My wife Sylvia is getting serious about shaping up. She’s a bit past the point where the mirror and cholesterol levels tell her she needs to lose weight, but BMI says she can gain 8 pounds and still be healthy (another example of BMI being brain dead).
I think she looks great, but I offered to be Sylvia’s personal trainer. Given how much I know about running and weight’s impact on running performance I was an excelle … er ... interesting choice. But at least I was well within her price range given my hourly rate of “free.” (If you can’t afford “free,” let’s discuss it and I’ll see what I can do.) When she accepted, I knew I had some research to do.
As a delaying tactic, I started Sylvia on regular runs and a Billy Blanks Advanced Taebo workout tape we bought for a quarter at a garage sale. I also set her up on www.livestrong.com’s free “Daily Plate,” a great calorie accounting package that works on a PC and an iPhone or iPod Touch. When calories burned exceed calories consumed by 3500 you’re supposed to lose a pound. We’ll see.
As it happens, my first Google research took me deep into the mind-bending world of weight loss, where I discovered the Cardio Adaptation Effect:
- Only do the minimum cardio that you need in order to lose weight. Otherwise your body will adapt, and what cardio you do today you will need to do tomorrow, just to maintain your weight.
The flip side of that disheartening coin is the Starvation Effect:
- When the human body experiences low calorie consumption, it becomes more efficient to prevent starvation. Eat less and your body burns less.
Rather than telling Sylvia that my Internet research had just proven that cutting 3500 calories and running a marathon a week was just as likely to make her gain weight as to lose, I decided to continue researching until I found answers I liked better. This is called the Internet Research Effect.
I knew Twitter was an excellent research tool for such things. A 140-character-or-less question you see a lot on Twitter is:
- "Where do you find a personal trainer? Personal referrals? On GNC bulletin boards? Randomly at the gym?"
Driving by dimly lit street corners in the hood late at night? I’ve noticed that no one ever replies “I’m using my underemployed husband,” but I decide my sample must simply be too small.
When it comes to tweeting about their personal trainers on Twitter, people work various forms of pain into the 140 characters.
- "My personal trainer at gym today squeezed the blood out of me"
How in the world can I squeeze the blood out of Sylvia? Is there some kind of Yoga position? Pilates technique? I make a note to myself to do further research.
- "Yesterday I had my first session with my personal trainer, today I can barely walk. I guess that means he is pretty good.
Barely walk? I can do that! I’ll plaster of Paris her socks before the run. Sort of like how Dempsey took out Jess Willard.
- "aching all over. stupid personal trainer"
Aching all over? Stupid? Stupid I can do, but I can’t do ALL over. How about just a major muscle group at a time?
- "really think my gym "boyfriend" aka trainer is trying to kill me....3rd workout way harder then first two...felt like tossing my cookies"
Right, try to kill her, I can do that! And if I can get her to toss her cookies I bet I can also have Sylvia throw out her crackers and the yogurt she dips them into.
- "Another near vomiting experience with the personal trainer this morning. Hoooyah." -- Andy Wang
Wait, was the cookies tweet about vomiting? Since when does an Eeeyoou become a Hooyah? I must do more research.
- "just got back from 1st meeting w/new personal trainer. she told me I have 40% body fat."
I noted that exaggeration was going to be an important tactic.
But apparently the use of simple techniques that always work isn’t enough. A quick scan of the Personal Fitness blogs taught me that you need a variety of amazing esoteric techniques:
19 Push-up Variations
Is 'Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy' the Real Deal?”
Lose 10 Pounds Just by Sleeping
You Need Just 7 Minutes Exercise a Week
Renee Zellweger Runs 3 Miles Daily. No Wonder she's Super Skinny!
Those last three were from Glamour.com’s online personal trainer. I figure that if I can combine the last two (Run 21 miles in Just 7 Minutes a Week!) I’ll really be onto something. Or if I can reduce the number of unbroken consecutive weeks you need to sleep without waking to lose 10 pounds ... wow, that's bound to be a winner.
Okay, I was getting an idea of the impact my workouts needed to have. And I was learning how they might achieve the necessary levels of pain while sounding effortless in my pitch. “Don’t worry Sylv. It’s only 3 miles at 14,000 feet with an 80 pound backpack. We call it ‘Hiaerobics.’”
But what about me? How do I play the part convincingly? More Twitter research cleared that up.
- "I use to be a fitness coach and personal trainer for gyms but now I am a full-time Beach Body Coach & Xango advocate."
Clearly I was going to need a better title than Personal Trainer to differentiate myself. SkinnyJeans! Nope, taken. DropAndDoTenForMe! Nope, taken. I'd have to work on that. And I might have to look into a multi-level-marketing organizational structure and maybe even do commercials.
- "the personal trainer commercial looked like a blimp in an XXXXL polo shirt."
I can do that! Maybe even one better, since I manage to look like a blimp in a small polo shirt. There were lots of other marketing avenues open to me as well.
Your 12-Week Daily Video Trainer
Express Lane: A personal trainer takes you through 8 stations and tracks your progress
Max Muscle Mass In Minutes without Moving
I think we can do the same kind of things remotely once I get the foundations of the business in place.
But then I realize that the real advantage I offered Sylvia was the personal touch. I could grab her hand as it guides a cracker dipped in yogurt towards her mouth and remind her to resist. Gently urge her on as she runs. I see examples on Twitter of this personal touch working for celebrities.
- "Just interviewed Julie Imperiali. She's lovely, very gentle. Not how you'd imagine a personal trainer to a President to be."
On the other hand, maybe I should look for a personal trainer more like the one John McCain would hire:
- "Personal training is so new-age & feely. My 1st trainer was a Drill Instructor who called me maggot! Heading out now to my yuppie-pussy gym"
I’ll experiment, starting with a little gentle encouragement modeled after the Twitter advice I just found on how to be an effective Personal Trainer.
- "All you have to do is yell "HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?" and "GIVE ME TEN MORE."
Clearly, the main thing I need to do is be there for Sylvia. To tell her “don’t eat that leftover mac and cheese, dear.” Or “Run all the way up the steps. There are only five, babe.”
Fortunately, Sylvia has tempered expectations. A couple of years ago she won a “Personal Trainer for a Year” promotion at her gym. As part of the deal, they took a “Before” photo with Sylvia holding a medicine ball and looking a little bloated, her hair matted and her sweats soaked through. She showed up a year later for the “After” photo looking just the same. The gym dropped the idea of a promotional follow-up poster, although I think it would have been a collector’s item.
How can I do worse than that?
On today’s run, Sylvia did 4 miles in 45:27. (Note to self: take picture of Sylvia after her next workout with her hair matted and sweats soaked through.)
Sign up for a feed if you want to see how we do all the way to Sylvia’s “After” photo. I promised I won’t let her Photoshop it.