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Trainer Challenge: Difficulty Improving Client’s Balance & Coordination

Dear Dr. Bell, I have never been so frustrated with a client in my entire career. This client has the coordination of a newborn deer walking on ice. The most simple, basic concepts are impossible for her to comprehend. Her form, body awareness, timing, breathing, coordination…basically every component of fitness is horrendous. I thought with time everything would improve. This hasn’t been the case. I take great pride in what I do and I always get my clients results. While there has been the slightest hint of improvement in some areas, getting her to jump rope has been impossible. She adds hops (if you would call it that) between each rotation. I’ve tried everything I can think of with no luck. I’m beyond frustrated and she’s getting discouraged. It’s seems like just dropping the exercise is the lazy way out. Any advice on what to do?

Thank God that we are all faced with some challenges in life; otherwise life would become boring and stale. Don’t get frustrated…become a problem solver. Obviously this woman has not had the athletic opportunities many of your other client’s have experienced.

One research report, which was largely ignored by the World’s Education Community, explained why you will be seeing a lot more of this problem in the future.

Four University’s in Brazil, determined that non-physically active children had only about 10% of the total motor development in both small motor and large motor skills of their physically active counterparts; including only 10% of the agility, balance and coordination.

What you are observing in this woman, will become commonplace in the near future, as more and more schools decide to eliminate physical education from their curriculum. Imagine a world where few of our citizens have the motor skills, agility, balance and coordination to conduct surgery, fly a jet, repair machines, build a house, play an instrument, play a sport, create a work of art, or even perform basic daily living activities with a high degree of safety and effectiveness. If you think traffic in your town was bad before, just wait until the current crop of “couch potatoes” gets their driver’s license!

Now that you understand the problem…what is the solution? Think back to your IFPA Personal Trainer Certification Course. Review your exercise physiology principles: SAID, GPO & FITT. Your textbook, The Book On Personal Training, gave very specific examples of how to use these principles. You must apply these principles to your client who presents as a child, in her lack of agility, balance and coordination. Therefore, you must reduce the intensity, in terms of the agility component of fitness, which would translate to “complexity of task.” Just as you would not start a 2 year old with jumping rope, you cannot start her on a task that is obviously too complex.

Without being there and observing her personally, I would suggest concentrating on far simpler tasks that will impact her neurophysiology. I recommend you focus on strength, aerobic and flexibility training for now and allow these 3 components to positively impact the other 9 components.

If she is having difficulty with exercise timing, breathing coordination and technique, then allow her to return to machine workouts until you see her achieve sufficient mastery of a machine workout.

As is clearly stated in the GPO Principle: Use of an excessively large overload that is either not safe or effective, is counterproductive. The exercise you describe and her failure in attempting to perform them are indicative of excessive overload. Not only are these exercises unsafe for her, but they are psychologically destructive.

Do not believe for a moment that I was one of those wimpy trainers that kept my clients in their safe zone. My training programs were always tough and challenging, but I also believed that my clients needed a workout that they could achieve mentally, emotionally, physically and psychological.

You have chosen exercises that prevent her from achieving success on every level. Never develop your clients’ Program Designs based on what you can do, what your other clients can do, something you read in a magazine, saw on T.V., OR the latest FAD because “everyone else is doing it.” Your Program Design should always be based on the needs, wants, goals and capabilities of your client. Something that is challenging, but doable!

My advice to you is to get back to the basics. Go back to the machine room and start her with 15 RM sets for 3 weeks, then 3 weeks each of:12RM, 10RM, 8RM. Find an aerobic machine she can do successfully. Your cool-down should include a relaxing flexibility session where you give her additional feedback, training or suggestions to improve her performance. If she is still having difficulty with training, breathing and technique, reduce the intensity by not performing RM sets (sets to failure). As her performance begins to improve, gradually bring in Compound Exercises like the Squat, Pushup, etc.

To alleviate your frustration, redirect your professional goals for her by focusing on enhancing her agility, balance and coordination through the basics described above. If you continuously remind yourself that she came to you with all the motor skill of a retarded fruit fly, and the challenges of her sub-optimal athletic development, you can take pride once you improve her motor skills to the point where she can walk and talk at the same-time. You should also be aware that you have the ability to help her live a longer, healthier and happier life. While training her may not have as much satisfaction as you receive from your other clients, she needs your help, much more than many others. Her needs are just different than your other clients.

On the psychological challenges of her needs, she has probably felt your frustration and probably has low motivation because of your disappointment in lack of progress. Encourage her the way you would an infant taking their first steps. For example: as part of your “warm-up,” have her stand on one-leg and time it (each leg). Encourage her each time just to go even a single second longer and praise her when she does. Teach her balance basics: core and body tight, abs sucked in, eyes focused on a point on a wall/floor/ceiling, arms outstretching and tight for balance, etc.

Make a WIN from every improvement you observe, make your training sessions fun, rewarding and successful!

Dr. Jim Bell

CEO of the IFPA