you feel that your trainer is not listening to you, giving you other training options, or you are just not happy with your results, then perhaps it is time to try someone else. I have great article about searching for the right personal trainer called “Tips for Choosing the Perfect Personal Trainer”. Please take a look if you feel that this might be what you need.
One last thing; many of my clients in your age group and older complain of more aches and pains as they exercise. It always feels better to get moving because you have blood flow to the areas of pain, but then when you stop it sets back in again. This is very common. This happens as we age, but we can help it along and lessen the effects of the stress that we put on our bodies. Doing yoga, even once a week, can greatly help stretch and relax your muscles and surrounding tissues to help take away pain and fatigue. I have seen great results in many of my clients. Try a class at your gym or look up a yoga video on YouTube to get you started. So the bottom line is, the more you can slow down and stretch, and also plan for some rest time, the better your body will treat you! Good luck!
A: Laura, thanks for your great questions regarding body fat and what is considered “normal”. With your height and weight you are generally within normal limits of body fat composition, and I am sure you look fantastic! Here is the breakdown for body comp. It is good to keep in mind that percentages for men and women might vary a little depending on where you get your information and what agency is supplying it. Many charts give a general range for men and women while others get more specific by further breaking it down into age groups. According to several fitness entities out there, women who fall into the “acceptable” category are between 25%-31%. The fitness level, which is where a lot of people strive to be, is between 21%-24%. Keep in mind that the percentages for men are much lower. I think that perhaps you were told your percentage was too high because they were looking at it from a fitness standpoint rather than what is acceptable. That is what they are in business for after all!
Also, you may be confusing body composition with BMI (body mass index). With your height and weight you would be around a “20” and well within the healthy zone. This is a general way to determine if someone is at a healthy weight for their height. It simply looks at a person’s weight in relation to their height and assigns a number. (There is a mathematical equation involved which I won’t get into here.) If a person’s number is 26 or below, they are considered healthy. If it is 26-30 they are considered overweight, and above 31 obese. For the average person in America, this is pretty accurate; however, it does not take into consideration a person’s muscle mass. For example, at one of my health clinics a 5’8 man came to my station. He weighed 185 pounds, so according to the chart he was overweight. The thing is, he was totally ripped! He only had about 3% body fat. Obviously, the chart did not apply to him, but he is not the norm of what I see at my health clinics. So, with that said, most people are getting an accurate number on the BMI chart.
As far as your question regarding adding weight training to decrease body fay; absolutely! All fitness programs should include 2-3 days of weight training. The more muscle you build the faster your metabolism will be and the more fat you will burn. Muscle requires more calories than fat to “live”, thus the more of it you have on your body the more calories you will burn, even at rest!
Keep up the great work with your exercise, and I am glad that you now know you are certainly not overfat or have an “unhealthy” amount of weight to lose. Good luck with your goals!
A: Great question for all of you potential trainers out there! The short answer is “no” I do not pay $500 every two years. That seems quite high. I decided to do some research and post the certification cost and annual fees for some of the best certifications out there. Normally, “recertifying” or “renewing” your certification costs between $50-$100. Organizations do this to ensure that professionals remain current in the industry, as all certifications require you to have a certain amount of continuing education units, or CEUs. And let’s face it, they also do it to make money. I have always had a bit of a issue with costly recertification, which is why I choose to only keep my highest level certifications “current” by paying the fees. Does your Alma mater send you a letter every two years asking you to pay a fee or threaten to take away your degree? Me neither. But, it is important to stay current and in compliance, so this is why they make you do this every 2-3 years.
You are correct with ISSA being $500 for certification, but this includes all of the study materials and testing. Recertification for this organization is $99.00 every 2 years with 20 CEUs, not $500.
Let’s take a look at three of the top Personal Trainer Certifications to compare prices. I looked at the exam cost only, no additional study materials or seminars, and the renewal fee and CEUs.
ACSM: Exam cost $129-$139
Renew certification every 3 years for $45.00 and 45 CEUs
NASM: Exam cost is $599, but this includes all study materials. They also offer payment plans.
Renew certification every 2 years for $99 and 20 CEUs (There is an option to pay a one-time lifetime renewal fee which is $299)
ACE: Exam cost is $399
Renew every 2 years for $129-$139 depending if you do it online or thru the mail.
