My good friend and Certified Athletic Trainer, Zach, agreed to chat with me for a bit about my health and fitness questions in honor of Wellness Month. Zach lives and works in the Portland, Maine area. If you have questions for him that aren’t covered here, please leave them in the comments and we’ll do a follow up post where he answers them!
What does an athletic trainer do, exactly, and how do you become one?
An athletic trainer is essentially a sports EMT. We are different from personal trainers in the sense that we go to a 4-year college that has to be accredited by CAADE (Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education). You have to take a national board exam and be state-licensed. We do injury prevention, acute care for injuries, we are a friend to the athletes. We also do strength and conditioning training and things of that nature.
What are some of your go-to nutritious foods?
I really like apples. I’m a fruit guy because I have a natural sweet tooth. Berries, strawberries, bananas. I try to have a banana a day. I usually try to have as much protein as possible– chicken breast is a lean form of protein–beef, bacon– I don’t overdo it though.
What advice do you have for a busy person who works full time and wants to stay fit?
The first thing is that there is always time for exercise, whether it’s working out in the morning before you go to work, which means you’ve got to get up really early. Or you’re working out at night after you get off work– that doesn’t always work for people because a lot of times you spike your adrenaline levels and it’s hard to come back down to go to bed at a reasonable hour. It really comes down to whatever works for you. You’ll know pretty fast after 2 or 3 weeks what works best for you.
Do you have any tips for staying motivated? So many people will work out hardcore for a week or two and then they don’t keep up with it.
I know what that’s like. I struggle with motivation a lot because I’m a busy person and I’ve got some old sports injuries that act up. Goal setting is big. What do you want to do? You should have that figured out. If you just go to the gym for the sake of going, you’re not going to get anything done. You’re going to feel lost. Track your progress and write down what you did for your workout each day. If you feel like you’re not seeing results, you’re going to get discouraged. Taking photos of yourself starting day 1. You can do it in a t-shirt and shorts– you can do it in your underwear if you want to. Take a photo a month later and a month after that. Scientifically, we’ll measure body fat percentage, girth measurements of upper arm and thigh, BMI, blood pressure, but a lot of people don’t have that available to them.
Don’t let the scale run your life. Muscle weighs more than fat. It’s easier to build muscle than burn fat. If you’re making an effort to exercise, not just jumping on an elliptical and reading a magazine, and you can’t even say your ABCs without huffing and puffing then you’re going to be building muscle. Muscle is a denser substance than fat. So when you jump on the scale after working out for 2 weeks and you’ve gained 2 pounds, don’t be alarmed.
Also, drink enough water. That was my rant.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Cinnamon rolls, cake, television. I can’t watch the History Channel anymore because now all they have are shows about the Bible and swamp people. Wow, next question.
Do you have any general workout advice?
Start small. I’m going to go up on a little bit of a soapbox here. Get moving, get out there. I do have a little beef with crossfit from a medical standpoint. You see a lot of people getting hurt doing crossfit. Part of the issue is that people who are popping up off the couch are learning how to do complex olympic lifts. Things that you see professionals doing. People drink the Koolaid and try to go 100 miles an hour and then they get hurt.
Best way to get in shape if you don’t have a gym– start walking and slowly stretch your routine into a few miles. That is a good start.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re working out at the gym. Don’t try to manage your strength-training by yourself [if you're a beginner].
There’s a man at my gym who goes there and just sits on the weight machines doing nothing and watching TV.
Don’t go to the gym to watch TV. It’s the same thing you were doing at home, minus the couch. Cut the crap.
Is it important to vary your workout rather than doing the same thing every time?
Good question. You’ll know when to vary your workout. If you run 30 minutes a day at 5 miles per hour, eventually that’s going to feel really easy. You’ll hit a plateau. You won’t get any stronger or faster. Increase incline, speed, or time.
If you’re an athlete, though, it’s all about something called specificity of training. If all you do is bike, you’re going to be really good at biking. That might not translate into running or swimming. Try to focus on that one sport. But for the average Joe, mix it up.
Any last words?
Work hard. Get up, get off the couch, go be a stronger version of yourself.