If you’ve ever viewed the city grid from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, you can understand how the perspective from up yonder parallels well with the landscape of the personal training industry. It’s vast; it’s constantly moving; there’s a central core; and it appears to be easy to get lost if you don’t know your way around.

Personal training has spread its arms wide and built its own Gotham City. Specialty areas such as mind-body, sports conditioning, postrehab, and stability, balance and core training are like New York’s boroughs and neighborhoods. There is much to be learned before venturing inside the borders of each, and once inside, you need to move fast and intelligently to maintain your “street smarts.” The programming at the 2004 IDEA Personal Trainer Summit (October 7–10) in New York City nimbly guided more than 900 personal fitness trainers (PFTs), assistants, and others interested in this burgeoning field to challenge their knowledge cores and maintain an edge in the specialty areas they’ve chosen. More than 80 classes, with as many as 20 hours of continuing education credits available, presented ample opportunity for PFTs to amass information on exercise research and practical, ready-to-use ideas from some of the industry’s most glittering standouts.

Gathering Knowledge and Inspiration

Lisa Pretorius, director of Body Excel Personal Fitness Trainers, a business she runs with a partner in Cape Town, South Africa, logged thousands of miles to attend the fitness event and ensure that she was keeping her education base current. As director of a large PFT staff, she feels it’s of utmost importance to return home inspired and ready to share fresh enthusiasm and innovation with her employees. “The fitness industry in South Africa often seems to be really cut off from the rest of the world,” Pretorious explained. “There are very few worthwhile educational workshops, lectures or conferences there pertaining to personal training. I feel it’s important to keep up with new ideas, literature, equipment and other general happenings in the fitness world. Together with my business partner, we lead a team of 20 young, energetic personal trainers who need motivation and stimulation to give the best to their clients. It is great to pass on new knowledge and ideas and watch the team grow into great PFTs. Also, from a business perspective, it is important to attend and meet other individuals who are actively involved in developing the industry.”

Indeed, the industry is developing rapidly. With grim obesity statistics ratcheting up the pace and intensity of what trainers do, PFTs have a mandate, not only to keep up with research, program design, exercise techniques and product knowledge, but also to grow their businesses. Yet how can you do it all and do it well? Continually adding to your knowledge and skills seems to be the key.

Keynote speaker Tom Purvis, RPT, backed up this notion with his conference-opening remarks. In the general session, “My Guru Can Beat Up Your Guru,” he challenged delegates to examine different schools of thought and not just jump on the bandwagon of one “guru” to the exclusion of others. Quoting inspirational speaker and author Wayne Dyer, among others, Purvis urged trainers to “have a mind that’s open to everything and attached to nothing.” This is so hard to do, he told the audience. “Be an active learner. Take the stuff you like out of a lecture, and leave the stuff you don’t like in the room. Ultimately, it’s what happens inside of you that makes the difference.”

Programming Highlights

Education that made a difference for attendees included an array of preconference offerings, lectures/demonstrations and fully practical workshops. The following categories were highly popular and engendered lively participation and ongoing discussion among attendees. However, this is just a small sampling of the rich, stimulating education that was offered.

Mind-Body Training. Pilates, yoga and creative fusion concepts continue to insinuate themselves gently but firmly onto the “must-have” list of the PFT skill set. With their applications for core work, balance, flexibility, stress reduction, postrehab, injury prevention and strength building—and as “softer” nontraditional exercise for sedentary persons—it’s understandable that these modalities are on the rise.

Linda A. Ciotola, MEd, a veteran trainer and longtime IDEA member from Grasonville, Maryland, believes yoga and Pilates are emerging as the new mainstays. “I see the industry headed into more mind-body integration and more mind-body ‘blends’ and innovations, both in group fitness and personal training,” she said. “I hope to see more innovative outreach to include the ‘health at any size’ philosophy and also more programs directed at children and teens. I loved the yoga sessions with Robert Sherman (‘In Search of Yoga: How It Will Change the Way You Look at Movement’ and ‘The Gift of Yoga for Personal Trainers: Effortless Hip, Shoulder and Trunk Stability’). I also got great ideas for using a stability ball with Pilates and adapting it to seniors and to those new to Pilates and ball. I used it right away at my gym, and it was a big hit!”

