My short stint on the trainer train

Today’s Frank Bruni column made me think of this post I wrote a few years ago…

from January 2009

Firing My Trainer

I realize now that I was paying for someone to pay attention to me. After my free orientation at the gym with this woman, I was somehow talked into signing up for three personal training sessions. She listened to me talk about myself and my weight loss woes. About not having time to work out as much as I used to before the baby. About how I used to be so in shape. She was a mom, too. Maybe old enough to be my mom, almost. She knew what it was like to breastfeed for an extended period of time and how that affected weight retention and energy levels. She said I should make time for myself. I decided to go ahead and buy the three sessions with her and she said she’d make up a little gift pack that she usually gives to people who buy the sessions for someone else and it could be my gift to myself. Cool. I thought it might be nice and maybe there’d be some candy or coupons or a granola bar or some cute little thing with it. She seemed to know where I was coming from. Sort of.

There were red flags that I should have noticed. Things that should have tipped me off to the fact that we would not be a good fit. Like when she asked me if I wanted her to call my husband and tell him to get me the training three-pack for a Christmas gift. Uhm, no. I buy my own things, with my own money, thank you very much. And my husband would totally be like WTF if some lady called him saying this! Then she was telling me she had this “network” of people who provide services, like Mary Kay ladies, hairdressers and such. Because women need to put themselves first and take care of themselves. Blah blah blah. Of course, we need to do these things, but I think there is way too much talk about it. Just do what you need to do. Don’t make a religion of it. Besides, I don’t do Mary Kay. I am an Aveda girl. She also wouldn’t go along with me when I was telling her how fat and out of shape I was. She was being way too gentle. I wanted someone who would kick my ass. She told me I needed to stretch and do yoga. I told her I tried yoga so many times and I knew it wasn’t for me, so she let that go. Pilates? No. Boring. I am a blast-it-out, power, endurance kind of person. I basically just wanted someone to push me a little and make sure I was using the machines with good form. Someone to pay attention to me, too. She seemed to do that, sort of, so I ignored the flags and I went for it.

I signed up for the three sessions and gave her a try. Sadly, on the day of our first session, things felt differently. She was five minutes late. To me, that’s bad. She didn’t have her glasses—or any kind of plan for me. And she had coffee breath. She seemed tired and harried. She said she was worn out from being in class all weekend. I asked her what she was going for. She answered, personal training certification. Oh. Should you already be…uhm…forget it. Never mind. I wanted to tell her we could do this some other time, but I hesitated.

She started putting me through the paces. I’d already done my cardio warm up. Most of it was pretty standard stuff. Squats. Lunges. She kind of stared into space while I did my reps. Then I did some bicep and tricep stuff on the pulleys after she’d scrambled around less than expertly trying to set them up. She didn’t seem like she knew how to use them any more than I did. Things really got wacky when she had me doing this crazy wood-chopper exercise on the cable machines. She demonstrated and I tried to copy but I couldn’t do it. I got the concept, but I admitted to her I am not the most coordinated person. She kept barking “wrong!” when I did them. I tried again. “Wrong!” She said. After a few tries, I was almost in tears.

“Here” she demonstrated again. “It’s like chopping wood. You have to move your body and come down like this. Like if you were chopping wood, you’d come into it here. Not here.” Whatever. I am a 36-year-old woman office worker living in the DC suburbs. What do I know about chopping wood? And I suspect this woman knew no more about chopping wood than I did. I just didn’t’ like her vibe at all. I told her we should find something else to do. This move was just not working for me. She said I might have to do it a hundred times to get it right, but then it would be good. I told her I didn’t have time to do something a hundred times. I only have an hour or so a day to work out and so I have to make the most of it. Her yelling “wrong!” did not help, either, but I kept that bit to myself.

So, we carried on. “What do you want me to show you, then?” She asked. “Since you don’t like cables?” Well, I never said I didn’t like cables, just not those weird wood-chopper exercises. “Uhm, I don’t know. When I had a trainer before, he just had a basic program for me of straightforward moves on the basic machines.” Ah, yes, good old Monzeil, my old trainer from DC. Young, hot, black man. I am still not sure why the gym had assigned this woman to me.

When I first called to redeem my free orientation, the trainer coordinator was like, “OK, you will be with Jodi (named changed to protect identity). You will recognize her right away. She is really peppy. She will be the one with Christmas bows in her hair or antlers or bells or something. She has lots of spirit.”

Uh huh. Another red flag I should have noticed.

“OK.” I answered. “Uhm, I’ll come in at 8:30 and run for a half hour and then meet with her at 9:00”

“Alright. Jodi will be there early, I’m sure, if she hears you are going to be there at 8:30. That’s just the kind of person she is. Bright and early.” He said.

“OK. Well, don’t have her interrupt my run. I’ll just go to her when I’m done.” Ha! She was so not early! As I mentioned before, she was late.