All agencies require that you keep your CPR certification up to date and that you are in good standing as a personal trainer in order to keep your certification current.
A: If any exercise is consistently giving you pain or aggravation, you need to think about changing that activity. Some people’s muscles hurt simply because they’ re new to exercise, but for other’s it may be from a chronic condition such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. You need to know that there are many lower-intensity and low-impact options for anyone wanting to exercise.
My first suggestion would be to try water aerobics. Working out in the water takes the stress off of joints and allows you to get an awesome cardio workout while also toning muscles from the resistance of the water! There are plenty of water aerobics programs at local gyms, YMCA’s, and community centers.
The next suggestion for people experiencing a lot of pain would be seated workouts. You can get your heart rate up and actually sweat without ever leaving your seat! I teach classes like this every week and even have several online. Go to my Facebook page to check out the “Office Workout” to get a taste of what chair workouts are all about. www.facebook.com/minutemoves
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are getting a full stretch for all of the muscles you worked after each exercise session. Stretching will also help to reduce the delayed onset pain that can occur after the muscles are worked hard. Try some of these suggestions and good luck finding an alternative exercise that works for you!
A: The two types of muscles fibers are fast twitch and slow twitch. Slow twitch muscles fibers are designed predominantly for endurance, while fast twitch fibers are for strength and power. We have both types in our body. These distinctions seem to influence how muscles respond to training and physical activity, and each fiber type is unique in its ability to contract in a certain way. Human muscles contain a genetically predetermined mixture of both slow and fast fiber types. Most people have about 50% of each type in their body, however, some people have more of one than the other. Those with more slow twitch are the best endurance athletes, such as a long distance runner. Those with more fast twitch make the best sprinters or body builders. There is no way we “get more”; we work all muscle fibers when we lift weights and do body weight exercises. The work is what breaks down muscle fibers and our resting period is what allows the fibers to build back up into a larger, stronger muscle. There is some speculation that we can change fiber type by the kind of training that one does, but there is nothing conclusive indicating that this is possible. So for now, just be sure to get a complete full-body weight training routine to get you started towards a more fit and chiseled body.
A: To lose body fat you need to increase cardiovascular activity and reduce your caloric intake. For those of you who have already started a routine, perhaps it is time to increase the intensity and type of workout as well as the number of days you are exercising. If you have already cut out a few “junky snacks”, then it would be a good idea to track your calories for a day or two to really see how many you are ingesting. If you want to find out how many calories you should be reducing in order to lose weight, try online calculators: www.choosemyplate.gov or use fitness apps such as My Fitness Pal. If you want to be a serious weight lifter, before focusing on the “bulking up” phase, set your goals to lose fat and begin a general weight training routine to begin to shape your body. Making small changes and taking it one step at a time will help you stick to your fitness and nutrition goals, and help you to finally shed that fat once in for all!
A: I touched on this subject in a prior answer, but let me explain overtraining and the importance of rest in a little more detail. Working out at a moderate to vigorous intensity 7 days a week can be too much depending on what type of exercise you are doing. Weight training and high intensity cardio workouts can lead to overuse injuries if done every day and “rest” is not part of your training program. Adequate rest is often considered the forgotten fitness element, as so many people neglect to give their body ample down time; often it is because they think they will lose the benefits they attained or that they will suddenly fall back into old habits. Most of the time the people who tend to over train are serious athletes, not your average exerciser; however, I have seen many clients who’s “gung ho” attitudes stemmed from a hyper-fixation on their new fitness habit which made them vulnerable to overtraining. Your body is literally being broken down when you are working out, so the rest period is when your body builds up and becomes a stronger, leaner, more adept fitness machine. You need to give your body this down time in order to do this. Signs and symptoms of overtraining are muscles and joint pain, fatigue, injuries that won’t heal, susceptibility to illness, sleeplessness, and irritability. Those who have a healthy workout schedule, doing cardio 4-6 times a week and weight training 2-3 times a week will probably not suffer from overtraining. However, those who are working out several times every day with little or no rest days will certainly feel these ill effects sooner or later. Can someone actually die from overtraining? Of course! A person can die from anything, but it does not happen very often. So don’t worry too much and make sure you give your body a day or two off each week for optimal results.