Leigh Crews, a personal trainer and Summit presenter, agreed with Ciotola’s assessment of mind-body as a serious growth area for PFTs, adding that breathing techniques for stress management are central to these specialties. “Things are moving in this direction for several reasons,” she said. “First, people want to see their efforts with their trainer transfer outside of the gym and into the activities they like to do for sport or recreation. Second, many people are not comfortable in yoga class due to previous injuries or muscle imbalances, which make them unsure of the correct modifications of poses or exercises. They seek a trainer to teach them how to adapt yoga or Pilates to their individual needs for maximum benefit. Third, we live in a stressful world, and people are beginning to understand the long-term value of being able to deal with stress in a way that will have a positive impact on their health. Meditation and breath work are useful but difficult to learn by yourself. A trainer can make a big difference in your success.”

John Garey, MA, led two STOTT Pilates preconference sessions that focused on reformer techniques and Matwork for golf and racquet sports, and also taught STOTT Pilates courses on core balance and foam roller work.

Core, Stability & Balance Training. Among many standout presentations on these topics was an especially timely one for trainers to use with Baby Boomers’ and seniors’ program design. Michael E. Rogers, PhD, from the Center for Physical Activity and Aging in the department of kinesiology & sport studies at Wichita State University, taught “Balance and Strength Strategies for Older Adults.” Many studies have shown that strength can be improved in older adults by using different types of resistance training, he explained. “But resistance training alone has had only a modest effect on improving balance, even though strength and balance are related. This is likely because the ability to maintain balance involves a complex set of processes that require the successful integration of multiple components, including several sensory systems not typically affected by resistance training.”

Referring to the principle of exercise specificity and multidimensional aspects of balance, Rogers taught that training programs should target the systems involved in balance control, particularly the muscular, visual, vestibular and somatosensory systems. He pointed out that one challenge in developing such programs is identifying safe and effective exercises that target these multiple systems. He provided many examples of exercises he has developed using these concepts.

Sports Conditioning. Along with “Functional Fitness for Golf & Racquet Sports” (the STOTT Pilates precons), highlight sessions included those by Peter Twist, MSc, coach, educator, author and president of Twist Conditioning Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia. Twist taught a preconference session, “Sport Strength—The Linked System,” as well as courses on “BRAKES Training” (balance, reaction skills, agility, quickness and explosive speed), “Dynamic Warm-Ups: Neuromuscular Activation” and “BOSU® Ball Sports Conditioning” (with Douglas Brooks, MS).

Sports conditioning/training is another notable growth area in personal training and fitness, and it’s become apparent that this realm is not just for elite athletes anymore. More intense techniques and drills from the coaching world seem to be gaining footing as standard program design that regular Janes and Joes seek from their fitness training.

Twist attributes this change to a shift in clients’ goals from merely wanting to look good to a desire to move well, participate in activities the clients enjoy and simply live with a strong physical quality of life. “The end result plus the style of training generates enthusiasm from clients,” he said. “Personal trainers enjoy the process, as it is a more interesting toolbox. It also provides PFTs with a point of difference in their abilities. Plus, many trainers enjoy working with clients who can handle a lot of challenge from their professional toolbox, versus clients with lesser abilities, so many PFTs are motivated to position themselves to work with athletes.”

With this training realm ripe with possibility, there is much to learn and the road is challenging, yet exciting. “Trainers are trying to wrap their heads around new and emerging training styles; to create better real-life results for their clients; to position themselves to tackle new markets (e.g., athletes, young kids); and, at the end of the day, to define how they will implement new training styles and new exercises into a periodized workout schedule,” Twist observed. “They are definitely receptive, not just to learning a new exercise, but also to exploring the plethora of variables that can be manipulated and coached within that one exercise and will determine what kind of results are accrued. They also appreciate knowing how to use these variables to regress and progress exercises at a safe and effective rate.”

