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Lead Story: Foster Clients’ Sense Of Community With A Team Event


Foster Clients’ Sense Of Community With A Team Event

No one has to convince personal trainers and group exercise instructors that a team fitness event is a fun way to spend part of a weekend. However, according to award-winning fitness professional and endurance athlete Alex Isaly (this issue’s cover personality), there can be much more to it than a good time if you invite your clients and members to join you.

“Having an event that clients/members are training for requires a long-term commitment and accountability to the fitness pro and the fitness facility,” he says. “It’s also a great recruiting opportunity.”

Beyond building your business, the practice can enhance current clients’ experiences, too. “The event, including the training leading up to it, can be used to create a team environment,” says Isaly. “There is accountability, power and strength [built into being part of] a team.”

Here, Isaly offers some components to consider before choosing and promoting such an event:

Select an event that caters to most fitness levels. An easy way to judge this, even among more involved events like obstacle course races, is to look at distance. Isaly advises choosing a 5K or 10K. Anything longer can filter out people who may doubt they can go the distance or commit enough time to the training.

Go local. Stay within a 2-hour driving distance. Anything more can boost a variety of costs, including transportation, meals, lodging and travel time.

Add a new class. To prep for the event, don’t modify a current class. Creating a specific training plan makes members feel they are enjoying exclusive opportunities (because they are). “The training can be used as an upsale or an incentive to do more,” says Isaly. Also, creating a new class will minimize disruption for those not taking part in the event.

Adjust your expectations. Designing a short-term event-training program is challenging, as everyone will be at different fitness levels. Isaly advises focusing on improving functional movement and cardio. “For example, if you create a fitness program that encompasses scientific principles of variability training, unloaded/loaded movement training, high-intensity interval training and engagement (community), it’s going to help with overall performance, regardless of the sport,” he says.

Begin promotions 8–10 weeks out. In the first 2 weeks, focus on word-of-mouth and fliers: Mention the event in all group classes, and post details on social media. Start the training program 6–8 weeks before race day so clients/members won’t worry about the time commitment. “You don’t want that to be their reason for not participating,” he says.

Don’t stay on the sidelines. When you participate in an event with your clients/members, it shows you care. “You got them to that point. Now go over the finish line with them!” says Isaly. “It goes back to the point of creating community. You’re in the trenches with them. You’re part of the team.”

Get the inside scoop to deliver a group training program with the NASM Group Personal Training Specialization. Visit

Virtual Reality Boosts Performance, Lessens Pain

It appears that virtual reality may be preferable to actual reality during resistance training. In a recent study at the University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts in Canterbury, England, 80 VR exercise participants were asked to perform an isometric biceps curl while holding a dumbbell at 20% of their 1RM. The non-VR group did this in a room that included a chair, a table and a yoga mat. The VR group did the move in the same room with the same contents—but they wore a VR headset that showed them the room. Interestingly, after 1 minute, the VR group reported a 10% lower pain intensity. Also, participants were asked to hold till failure/exhaustion, and the VR group tapped out a full 2 minutes after the non-VR group.


As anyone who has been to a fitness conference can attest, virtual-reality tech is infiltrating all venues of exercise, including member facilities, personal training, group exercise and (of course) at-home workouts. To stay ahead of the curve, check out the website for It offers an e-book: VR Fitness: Beginner’s Guide, which is (literally) free, as well as reviews and news on VR games, hardware, experiences, research and scientific studies.

Form Fix-Up With Mike Fantigrassi: Kettlebell Swings

“Most people don’t do enough posterior chain work,” says Mike Fantigrassi, NASM-CPT and Master Instructor. “That’s the reason why kettlebell swings are so helpful.” There’s one caveat: To target the posterior part of the lower body, the swings need to be done using a hip-hinge movement, not a squat pattern. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for clients to wind up squatting, since that is more familiar to many people.

Before clients try the kettlebell swing, Fantigrassi suggests they master the plank, bridge, seated row and Romanian deadlift, all of which will help them learn good back position. Here are some of his other tips for a hip-hinge kettlebell swing:

Get the weight right. The kettlebell should be heavy enough so clients can’t “muscle it up” using shoulder and arm strength—they should have to “explode” with it. A good weight to start with is 18–26 pounds for women and 26–35 pounds for men.

Check the tension. The body tension should be in the torso (core), not the arms or neck. Both head and back should be in a neutral position throughout.

Explain the hip hinge. In a squat, the shins angle forward a little, while the hip-hinge movement leaves the shins vertical. (Use a mirror to show this.) Also note that the hips, not the quads, should be doing most of the work for this move.

Tell clients it’s like jumping. The kettlebell swing is similar to a box jump in stance and explosiveness. The good news is, the kettlebell move is lower-impact than a jumping exercise, so it’s not as stressful for the joints.

“What’s so great about the kettlebell exercise is it is similar to plyometric exercises,” says Fantigrassi. “So it helps teach people to move quickly and generate some force, which is helpful for everyday life.”

