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To Your Health: A poorly trained trainer can do more harm than good

Dear Colin: I injured my shoulder two months ago doing a heavy overhead lifting exercise with my personal trainer. My doctor diagnosed me with impingement syndrome and told me to “forget about weightlifting because it causes un­nec­essary injuries.” He also believes my pain will go away with time. What’s your opinion? — Brenda, North Plains

I’m sorry you were injured. If there’s one thing that’s truly frustrating, it’s getting hurt during exercise, because it doesn’t seem fair. You’re doing the admirable thing — spending valuable resources to improve yourself — and it backfires.

Research suggests that a lesson in proper training me­chanics by a qualified physical therapist can help you stay safe during ex­ercise, but that’s the part that’s easy to understand. The most compel­ling part of your situation is how you were injured.

All injuries are due to the body’s inability to adapt. Your shoulder was injured because you were pushed too hard too soon to do an exercise that was too advanced (muscles were too weak to overcome forces). Photo Credit: SUBMITTED - Shoulder issues - Impingement syndrome causes the upper arm bone to bump into the small portion of the shoulder blade, causing pain and loss of mobility.

“Impingement syndrome” is chronic shoulder pain usually brought about by weak and/or uncoordinated shoulder muscles, and means that your upper arm bone is getting too close to a part of your shoulder blade when moving your arm upward.

Carefully strengthening and stretching the shoulder muscles will make your shoulder better able to adapt to activity, but the process is a gradual one that must be based on applied biomechanics. This is basic sports medicine that any personal trainer should know, but personal trainers aren’t required to meet any state or federal requirements.

Doctors, physical therapists, lawyers and dentists have something in common — they have to pass a state-issued exam. I’ve seen this create a frustrating situation for the personal trainer with a college degree, because she/he often doesn’t get compensated for having more education.

What it really comes down to is your comfort level with your personal trainer’s background. Exercise is extremely complex and requires extensive formal training in the basic sciences. I suggest you look for three key attributes in a personal trainer to help protect yourself from physical and financial injury:

Education: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

Personal training experience: A minimum of one year.

Personal commitment: The personal trainer is fit.

Of course, just because a personal trainer fits all three of these doesn’t mean she is competent or that you’ll find her inspiring, but this may help reduce injury risk. Personal training certification is a plus, but certainly no substitute for a college degree, since there are more than 300 personal training certifications available.

As you can see, learning how to exercise safely can be risky business. Luckily, impingement syndrome is easily treatable via physical therapy.

Colin Hoobler is a certified physical therapist and writes a regular column




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