Innovation. As part of IDEA’s new “Club Without Walls” track, attendees had the opportunity to leave conventional program design behind in three new course offerings: “The Ultimate Run,” “Adventure Racing—New Ways to Challenge Your Clients” and “Walking Clinic for Personal Trainers.” With Central Park as a stage and the Midtown skyline as a backdrop, PFTs soaked up summerlike warmth as Marcelo R. Aller and Maria Santoro helped them work up a sweat through drills emphasizing dynamic warm-up and stretching, running mechanics (linear and lateral motion) and power development; Aller and Santoro also led a discussion on biomechanics and injury prevention.

Crews, who with Robert Sherman taught the adventure racing session, said delegates showed up “with a spirit of adventure, obviously ready for a new concept.” Participants seemed very intrigued and excited by this, and saw the potential of being able to offer their clients something completely out of the box, she said. “We stressed that the adventure race concept could be used not only as a training technique but also as a team-building event, a charity function to garner public relations or even a revenue generator. I think trainers are looking for things that can differentiate them from the competition,” she said. “If you had a choice between a trainer who trains exclusively in the gym on traditional equipment and one that could take you outdoors, do fun stuff and train strength, endurance, coordination and problem solving at the same time, which one would you choose?”

Crews and Sherman covered a lot of ground in the course, explaining how a global positioning system works, how to create a training program and how to adapt an adventure race to special populations.

Business, Career & Coaching Skills. Often overlooked as part of the PFT skill set, these crucial competencies can be the make-or-break point of a career. Several interactive courses generated lively discussion on drawing the line with clients; skillful questioning and listening; aligning clients’ goals and values; creating powerful wellness visions for clients; starting a mentoring program; building a successful in-home PFT business; compensating trainers; and forging successful relationships with the medical community.

Training Techniques, Function & Product Knowledge. In-home personal trainer and fitness author Janet Weller, RN, counted among her favorites two sessions taught by Annette Lang, MS: “Tools and Toys: New Ways to Use Them” and “Use Rotation to Turn Your Training Around.” “Both classes had tips that I literally used with my clients Monday morning after the conference,” she said.

Weller noted that functional exercise continues to mature and unfold. “I am happy to say that presenters and attendees are truly taking these concepts away from trendy tools and gadgets (though we still love these things) and applying them individually to clients to make a real difference in how they live their lives.”

Ironically, perhaps pure function is why product knowledge and experimentation are such essential elements to being a successful trainer. “Product knowledge is important if products allow for additional drills, help define drills, increase your toolbox of exercises, and inspire and interest clients,” says Twist, who served for 11 years as conditioning coach and exercise physiologist for the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks. “Just as a health club makes purchasing decisions to stock a weight room floor, personal trainers need to make educated decisions on what inventory of products they would like at their disposal to help generate effective results for their clients. When I was a young coach early in my career, with few clients and no facility, I loved checking out trade shows, seeing what new products were available and learning what time-tested traditional equipment was still popular. I got product knowledge from vendors and made decisions on what made sense for me based on my current training philosophies.”

Twist also pointed out that the prevalence of new products may be obvious indicators of new or emerging trends. “Whether I adopt that trend or not is up to me,” he says. “However, I would want to consider it and get educated not only on the products but also on the training parameters they contend to support. Certainly, my knowledge and coaching skills are part of my expertise and define my training process; however, the products are tools that allow me to fulfill my craft. Trainers should be more on top of product knowledge. They need to mature and start to look at the whole picture, because it allows them to take control of the whole picture for their clients.”

IDEA Health & Fitness Expo

If sessions didn’t convince PFTs that knowledge of fitness products and services can make a big difference in giving clients variety and challenge, the displays in the convention hall helped drive that message home. Forty-eight exhibitors brought truckloads of machines, gadgets, programs and services to show delegates new concepts for running their businesses and for training clients. The expo proved to be an all-purpose fitness store for large and small equipment pieces, music, and business management ideas.

A special thanks to IDEA’s senior partners STOTT Pilates and Nautilus Health & Fitness Group® for their support in putting on this fitness event.