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Using Visualization, Myofascial Release, With Clients

When Tanya Colucci, MS, trains clients, she pulls from many different resources to offer the best results possible. Owner of Tanya Colucci Myofascial Release Therapy in Bluffton, South Carolina, Colucci believes in an integrative mind-body approach, which appears to resonate with many people.

Case in point: client Aileen Worthington, age 71, who has osteoporosis. “My husband and I have had twice-weekly partner training sessions with Tanya for a year and a half,” Worthington shares. “Yes, we could go to a gym, but would we know what to do? Tanya moves us forward without injury. Sometimes she includes a bit of yoga, Pilates or meditation. Recently we have each availed ourselves of Tanya’s skill at myofascial release, a great complement to hard workouts.”

Mind-body personal training is not new, but demand for programming that includes mind-body practices and holistic approaches seems to be increasing. This trend reflects the growth of integrative medicine and comes from consumer demand, marketing, and emerging evidence that the benefits of complementary health approaches are real or meaningful (NCCIH 2015). Is the personal trainer’s role changing, or is this more holistic approach simply another niche training style?

Today’s Clients Need More Than Fitness Solutions

“The trend of integrating other mind-body disciplines or providing a more holistic coaching approach to personal training is here to stay,” says San Diego-based Fabio Comana, MA, MS, faculty instructor at San Diego State University, the University of California, San Diego, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Historically, personal training has been very physical and ÔÇÿdirective’ in its orientation. For example, trainers identify issues, [create] programs and then tell clients what to do. Today, influences are coming from integrative medicine. We’re not only addressing physical issues; we’re also looking at cognitive and emotional aspects and how to help people change behaviors. In the future, trainers will need to be coaches, and coaching is a mind-body approach.”

An Integrative Training Model

No uniform definition of mind-body personal training exists. Experts, however, agree that the following aspects represent some of the more significant characteristics that differentiate a mind-body or integrative approach from a physical fitness model.

Train the whole person. For example, mind-body training doesn’t focus only on reducing body fat or increasing strength; it centers on bringing different aspects of clients’ overall health—physical, mental and emotional—into better balance.

Improve the mind-body connection. Instead of just teaching exercise mechanics, trainers help clients to connect with their bodies and to feel and identify physical sensations and mental chatter.

Teach relaxation and recovery. Trainers help clients understand the relationship between well-being and the autonomic nervous system; and they give clients tools to cultivate the parasympathetic side—the “rest and digest” system—as balance.

Identify intrinsic motivation. Trainers go beyond physical goals, digging deeper into the relationship with clients to identify how they imagine their lives will be qualitatively better as a result of training. Then they use each client’s vision or dream as a motivational tool.

Integrative Techniques

Experts agree that personal trainers can pull from a spectrum of techniques that stem from traditional Eastern holistic medical arts (yoga, tai chi and qigong), martial arts, behavioral medicine and positive psychology. Some options include the following:

Breath awareness. Training clients in breath awareness is an important first step, according to the experts interviewed. “The first thing I have people focus on is going slowly. We slow down and deepen the breath,” says Ryan Crandall, physical therapist assistant at Peak Motion Physical Therapy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Meditation. Many practitioners teach clients to use meditation, which encompasses a broad variety of practices. “I incorporate meditation into my sessions to help clients gain body awareness and control over their own minds,” says Stuart Posternak, owner of MindBody Personal Training, offered at Optimal Self Community Health and Wellness Center in Portland, Maine.

Visualization. When clients visualize, they use their imagination to see specific behaviors or events in the mind; elite athletes use this technique.

Affirmations. Some trainers interview their clients to identify a particularly meaningful affirmation for them, and then encourage clients to use this phrase both during training and as homework to create a more positive outlook.

Slow movement. Both Colucci and Crandall emphasize slow movement. For example, when working with weights, Colucci recommends using a 4/2/1-2/2/2 tempo.

Myofascial release. The practice of addressing restrictions in the myofascial system is receiving a lot of attention in the fitness industry. Mind-body or holistic practitioners like Colucci treat the client’s whole body and mind when working with fascia.

Deep relaxation. Experienced mind-body personal trainers universally agree that sessions should conclude with some form of relaxation—progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation or silence (seated meditation or lying in corpse pose, or savasana).

For more information, please see “Mind-Body Personal Training” in the online IDEA Library or in the July/August 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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