Alonzo Reyes for Unsplash

Your trainer can’t do the work for you, and why quarantine might have been a gift.

Genuine Fitness is a growing gym in Eugene, growing now because so many of us are horrified at what eighteen months of reduced activity and/or imposed lockdown and perhaps too much snack food have done to our bodies. Ryan Fickenscher has been my trainer for more than a year now, starting before I bought my house here just over a year ago. I love working with him for his endless energy and enthusiasm, his work ethic and his stories, among other things.

This morning as he put me through my paces doing Turkish get-ups (photo above,) he told me a story that was important enough to share.

A few weeks ago I attended and wrote a few stories about competitors at the local Cecil Phillips Classic, a contest that is just for non-drug bodybuilders. I met and was deeply impressed by the over- forty crowd, which makes up the majority of the competition. Many of those men and women began with terrible challenges ranging from obesity and depression and sexual assault. Yet, there they were up on stage, strutting their stuff, landing trophies and tiaras and the collective appreciation of friends, fans and family. I am currently conducting interviews with five of those folks right now, so stay tuned.

Ryan is a competitor, and a judge. A few years back, he had a client who was a top sales manager at a local lumber yard. Sales guys, and I’ve trained sales folks in the Fortune 100 for decades, are a particular breed. Alcohol, bad food, smoking, late nights and parties can be and often are part and parcel of the lifestyle. This man was facing down sixty. His physician got in his face and said that if he didn’t make some serious lifestyle adjustments he probably wouldn’t make it to retirement age, if that.

Ryan, my trainer before posing practice Julia Hubbel

The man hired Ryan for workouts three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Ryan began to put him through his paces, and the client told Ryan about what the physician had said. Ryan was fully aware of the off-time shenanigans: the extreme alcohol consumption, the prime rib many times a week, the late nights, the hangovers, the smoking.

Ryan suggested that perhaps at these late dinners, the man might choose a salad, chicken, fish. Perhaps have a single drink, not a whole bottle of Jack Daniels. The man was immovable.

The refrain Highway to Hell was made for this guy.

“It’s my lifestyle,” he would argue.”I have to entertain.”

Over time, the client made no progress. The reason was that on Tuesday, Thursdays and on weekends, he made no changes to his diet, his habits, his alcohol consumption, the late nights and hangovers. If anything, the man got worse.

Ryan said he looked and behaved far older than fifty-eight. The alcohol, late nights, bad food and smoking were carving canoes in his skin, to say nothing of his organs.

He asked Ryan for an early morning workout. Five am became 5:05, then 5:15, then 5:30.

Ryan said, “One day he called me up and demanded that I call him early on workout days to force him out of bed. I told him I wasn’t his babysitter. That’s when I knew we were done.”

Ryan fired him. He knew that at some point, the client would blame him for the lack of progress, when in fact the client had no intention whatsoever of changing his lifestyle.

This man was investing almost a thousand dollars a month in his trainer, and instead of using it to retool his life, he seemed to be using his exertions to justify even more abuse. The folks who use FitBit as a way to justify a pizza and ice cream after so much work are much the same.

On Fridays, I see my sports chiropractor Dr. Kevin Plummer about an hour after I see Ryan. I told him about Ryan’s client story, and what he’s been seeing now that folks are up and out, at least more so than before, and whether he notices the same things.

“Sure,” he laughed. “Lots of folks don’t realize that in this way, the pandemic was a gift. For many of my clients, they were in total denial of their bad habits. Being stuck inside allowed them to see that what so many of them had been claiming about their healthy habits wasn’t true. If anything, for some those habits got a lot worse. For others, it was the perfect petri dish. They got to see the truth of how they spent their time, and realized that they needed to make changes.

“For those people, quarantine was a gift. It’s not often you get a forced nationwide downtime which allows you to actually come face to face with what you really do all day. While our schedules shifted, when it came to food and exercise, we carried most of our habits into lockdown. People who got a wake-up call and who really cared about their health took measures. You can see it in their energy, their bodies and their changes in their attitudes. The lockdown, tough as it might have been, gave them a very different outlook.”

Plummer made significant gains in his fitness under lockdown. One month, between us we bought out all the heavy rubber floor mats at Creswell’s Tractor Supply, and built out our home gyms. That isn’t for everyone, and not all of us have the money or the room to do that. However the Internet was chock full of body-weight workout programs and better eating advice for people who were sitting at the computer gorming their fourth bag of Lay’s Potato Chips.

Some of them dumped the chips and chipped in for online classes.

According to Plummer, those clients of his who have made the biggest gains are those who paid attention to their habits, made some changes, and were able to redirect themselves.

If you’re a trainer like Ryan, and you have a client who is jerking your chain and wasting your time, it might be time to end the relationship. This article speaks to that process. If you’re just starting out and/or rebuilding after lockdown, it might be tempting to keep the client. However, ultimately, a disaster won’t look good on your resume, and a disappointed or angry client (or both) could your career rep damage on Yelp. It might be best to cut the cord, refer them out, and hope that they find religion soon enough to get serious. To that, these folks kept busy under lockdown:

Women over fifty who trained under quarantine, Cecil Phillips Classic Julia Hubbel

Plummer, who is a retired professional athlete, also spent time as a personal trainer. He knows how hard it is, but he also saw and continues to see what happens when we stay the course.

If those folks could train under lockdown with the gyms closed, chances are we can too. You and I can hire a trainer, but as with all coaches, we have to put in the sweat equity to enjoy the results.

Get hired, not fired. Summer’s not over yet!