With New Year resolutions around the corner Foundry Director Dave Thomas looks at the preoccupation with constantly improving our physical shape and discusses whether this can be detrimental. We also share a wonderful client success story
The Rise of the Body Composition Expert
The current fixation in the personal training industry is with 'body composition' and it's not hard to see why. Our quick fix culture wants immediate results, we are bombarded with carbon copy physiques in the media and as trainers we know before and after pictures are the shop window to our business. We are also an industry populated with bodybuilders and fitness models. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these groups as it takes unbelievable commitment and work to compete in these activities, however it also takes an obsessive preoccupation with the physical aesthetic. Very few clients will ever have the potential or opportunity to show this level of commitment.
At The Foundry we are sportpeople first and foremost. As such we often find our core values differ to others in the industry. Take a quick look at our testimonials and you'll see international sports people, Olympic gold medallists, world champions and leading fitness professionals and coaches. You won't see many celebrities or models. A cursory glance at social media will tell you this is an industry which spends half its time criticising other trainers' physiques, whose members have topless profile pictures on their business profiles and which, worst of all, actively belittles the very people it's supposed to help, all in the name of ego. If we treat our potential clients like this is it any wonder society is so dismissive of anyone who doesn't confirm to a physical ideal? We then top this off as a collective by creating completely unrealistic expectations through the use of performance enhancing drugs and photo-shopped pictures.
The Foundry Philosophy
As I have said before, “Size is not a component of fitness”. Our job is not to judge our clients' goals but it is also not a trainer's job to project their/society's physical ideals upon clients. We can help people change their shape to feel better about themselves, benefit their health, play with their children, improve their sporting performance and (I say this with no hyperbole) extend their life. But we should also recognise that being slightly overweight or unable to put on significant muscle mass is not prohibitive to these goals. In fact several studies have demonstrated that carrying some padding as we age is correlated with longer life and better health. I know I would much rather my clients were fitter and fatter than thin and unfit.
Take a look at our transformation pages and you'll see we have many clients who have achieved quick and dramatic results. We don't populate our website with these pictures (we have 100s we haven't published yet) because they do not always explain the context. They are a strong visual sales tool which inevitably elicits an emotive response, however it's not always realistic or ethical to recommend that this is what every client should aspire to. (We've often had to refer people to our affiliate psychologists before commencing training as it would be unethical to ignore the underlying reasons for wanting to change their body shape.) This is why we try to include such transformations as blog posts or with a write up explaining our clients' motivations, whether just wanting to look good on the beach or training for a wedding, a photo shoot, an approaching sports event, rehabbing an injury or suffering from a serious illness. Our role as a coach very rarely finishes once these photos have been published.
Which is the perfect link to showcase the 2012 Foundry transformation of which I am most proud. I was very cautious about not exploiting this story to shout about our company but I felt it was a very powerful example with which to make a much wider point.
A Remarkable Story
Meet John. 4 years ago he was a young sporty individual with whom I had played rugby for many years. John was such a good athlete that in 2009 he ran the infamous 150 mile Marathon de Sables through the Sahara desert. In doing so John raised several thousand pounds for charity but also nearly became one of its victims. After completing the race he suddenly fell very sick with Guillain–Barré syndrome. This is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells. John ended up paralysed in ICU.
The first thing to highlight is the amazing treatment he received from the often maligned medical profession, in particular at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. I visited John and despite being his usual chipper self it was clearly a traumatic and difficult experience. He eventually made steady progress and with the support of his neurological physiotherapist and his family and friends he moved first to using a wheelchair, then crutches and finally ankle supports.
This is where we come in. I was very impressed with the tremendous progress he had made but at this point John was feeling a little down about hitting a plateau. He has permanent nerve damage in his lower legs which means he cannot dorsiflex his feet (lift them towards his shins). This means he is unlikely to ever be able to participate in many of the sports he used to. It would have been very easy to give up and settle at this stage but after lunch one day we made a plan to take his training to the next level...from rehabilitation to performance.
John initially started working with the brilliant team downstairs at The Foundry: Victory Health & Performance. Here he had regular sessions with rehab director Nell Mead and the sports therapy team who are absolutely essential to our clients' success and are amongst the most principled therapists I know.
It's always interesting deciding who clients should train with, however I realised Fiona Pocock, our resident England rugby international, not only had the patient personality for the job but also the requisite personal experience after rehabilitating herself from a career threatening 20 month injury.
Like many clients John also wanted to drop some weight, particularly as he'd been in great shape before his illness. Initially however there was the job of relearning individual muscle contractions so we all agreed body shape would not be a main goal. When I saw John's first workout with Fiona in May, the primary work sets were gentle one leg knee bends using a squat rack for support. From there to now has been nothing short of astonishing.
With careful guidance and reassurance from Fee and Nell, John has not only made remarkable performance gains but also dropped several kilos of body fat. This incredible story conveniently saw him deadlifting over 50kg for reps in November, just before I decided to write this article. 3 years ago he was paralysed. I have been humbled by the hard work Fiona and Nell put in with John, the brilliant medical team who helped him initially and also his excellent commitment to continually refusing to accept his circumstances.
So how does this fit in with your New Year resolutions?
If you want to look like a fitness model in 12 weeks we can help you, as can the majority of excellent personal trainers out there, because despite what the industry tries to convince you with hormonal based supplement plans, renaming age-old workouts and pseudo-science aplenty, the truth is that the key to getting the kind of impressive transformations which training websites have is mostly down to choosing the right client: one who is prepared to follow some form of strict nutritional intervention and a challenging training regime and who can manage this commitment around their current lifestyle and circumstances. Not everyone can do this at every point of their lives and this is a reality which should be embraced.
However if you also want to achieve something truly remarkable, be it patiently spending a year gaining the flexibility to squat, (another article coming soon) running up the stairs without being out of breath, or deadlifting 50kg 6 months after you couldn't bend your knees, and still drop a few lbs then please give us a call.