Anyway, when the first session was finally over, we made our next appointment. I dreaded seeing her again. The next session went a little better. She seemed to listen to the bit about me wanting to maximize my results in the time I had, but misunderstood the hour I mentioned for a half hour. So, she created a half-hour workout for me. I like the workout actually, but she still said all kinds of off-the-wall stuff when she was actually paying attention to me and not staring into space or talking to the manager about equipment or giving some lady on the stairmaster pointers on her form. When she had me do squats she was like, “Squat like a Korean at the marketplace. You know how they squat. Those Asians can squat. They are just made differently.” And somehow taking a dump was also brought into play to illustrate the depth my squat needed to take. O-K. I’m not all chichi or easily offended, but I don’t need to hear sweeping racial generalizations or bathroom references from someone I hardly know in order to do a proper squat. Also, it wasn’t challenging enough. It was good, but I wanted something that would really push me. To her credit, she kept asking me if I was doing OK during the workout, and I was always, like, “yes”. I think I may look more out of shape than I actually am!

I knew I could not see her again for the last session, so I put it off til that time frame that seems so distant during Christmastime…after the New Year.

I didn’t want to get her in trouble. I didn’t want to complain. I mean, she didn’t really do anything wrong. She just was not right for me. She was a tad bit unprofessional, but nothing serious. Maybe she was not even a real trainer yet? Still. I don’t want to mess up anyone’s business. It was only $80. I could forget about it and move on. But, I was not going to subject myself to her again.

I put her off once when she saw me at the gym, doing crunches on the incline bench. She hollered at me, interrupting me as well as her own client who she was currently in session with. “When do you want to do your last session?!?!”

“Uhm, I’m going to have to call you. I, uh, don’t have my calendar with me.”

Then, she phoned at 6 pm (dinnertime) a few days later. “When are you going to the gym next?” My kid cried in the background. “Oooh, is somebody tired?”

No! Someone is just being the whiny toddler that they are and wanting my attention while I am both trying to cook dinner and get off the phone with you! I thought.

I said, “No…uhm….I’m gonna have to call you back. Now’s not a good time.”

I hung up. “That woman drives me crazy.” I said.

“Who?” My husband asked.

“Oh nobody…I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. Hopefully he would think it was a client or something. That’s the only reason I even answered the phone—thinking it might be a client or my mom. I never told him about the whole debacle. I know it was my money, but I don’t think he’d be thrilled about me spending it on a trainer, and now I was so regretful and embarrassed that I did because she was so lame.

I wondered how I would avoid forever making that last appointment. I knew I had to face it and be up front with her. So I wrote her a note and planned to leave it at the front desk for her. I told her thanks for giving me some new ideas for my work outs, but I am going to pass on the last session. My free time is just so precious and rare right now that I just want my time at the gym to be my refuge, just to go in and do what I do, get in the zone, etc. etc. etc. I pondered what she might think. Had she sensed my lack of enthusiasm about her, or was I sufficiently sunny and fake enough? Why was I faking for someone I was paying, anyway? Well, I was not going to make myself fake for another half hour that I’d paid for. If I wanted to sit it out, I would. I had wrestled with this for a while. I worried about hurting her feelings. I thought to myself, can’t you just sacrifice a half hour of your time to preserve this woman’s feelings? The answer was no.

I thought it would be the decent thing to do to follow up my note with a phone call. I didn’t want to be shady and I wanted to be able to look her in the eye and give a little wave if we ran into each other at the gym. So I called her and repeated my spiel from the note (which she had not yet received.)

She didn’t seem surprised. She reminded me that I had paid for the sessions. I told her I didn’t care. I’d sign off so she would get paid, but I didn’t want to do the last session. I just needed the time to myself. She said she understood completely. “You’re just like my daughter,” she said. “She works with kids all day and she just wants to veg out and be alone at the end of the day.” Hmmm. OK. This woman did not for one instance entertain the notion that something she did had done might have put me off. I guess I faked well enough. I was anticipating her maybe asking me if anything was wrong and me gently telling her some of the things I thought were strange, but reassuring her that maybe it was just me and she’d be a good fit for someone else. At the very least, I thought I might get the chance to tell her it’s probably not the best teaching technique to yell “wrong!” when someone is not getting their form right. But, alas, she “completely understood” where I was coming from. Right.

What I learned from all this is that I don’t think I like the idea of a personal trainer any more at all. I always thought I should get my husband a package for a gift so he could get some tips on new exercises or better form. He never seemed interested when I’d mention it though. I can understand why now. It is kind of awkward to have someone hovering over you, and for many people, myself now included, a workout is an escape. I like to just get on that treadmill, blast some of my favorite songs, get the heart rate and endorphins pumping and feel great. I did have a good stint with that fellow Monzeil, but that was a different time in my life. I will never pay for someone to pay attention to me again.

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