From February 16th - 19th I attended IDEA’s Personal Trainer Institute ("the longest running personal training educational event") in Alexandria, VA (near DC), which completely exceeded my expectations for intelligent education within the fitness field. Bracing for cheesy fads and gimmicks as a first-time attendee, I was pleased to see that detailed program design concepts and biomechanically-informed content trumped superficial product placements.
Below are my impressions from the classes I took, ordered from the least to the most impact they had on me. These views are my own and, due to the impressive number of workshops offered, it is possible - and likely - that other attendees felt completely different about their experience.
The classes I took ranged from workouts with Kettlebells and high-intensity metabolic/rest-based training to lectures on spinal rotation, core mobility/stability, nutrition, and more. On the whole they employed a variety of tools and toys and managed to keep the educational focus broad, with multiple perspectives and approaches. This allowed participants to synthesize the offerings and make the most of their abilities as problem-solvers, health professionals, and thinkers about the body.
Mark Lebert's "Epic Sets: The Workout" was a circuit of full-body exercises using his own apparatus. While the workout was well-organized, I can’t say that I left feeling like I had received anything beyond a strong workout from a good leader. Don’t get me wrong - the props were great and useful and Mark knows what he’s talking about; I simply wanted more depth and, short of buying his product, I don’t know that I’d apply what we did in his class to my own clients.
I had more fun in Todd Durkin’s I.M.P.A.C.T. Challenge than I thought I would. Despite some salesmanship and self-help-shelf motivation, he hit all the requisite notes on injury prevention and adjusting programming to meet clients needs, then proceeded to have us kick our own butts with a timed circuit. The fun and motivation in the room was palpable, and I can see why Todd has the following that he does.
Jade Teta's "Metabolic Effect Workout" was a no-holds barred rest-based training workout that was intelligently designed from both a physical and psychological perspective. The psychology behind rest-based training as presented by Jade was fascinating (when was the last time your trainer barked at you to rest - rather than work?!) and I was left spent and exhilarated by the end). A completely different effect was left by Peter Twists' "Muscle Synergy" class, which employed a precisely determined series of exercises designed to build the body from the ground-up. His class offered an impressive synthesis of athletic training for any level client, and inspired me to think more three-dimensionally about both movement and physical challenges.
My first session of the Institute was notable for the best opening line of any session: “Hi, my name is Steve and I’m going to kill you.” Steve Cotter got instant laughter from a ballroom full of sleepy trainers and led a three-hour session ("High-Level Athleticism with Kettlebell Sport") that was thorough and packed with information on movement patterns, corrective exercises, and a focused approach to hard work. It also, unintentionally, offered a glimpse of how poorly personal trainers move! Looking around the room I saw a lot of bodies unable to engage intrinsic firing patterns, despite the clear cueing from Steve; a warning shot and a reminder to practice what I preach.
Michol Dalcourt's "Warding Patterns - Essential Training for Clients/Athletes" was an under-attended but well-received workshop. The impact and application of his well-thought out series of core exercises were some of the most simple yet useful of the weekend– and I started applying them with clients right away upon my return to NYC (though with a Pilates twist – exemplifying how applicable the principles were – all it took was a train ride back to NY for me to meld his methods with my tools). Similarly handy were the endless iterations of three dimensional core/spinal series in "3-D Core Conversion" that Doug Gray of the Gray Institute taught in a cheery, informative session. Doug married experiential and conceptual information seamlessly and I left his session feeling engaged both physically and mentally.
I was most inspired by Dan Hellman, MPT, of the CHEK Institute ("Rotational Training for Performance" and "Flatten Your Abs Forever") for his clear passion, deep enthusiasm, and what can only be described as a relentless curiosity about his topics of interest. Pulling from a deep bag of tricks, he used techniques culled from Feldenkrais, Physical Therapy, strength-training and more, to view the body as a holistic, complete entity whose movement training should reflect the same. I couldn’t scribble fast enough to keep up with Dan’s knowledge in either workshop and walked away seriously impressed.
My only disappointments at the Institute were in the lack of food breaks (no lunchtime left us scrambling for mediocre hotel snacks after some crazy intense workouts – the irony of attending a nutrition class but not being able to eat still irks), and not being able to connect more with my peers (where were the other tri-state folks?!). There wasn’t much offered in the way of networking (aka “community-building” to my dance and pilates crowds!) which I had hoped would have instilled a feeling I was part of something larger than my own educational aims. That said, I met a bunch of great people from both coasts, and will definitely go back (next time I will drag some of my New York cronies with me). I was also glad to run into friends and Pilates peeps Nora St. John, Ken Edelman and Al Harrison, and excited at the statement their presence made, along with other sponsors such as TRX, CHEK Institute, Gray Institute, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, NASM, ACE et al.
Of note: Underarmour and Lululemon Athletica have officially taken over all trainer’s wardrobes…any other apparel companies will have to slay these dragons if they hope for any market share in the next couple years.
It also struck me that most trainers at the Institute seemed pretty young, making me wonder just what happens to middle-aged trainers? The question urges some reflecting on the sustainability of our work (do trainers burn out due to the crazy schedule demands? Do they search for more money or less demanding jobs?). Food for thought for next time...