Secrets From Your Personal Trainer

4 Things Your Trainer Wants You to Know

Getty Images/Geri Lavrov

Whenever a client asks the inevitable question, "When will I see results?" I wish I could say, "Give it a year." A little extreme? Maybe. I know that, if clients do everything they need to do to lose weight - Exercise, eat right, sleep well, stay active and take care of stress - They'll see results in about two or three months. But, that's only if they do all of that most of the time.

The Reality of Weight Loss

The reality for new exercisers is usually quite different.

What often happens is they workout, they eat well, they get stronger and they start to see some changes. The inches come off, clothes start to fit a little better and they feel good about themselves. And just when things are going great, they suddenly go horribly wrong.

It might be the holidays or a long vacation. It might be a pulled muscle or a sick child or an unexpected visitor or the fact that the moon is waning rather than waxing. Whatever 'it' is, it causes them to quit and all that lovely momentum, that surprising well of motivation that seemed endless during happy times, is gone. Worse, the hard-won results may be gone too, with nothing to show for it but extra weight. Coming back from what feels like a failure is like starting over. That may seem so daunting, they don't even try.

Secret 1: Give it a Year

What you may not realize is that it takes practice to face all the parties, the travel, the holidays, the bad weather, the illnesses, the injuries, the unexpected disasters and the endless obstacles that will get in the way of your healthy lifestyle.

It takes more than a few tries to get through these stressful interruptions while still exercising, still eating right and still taking care of yourself. You've got years, decades, maybe even a lifetime of ingrained habits to contend with. Think about how long you've been:

  • Sleeping until the last possible moment, rather than getting up and exercising
  • Stopping for fast food on the way home because you're too tired and too hungry to make dinner
  • Eating out because you don't have anything to make for a healthy dinner
  • Not even knowing how to make healthy dinners
  • Sitting for hours a day, leaving you with a stiff, achy body that feels too much pain or discomfort to exercise
  • Dealing with fatigue or lack of energy with caffeine or energy drinks rather than physical movement

To ask yourself to change all of that in a matter of weeks - To exercise your stress away, to get up an hour earlier to exercise, to stop eating when you're full, to workout even if your body feels tired - is an impossibly tall order. In my experience, all of this change can take up to a year or more: A year of fits and starts, of starting and stopping, of learning how to keep exercising even when you're sick or injured, how to eat healthy even when you have to work late 3 nights in a row, how to find a way to workout even when you have an early flight or late meetings. Losing weight and keeping it off is a learning process, so why not give yourself the time you need to really get it down?

Secret 2: Get Off the Scale

I know it's a little extreme to ask people who are trying to lose weight to stop weighing themselves, but I often wish I could. This is especially true when I'm measuring someone and announce, "Wow, you've lost almost 8 inches of body fat," only to hear, "But I've only lost two pounds." It's beyond frustrating to see someone decide that losing inches of fat from his or her body is a failure simply because the scale is saying something else.

The scale is like a mean mother-in-law, judging you only by the most restrictive criteria and ignoring everything else good and wonderful about you. The scale only tells you one thing: How much everything (your fat, muscles, bones, organs, eyelashes, etc.) weighs. So, if you happen to be retaining water that day, your scale doesn't want to hear about yesterday's extra salt intake or your ferocious PMS. It's going to show that extra weight in bright, glaring numbers with nary a hint of apology.

What I wish my clients could understand is this: What the scale isn't telling you could fill volumes. It won't tell you about the muscle you've gained and the fat you've lost, the fact that your heart, lungs, muscles, connective tissue...even the mitochondria deep in your cells are functioning at a higher level - So high that you may be preventing heart disease, diabetes or cancer. You may even be slowing the aging process, but does the scale tell you that?


In fact, your scale weight may lag far behind in reflecting all the changes happening in your body. That doesn't mean the scale isn't useful, but there may be a more positive way to encourage yourself than stepping on a scale every day. Some ideas:

  • Stop weighing yourself every day - I don't know how many times a client will come in and say, "I've gained two pounds since yesterday." Or "Well, I was down to 163 and then I went up to 165, but then the other day I was at 164." This obsession leads you to believe that every pound you go up in a day is complete failure. Every pound you lose is success. Weight naturally fluctuates, sometimes more than 10 pounds throughout the day. Giving your body more time between weigh-ins may give you a clearer picture of what's happening.
  • Focus on more than just your weight - When a client feels down in the dumps because of the scale, I want to shake them and say, "You just did 10 pushups! Remember when you couldn't even do one?" When you exercise, there is so much to be proud of, so much progress to focus on - Being stronger, fitter, faster, more flexible. Focusing on how your body moves rather than how it looks or how much it weighs will give you a deeper sense of accomplishment.
  • Use other ways to track your progress - One of the best ways to track progress is the simplest - Your clothes. That's almost the first place everyone notices changes in their bodies. Pants are a little loser, belts get tighter...everything fits just a little better than it did before. That can be much more satisfying than tracking a number on the scale that, essentially, tells you nothing.
  • Ditch the scale completely - Another idea is to take a long break from the scale. This can be tough, but liberating. I often challenge my clients to go a full week without weighing themselves, focusing only on exercising and eating healthy. Some make it and some don't, but the ones who do realize they don't have to be chained to the scale to stay motivated.

