Working out was important to me throughout high school. Long before the age of cellphones and instantaneous information, if you wanted to find me, the gym would have been a good place to start looking.
Living in a small northern town in the '90s, my exposure to different fitness options was limited. My choices were either the quintessential school gym -- 1,500 square feet of 10-year-old machines that was open for two hours after school -- or the gym in the local pool where the humidity was 100 per cent and the machines were old and rusted.
And no matter where you went, no one actually knew what they were doing.
At 18, I left home for university, thinking that personal trainers existed only in Hollywood and that all gyms resembled the Norplex pool. Imagine my surprise when I first experienced the bounty of fitness choices that Winnipeg had to offer.
Nowadays, even small towns have many options, and choice is important because everybody is in search of a different fitness experience. Whether you're looking for a facility, a training program to follow or a personal/group trainer, there are several questions you may want to ask yourself and the candidate in question.
What are your credentials?
UNFORTUNATELY, the fitness world is poorly regulated and overnight/online certifications have made it simpler than ever for people to call themselves trainers and start a boot camp in the park.
Beware these programs. Being fit does not make someone a fitness expert, nor does working out give them the foundation of knowledge required to safely and properly train someone else. There are enough fit, educated, enthusiastic trainers out there that you shouldn't have to settle.
If your potential trainer lacks a university degree and does not have certification through CSEP (either Certified Personal Trainer or Certified Exercise Physiologist), that should be a deal-breaker. End of discussion.
The other side of this pop-up program argument is insurance. Be sure to ask if the facility or trainer has the appropriate professional liability insurance in place -- suffice to say if they don't, the risk of you getting hurt in that situation is probably even higher.
How are you going to assess/test me?
YOUR facility/trainer should take your progress and safety seriously. They should have proper screening procedures in place to ensure you're performing exercises appropriate for you and your abilities.
Many people don't realize that poorly designed programs and inappropriate exercises can cause harm. We will touch on this more in another month's column.
Another important aspect of a gym or program is assessment, meaning there should be some sort of baseline testing to determine your current fitness level, and opportunities provided to re-test for demonstrated improvement -- positive reinforcement for all that hard work.
Who is going to be training me?
MANY fitness facilities are founded by a talented exercise professionals, but as they grow in size, the owner may cut costs and employ trainers with less than adequate qualifications. Many people go to a gym thinking that they are going to train with the "guru" who works there, but find themselves with someone else; often someone less knowledgable and experienced.
Be sure you know who will be working with you directly because that is where the value in your training is -- not in the person with his or her name on the sign.
Can you offer me other supports?
QUALITY facilities are multi-disciplinary, or have business liaisons with other allied health professionals. If you're looking for a fitness program, nutrition counselling, behaviour modification and injury rehab and prevention should be some other services also on your radar. A solid facility has priority access to all of the above.
Support should also be provided in the form of community. Considering the prevalence of social media, factor in websites, emails and the face-to-face interactions among you, your trainer and other program participants, and the right gym atmosphere may just help you forge some of your strongest friendships.
In the end, the right fitness facility for you is one that you enjoy attending every day -- one that at the same time is able to provide you with a quality, professional service that will be fun, safe and effective. Try out a few different options, ask yourself what you're looking for, and if you find what you feel is the right match, sign up, commit, and give it your all; it may just be one of the best decisions of your life.
Tim Shantz is a Certified Athletic Therapist (CAT(C)) at Eastman Therapy Centre in Steinbach, and a Certified Personal Trainer at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital. He also owner/head trainer at Threshold Conditioning, which focuses on sport-specific athlete training.