Kettlebell Swing Options

Most of the time, ballistic kettlebell exercises are done as one-handed moves, says Fantigrassi. However, the one-arm swing has an anti-rotation element, so it may be better to start clients with the two-handed move. Use the two-handed variation to master the hinge and “lockout.” The single-arm swing can be cued on the setup, with the “free” arm initially following the same path as the bell.

If clients want to switch hands at the top of the move (letting go for a half-second), he suggests doing this over grass—and not around other exercisers.

The move works well at the end of a warmup (in place of SAQ or plyometric training), as well as within a traditional program or a superset (e.g., with a regular Romanian deadlift).

Cue the Move “Explode” on the upswing. Let the bell “hang” at the top position (chest height). As the weight naturally falls into the downswing, let the arms guide it until the forearms/wrists touch between the inner thighs. Then explode up again.

NASM Master Instructor:
Pushing His Limits in the Fit Biz

Josh Gonzalez, NASM-CPT, CES, PES and Master Instructor, does more than teach the theories behind NASM’s Optimum Performance Training™ model: With more than 20 years of experience running his own fitness businesses, he also has plenty of practical and personal advice to share. And Gonzalez is not one to sit back on his heels: In addition to achieving local success with his stand-alone center, Athletic Performance of Texas, he recently developed a franchise workout program called The Push Code, which he hopes will take off nationally.

Here are some lessons he has learned from his most recent venture:

Check out the competition. Before creating The Push Code, Gonzalez investigated existing group exercise chains and participated in their classes to see what worked (and what didn’t). For example, he noticed that each instructor taught exercises differently, the manual adjustment of cardio machines was too difficult, and the intensity and quality of a workout varied considerably depending on the instructor. He knew he wanted to create something simpler and more standardized.

Work with your allies. When Gonzalez wanted to find a niche for his stand-alone center (back in 2008), he partnered with Minnesota-based Scott Ramsdell to offer “caveman training.” (Ramsdell and Gonzalez both joined the NASM team in 2011.) Recently, to design workouts for The Push Code, Gonzalez teamed up with NASM Master Instructor Marty Miller to select easy, effective moves and write a cuing script for each one.

Follow the model. Using the NASM OPT™ model makes it easy to structure any type of program, says Gonzalez. “Why in the world would we want to recreate the wheel when the smartest minds in the business have created the very best wheel, and we just have to be the drivers of it?” he asks. “I use the NASM OPT model in all my workouts,” he adds. “Every one of my center’s members, aged 7–77, walks through the door and grabs a foam roller and does 15 minutes of self-myofascial release. I’m proud of that.”

Add your own spin. Gonzalez had some specific goals in mind for his franchise program (standardized, effective, easy to set up, easy to run, etc.). He also wanted it to be fun. One solution was to create a celebratory atmosphere, complete with disco lights and motivating music. “One of the funniest challenges we’ve had is that people wind up dancing in the corner,” he says. “We sometimes have to remind them to get back to the workout!”


The Push Code is a group training class that implements the art of indoor running, using the Technogym SkillMill™—a person-powered (not electric) treadmill. Individuals set achievement goals, called “Push Marks,” and control the intensity. Class structure is based on the NASM-OPT model, and workouts cycle through four types: endurance, strength, speed and boot camp. Each session ends with “The Push,” in which participants come together to encourage each other to make just a little more progress in their workouts.

To learn more about The Push Code, visit

Write Away the Body Image Blues

In a series of studies whose results were published collectively in Psychology of Women Quarterly (2018; 42 [3], 326–41), two researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois explored how different types of writing exercises affected body satisfaction in college women.

The women were encouraged to write to themselves—either on paper or using an online form—from the viewpoint of a close, nonjudgmental friend. Their assignment was to focus on one of three areas: self-compassion, compassion for their body, or their body’s functionality.

Natalie G. Stern, lead author of the study and a then-undergraduate honors student in psychology, was pleasantly surprised that the body-compassionate writings were not significantly more effective than those in the general self-compassion category. “This is cool [because it] indicates that women can treat themselves with compassion without specifically thinking about their bodies—which risks backfiring and leading to enhanced body surveillance,” says the recent graduate.

Co-author Renee Engeln, PhD, adds that these writing exercises are a great way for women to harness the kindness they are “so good at showing others” and “keep a little bit for yourself.”

Both Stern and Engeln were deeply moved by the results. “It was a beautiful experience to read women’s descriptions of their perceived flaws and failures,” says Stern, “and then observe how these women could often accept and embrace these ‘flaws’ with compassion and self-kindness.”

he suggests providing a quiet space in the gym, perhaps in a yoga room after a workout or class, for women to write. You can find the specific prompts used in the studies on the website for the Center for Open Science at

Unseen Influences:
How Life Partners Affect Weight Loss

“When [people are] cohabitating, [they may be] trying to lose weight within the context of the relationship. That can make it easier—or harder,” says René M. Dailey, PhD, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. In a recent study published in Health Communication, Dailey examined the effects of encouragement, influence and coercion when doled out by a partner (2018; doi:10.1080/10410236.2018.1461584).