    Secret 3: Get Real About Your Body

    It's normal to want a butt like Beyonce or a six-pack like Hugh Jackman, but even the best butt exercises or most effective ab moves aren't going to make that happen. I still get clients who want to pick and choose which body parts they want to get smaller and which ones they want to get bigger. "I'd like to really tone my thighs, but I don't want to lose any weight in my butt.

    And I want muscles in my shoulders and toned triceps, but I don't want huge biceps or anything." I'd love it if I could whip out an order pad and bring you everything you want, hold the cellulite. The reality is, I'll be happy if we can get some inches off of you, even if those inches are coming off the wrong place.

    I'm a good trainer and my workouts can help you lose fat, providing you're eating a healthy diet, which is a whole other issue, but I can't give you a workout that will shape each and every part of your body exactly the way you want. If I could do that (without plastic surgery, that is), I would be too busy counting my money to even write this article.

    What I wish my clients understood is:

    • You can't change your genes - Just like your nose and your chin and the way you crinkle your nose, the way your body responds to exercise is something inherent. We aren't completely at the mercy of our genes, but they do have a say in how much you can really change your body. Try not to waste your time on things you can't change. For example, if you've spent the last 10 years trying to get six pack abs and it hasn't happened, maybe your body just isn't set up for flat abs.
    • You can't change the basic shape of of your body - Again, this is something you inherit. If you're a pear, you can be a smaller pear and you can do things to mitigate the pear factor: Build your upper body, for example, to help you look more proportional. But, you can't turn yourself into an hourglass or a twig or whatever shape you'd rather be.
    • You can't spot reduce - This is the sentence I would like to have branded into the wall of every gym in the world, perhaps even plastered on the cover of every fitness magazine...preferably on top of that zero-body-fat model wearing only a bathing suit. Many of my clients still say things like, "Give me a lot of ab exercises so I can work off my love handles." Or "I need a ton of thigh exercises...have you seen my hips lately?" We simply can't reduce fat over certain areas of our bodies with specific exercises. I would much rather my clients spend their time and energy on exercises and activities that contribute to their overall calorie burn - Like compound exercises, circuit training or interval training - Rather than waste time on crunches and leg lifts that offer so little in return.
    • Accept your body - You inherited certain things from your parents, some good and some bad. We all have to live with what we've got and try to make improvements however we can. Spend some time improving your body image and there will be much less frustration when it comes to getting results.

    Secret 4: Get Real About Your Eating

    I'm not a nutritionist or a dietician, so I don't give my clients a diet to follow. However, we all know how important diet is to weight loss - often more important than exercise. If my clients come to me with a goal to lose weight, I give them resources for healthy eating and encourage them to keep a food diary.

    In fact, I insist on a food diary simply because I can't count how many times a client insists he's eating healthy, only to find out a few things he left out.

    Bacon for breakfast, four handfuls of peanut M&Ms at the office, two margaritas at's easy for these little things to just fall right off the list when, in fact, they're contributing a lot more calories than you think.

    In fact, one of the most common sentences I hear: "I barely eat anything and I'm still not losing weight! I mean, how much more can I cut?"

    It is true that some of my clients really aren't eating enough and that can slow your weight loss. However, the majority of my clients aren't 20 or 30 pounds overweight because they're barely eating anything. The problem is, they're not writing it down and we humans are notorious for doing two things when it comes to losing weight: Overestimating how many calories we burn with exercise and underestimating how many calories we're eating.

    No one's lying on purpose, it's just that, if you really want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you eat.

    And if you're not writing it down, you have no way of knowing if you're really accomplishing that. There's no way of knowing how many calories are in something simply by looking at it.  Also, it's easy to forget those little nibbles throughout the day - Eating off your kid's plate or the extra donut during a work meeting.

    That afternoon latte or the double bourbon you had after work.

    If you really want to lose weight, you have to track your eating. Take at least a week and record everything you eat, on paper, online at FitWatch or Calorie Count, or use a smartphone app. Once you get a sense of how and what you're eating, it's much easier to see where, or if, you're going wrong.

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