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WEIGHT-LOSS: Working with the right trainer and dietitian can be the key to a breakthrough

March 27, 2011 

The first breakthrough came on the scale, and the second came on a treadmill spinning so fast I half expected to be shot across the gym.

After a week of working out and a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, I thought I’d make major progress toward my goal of losing 10 pounds in eight weeks. But when I stepped on the scale at Fircrest’s Innovative Fitness, it responded with four discouraging numbers: 176.2. I’d dropped exactly 6.4 ounces.

“Are you cheating on your eating?” asked Chuck Carone, a trainer who’d just pummeled me for an hour.

“No,” I answered. I believed it, but I could tell by the look in Carone’s eyes that he didn’t.

So, that night I looked over my food journal and found the problem. I hadn’t accounted for my post-workout snacks – as much as 300 calories per day. I made the simple adjustment. Then, after the gym’s owner, Jesse Ewell, analyzed my treadmill work, I cranked up my cardio intensity. A week later, I was down 2 pounds and well on my way to reaching my goal.

Sometimes, hard work alone isn’t enough to reach fitness goals. The guidance of a trainer or registered dietitian might be the key to breaking through.

“The number one reason people hire a trainer is that they’ve tried it on their own and it didn’t work,” Ewell said. “They need the motivation and they need the accountability.”

And for people like Rebecca Wyman, a 42-year-old Gig Harbor resident, it’s also about education.

“I would have hurt myself if I tried this on my own,” said Wyman, who is training for her first fitness competition. “You need the knowledge that the trainers have to have the correct form and to know when to stop and how far to push.”

While you might think hiring a trainer or a dietitian is a luxury for professional athletes, trainers say their services can benefit anybody.

“A lot of people think they’re just getting a workout when they hire a trainer,” Ewell said. “But if they hire a good one, they’re getting more.”

Trainers can teach you how to work out when you are hurt, show you the right way to exercise so you don’t waste time, and creatively construct workouts to keep you from getting bored.

Training sessions typically range from $25 for group classes to $50 for personalized instruction. An assessment and initial workout are typically free. While Ewell says most of his clients train with him twice a week, other trainers say they sometimes have clients who visit only every month or two.

“Think of it like visiting a massage therapist,” said David Ross of Olympia’s Strong Center. “It’s not necessarily something everybody can afford to do all the time. But if you can do it every once in a while, it is really good for you.”

PUSHING HARD

I like to think I push myself pretty hard when I exercise, but Ewell and Carone showed me otherwise.

After going through two 10-minute circuits of squats, bicep curls, kettle bell swings, core training and other activities recently, I was convinced I was done. But as I bent over, hands on my knees, sweat dripping on the carpet, Ewell asked: “Ready for the finisher?”

What was I supposed to say? I cranked out a 90-second burst of pushups, jumping knee tucks and pushing a weighted sled across the room before collapsing to the floor.

“That was a test,” Ewell said with a smile, indicating that he had been joking about doing the finisher. “An athlete would answer yes.”

“Nobody pushes themselves as hard as somebody else can,” Ewell said. “Even when I work out, I’ll have Chuck there to push me.”

Wyman loves being pushed to new limits too, but she also loves the creativity that goes into her workouts.

One moment she might be whipping the ground with a large rope and the next she might be crawling across the floor like Spider-man.

“I call Jesse ‘The Doctor’ because he’s kind of a genius,” Wyman said. “I think he lays awake at night thinking up this stuff.”

Innovative Fitness has about 400 clients ranging from teenagers to people in their 70s. Ewell says he writes out workout programs for each person based on their fitness level and goals.

PASSIONATE TRAINING

For Ewell, 33, training is more than a job.

“That guy breathes and lives for this,” said Ewell’s wife, Katie.

At home, Ewell even teaches his 3-year-old son how to do the “dynamic warmup” that he uses with all his clients.

“A lot of trainers just want to sell you training,” Ewell said. “Are they a salesman or are they passionate?”

Ewell said finding a passionate trainer is key to getting results.

“With some trainers, all you get is a workout,” Ewell said. “Sometimes they don’t even remember your goals. We want to develop a relationship with the person so that their goal is just as important to us as it is to them.”

One of the ways Ewell and his staff do this is through foam rolling. Twice during most workouts, the exercising stops and the trainer uses a large foam cylinder and a device that looks like a rolling pin to give the client what’s essentially a deep tissue massage.

While this relaxes the muscles and allows the client to recover before another round of exercise, it also gives the trainer and client time to talk about everything from technique to goals to how their kids are doing.

Trainers also should be certified by an organization like the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

They should also mesh with your personality, said Ross, who helps instruct prospective trainers from South Puget Sound Community College. “It doesn’t matter how many diplomas they have on their wall, if you don’t have a connection with them, it’s going to be like putting a square peg in a round hole.”

And just as importantly, check to make sure the trainer passes the eyeball test.

Not a problem for Carone and Ewell. Carone is 57 and has arms like an action figure; Ewell, a former college linebacker, looks as if he could bench press the Tacoma Dome.

“It’s probably not a good sign if a trainer isn’t fit,” Ewell said. “If you have all this knowledge, why have you not applied it to yourself first? If you can’t apply it to yourself, you are not going to be able to apply it to somebody else.”

IMPORTANCE OF DIET

Innovative Fitness is one of the few training facilities that has a registered dietitian on staff.

Ewell said Lisa Lovejoy’s presence is important because “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”

Lovejoy helps clients by analyzing their eating habits, developing meal plans and syncing them with their workout programs. She teaches them how to read food labels and she offers plenty of meal recommendations.

She sums up her philosophy with a quote from Michael Pollan’s 2008 book “In Defense of Food:” “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

When Lovejoy looked at my diet, she said it was solid but lacked variety and contained fat-free cheese that is more chemicals than cheese.

She offered me six pages of recommendations for adding variety to my diet.

My favorite: Drink chocolate milk after workouts. “It’s great for recovering,” she said.

Claire Kjeld, a MultiCare dietitian, said the services of a registered dietitian are important, especially for those trying to lose large amounts of weight.

Not all dietitians are created equal. Most have an area of expertise. Lovejoy’s is performance nutrition.

“It’s kind of like looking for a doctor,” Lovejoy said. “You want to find one that specializes in what you need. And you should find one whose personality meshes with yours.”

The best place to find a dietitian, Kjeld and Lovejoy say, is eatright.org, the website for the American Dietetic Association. Lovejoy said it is common for dietitians to offer a free consultation.

Lovejoy warns to be skeptical of those who call themselves nutritionists. While some have good advice to give, Lovejoy said, “a registered dietitian is more qualified.”

“Anybody can call themselves a nutritionist,” said Lovejoy, who has degrees from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia. Registered dietitians have a college degree, must pass a national exam and must meet requirements to maintain their certification.

A finely tuned diet and a good workout program will take much of the mystery out of your pursuit for fitness goals. And while dropping a bunch of weight or ratcheting up your fitness to the next level might be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be.

“If you have the right help,” Ewell said. “It’s not as hard as you think.”

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs on Sundays in The News Tribune and The Olympian. Please submit questions and comments via craig.hill@thenewstribune.com, facebook.com/adventureguys or twitter.com/adventureguys. Get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness.

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