Bridging the Gap
By designing programs with obtainable goals and slow progression, fitness professionals can offer clients struggling with overweight and obesity a path to sustainable success, says Jinger S. Gottschall, PhD.
Jinger S. Gottschall, PhD, earned her doctoral degree in integrative physiology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and furthered her academic career as a postdoctoral fellow in neurophysiology at the Emory University School of Medicine. She is currently an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, with a research focus on the effectiveness of various exercise regimes. Gottschall is a passionate advocate for physical activity and has dedicated her career to finding programs that promote balanced, healthy lifestyle choices while delivering the results they promise. She is also the co-owner and founder of FITOLOGY, a Les Mills™ group fitness and cycling studio in State College, Pennsylvania, and consults for Les Mills™ International.
ACE: What are some specific ways that excess weight and obesity can impact the way clients move, and what are some of the long-term effects of those movements on mobility, etc.?
Jinger Gottschall: Everyone can relate to the feeling of additional exertion when carrying a heavy backpack. Your cardiovascular system must work harder to move the extra pounds, which also challenge your musculoskeletal system.
Individuals affected by overweight or obesity battle this on a daily basis. Extra pounds cause a chain reaction of moving less and gaining more until the typical activities of daily life are near impossible.
When this occurs, there are countless barriers to beginning an exercise program, as the process is stressful, painful and defeating. Because of the physical barriers to movement, psychologically people don’t want to do it. In the end, excess weight and obesity can cause a decrease in confidence and motivation, potentially leading to depression.
ACE: How does it help for health and fitness professionals to understand those types of issues when it comes to guiding clients affected by overweight and obesity?
Jinger Gottschall: It is critical for health and fitness professionals to understand the challenges that clients affected by overweight or obesity encounter when completing tasks that appear simple. Training this population requires patience and empathy. First, always prescribe exercises that will make a client feel successful from the start. Develop a program with obtainable goals and slow progression with respect to frequency, duration and intensity. As a general rule, avoid increasing duration or frequency by more than 10% between successive workouts. At first glance, this strategy may seem conservative, but it reduces injury risk and improves the chances of clients feeling positive.
Second, ask about the goals that motivated your clients to seek your help, and try to design programs that will help them with these specific goals.
ACE: What do you feel is one of the great mistakes health and fitness professionals make when it comes to working with clients affected by overweight or obesity?
Jinger Gottschall: As health and fitness professionals we can easily make the mistake of portraying the process of losing weight as simple. Just eat less and move more! But, for the majority of individuals, these lifestyle changes are incredibly intimidating. People feel paralyzed by all the suggestions of what they must do and what they absolutely cannot do. Try to keep the plan of action simple at the start. Focus on a single lifestyle change at a time, either nutrition or physical activity.
ACE: What type of education, if any, do you believe would help health and fitness professionals learn to better serve clients affected by overweight and obesity?
Jinger Gottschall: Education—from both academic and practical, hands-on sources—is absolutely required to be an effective health and fitness professional. It is imperative that we continually learn about the multiple factors associated with gaining weight as well as the consequences of remaining at an unhealthy weight. Stay current about the physical and mental challenges associated with overweight or obesity by reading reliable news or journal articles. In addition, communicate with your peers and clients about approaches that have worked for them.
ACE: As a club owner, do you believe educating staff members on behavior change principles is essential when it comes to guiding clients to sustainable, healthy change?
Jinger Gottschall: Yes! Open communication with staff members is extremely important for maximizing behavior change in our members. It is valuable to be aware of how each client is motivated to modify his or her current habits. It is valuable for both the mentor and the client to be aware of the why. Why do you want to lose weight? Why should you perform this exercise with this technique? Why should you try to eat natural foods? Together, knowing the why, the professional and the client will have a better chance of creating change.