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Questions About Fitness: Things People Ask Personal Trainers

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QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL TRAINERS
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By Corrie Pikul

Great personal trainers need an intimate familiarity with the body, a knowledge of current exercise research... and an excellent sense of tact to deal with awkward questions about fitness like these.

"Will you be a bridesmaid in my wedding?"
Personal trainers realize that some clients get a little more, well, personal than others, says Geralyn Coopersmith, the national director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. "They may spend more one-on-one time with you than with their friends or even their spouse," Coopersmith says. "They also know that you genuinely care about their health -- that's part of your job." When one of Coopersmith's clients became pregnant, Coopersmith was the first person she told (before her husband!), and another invited her on an island vacation. ("Her friend had bailed, but I still felt uncomfortable.") During her 20 years of helping people get in shape, Coopersmith has even been asked to be in a client's wedding. "I tried to talk her out of it, but she said, 'You're such an important part of my life!' " (Coopersmith, who felt honored, went -- and had a blast.)

"Can I touch you?"
... And then there are always those clients who want more than friendship. Mike Donavanik, a Los Angeles–based personal trainer, says that early in his career a potential client was grilling him on the phone, when he suddenly threw out this zinger: "Boxers or briefs?" Donavanik was so stunned that he brought the conversation to a close and never called that person back. Another time, Donavanik had just finished leading a body-sculpting class at Crunch when a student came up to him and asked if she could touch his abs -- "for motivation," she said. Donavanik demurred. He says that most trainers have a policy against dating clients, and his strategy to deflect romantic interest is the same one used by women in bars around the world: He keeps mentioning that he's in a relationship.

"Could I have gained five pounds since this morning?"
"Not unless you were in a pie-eating contest," is Coopersmith's response to these panicked clients. "You'd need to consume about 18,700 to 19,500 calories for breakfast to gain five pounds of body fat," she says. Coopersmith calms clients by telling them that the number on the scale can fluctuate by one to five pounds throughout the day, "depending on how much water you're retaining and how much you're losing through sweat, urination, dehydration." It's highly unlikely you'd put on any more than half a pound of fat in 24 hours, she says. Now, if you start putting on half a pound every day, then you should worry.

"How can I get sexier knees?"
Every trainer we talked to has heard some version of this request: a client wants her knees to look less prominent or her clavicle to look more prominent. "This change may involve a significant decrease in body fat," says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. (Or, more likely, it's simply not possible without plastic surgery). Matthews says that she'll remind her clients that we can't spot-shrink (you'd think we'd have gotten that message by now), but she'll sometimes use the question to motivate them to try something new. She'll tell them that while they may be stuck with the shape of their knees, they can sculpt sexier legs with targeted strength-training exercises, and they can kick up the number of calories they burn with high-intensity interval training.

"Can you help me lose 20 pounds for my reunion -- which, by the way, is a month away?"
Trainers often get calls from people who suddenly realize they're just four weeks away from a big event and want to slim down, stat. The industry recommendation for weight loss is one to two pounds per week, says Matthews. This means it could take five months to safely lose 20 pounds. But if Matthews only has one month to work with, she says she'll gently dissuade the client from trying to drop too much too fast and will instead get that person to focus on creating definition. "You may not be able to drop two dress sizes in one month, but you can feel more confident and look better in the dress you already have," Matthews says.

"Where's my quad?"
"I used to take it for granted that people know what I'm referring to when I talk about parts of the body," says Donavanik. But that's not always the case. One clueless client admitted he had no idea where his quads or glutes were. He was new to the gym -- but he happened to be an avid cyclist and runner. Since then, Donavanik makes a point to clearly identify each part of the body as he's explaining exercises. We know you know where your quad is... but in case you're secretly wondering about the exact location of, say, your iliotibial band -- or IT band, it's the wide piece of tendon that runs down the outside of your thigh and attaches to the front of your knee.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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