An encouraging partner simply models healthy behaviors and offers praise, while an influencer pushes harder, reminding the partner of his or her goals, the benefits of eating right, and so on. A coercive partner employs judgmental behaviors (guilt, consequences, withdrawal/silence, eye rolling and the like).

Overall, Dailey’s research showed that people felt more successful in their efforts when their partners used encouragement to motivate them. Influence, she noted, worked sometimes—but only when the person wanted his or her partner to be involved. (Not all people do—for instance, moms may see workouts as “me time.”)

While it’s not the fitness professional’s job to get involved in couples’ communications, Dailey says it may be helpful to raise clients’ awareness of the effects of this dynamic. “Clients may think their partner will be this magic person who will know the right thing to say or do,” she says. “But the partner might not know what the right thing is. I think trainers could ask their clients what they find helpful or unhelpful from their partners, then remind them to ask their loved ones for more of that.”

Working With Seniors: Lessons From The Barre

This past March, Queensland Ballet and Queensland University of Technology released an early report on an ongoing joint study of the benefits of ballet for Australians. Though the 3-month project looked closely at only 10 participants in Ballet for Seniors classes, some interesting insights emerged.


Class members reported that they liked dancing with others of a similar age. One participant named Julie explained, “I feel much more comfortable in a group of older women where I don’t have to worry about whether I can do something.”


Participants appreciated that the instructors did not “dumb down” the information and encouraged them to “listen to their bodies,” which showed respect for their judgment.


The ballet teachers noted that their interactions with this group were more personal than those with younger students. For example, the older dancers wanted to know more about their instructors’ families and lives outside of the studio. The teachers also felt greater appreciation and respect from this older cohort.

Fitness professionals interested in expanding their offerings to older participants may want to read the report in its entirety. Ballet Moves for Adult Creative Health is available at

Myth: BUSTED! Truth: Strenuous Exercise Doesn’t Lower Immunity

Closing the door on the “open window” theory.

In an article published recently in Frontiers in Immunology, John P. Campbell and James E. Turner of the University of Bath in Somerset, England, examine a decades-old “myth” called the “open window” hypothesis. In short, researchers once believed that in the hours after vigorous exercise, the immune system becomes compromised, “opening the window” to illness or infection.

In their extensive review of evidence, Campbell and Turner reached a welcome conclusion: Not only is exercise not detrimental to immunity, but it may actually limit or delay aging of the immune system. In their own words: “[It] is a misconception to label any form of acute exercise as immunosuppressive, and, instead, exercise most likely improves immune competency across the lifespan.”

Exercise And HIV: A Guide For Fit Pros

A properly designed exercise program can not only improve quality of life for people with HIV; it can also promote positive improvements in the immune system,” says exercise physiologist and educator Joe Cannon, MS. However, owing to societal stigma and a general lack of knowledge, people with HIV may have trouble finding a trainer to work with them. “Helping those with HIV is potentially an untapped niche for fitness pros,” he notes. Cannon offers these tips for working with clients who are HIV-positive:

Communicate with their doctors. “Exercise really is a medicine, and fitness trainers are part of the healthcare continuum. That system works best when doctors are kept in the loop,” says Cannon, who notes that good communication regarding one client may lead to other referrals from physicians.

Ease into it. Clients may need to start at 20–30 minutes per session, 1–2 days per week, then build up to 45–60 minutes of combined cardio (60%–80% heart rate max, 3–4 days/week) and resistance training (total body circuit, 2–3 days/week). He does not recommend using 1RM exercises with clients who have HIV; instead, he advises helping them select a weight with which they can comfortably perform 10 reps.

“Individuals with HIV may be dealing with sarcopenia,” notes Cannon, “which may reduce not only their strength but also their ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).”

Watch for overtraining. Warn clients about the symptoms of overtraining, which can include elevated heart rate, sleep disturbances and an increase in colds/flu. A dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis has also been found in people with HIV, says Cannon, who wrote Rhabdo: The Scary Side Effect of Exercise You Need to Know About (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2017). As with any client, give the body time to adapt to new activities and exercises by starting at a lower intensity and volume and increasing gradually.

“Training someone with HIV is really no different than working with anyone else,” Cannon concludes. “People are people. The important thing is to meet them where they are in terms of their fitness level and health—and make sure they know that the gym is a safe place and they are accepted.” Note: To learn more about HIV, visit


(rab-doe-my-OH-li-sis) literally means “skeletal muscle fiber death.” It occurs when stress applied to muscle is too great for the muscle to adapt to, so the fibers become overwhelmed, break down and die. The condition can result in great pain, hospitalization and, rarely, death.

— Adapted from Rhabdo: The Scary Side Effect of Exercise You Need to Know About

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Quaglio Laura Quaglio, has more than 18 years of experience as a writer and editor for numerous magazines, books and websites on such diverse topics as wellness, nutrition, fitness, finance, after-school activities and parenting.

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