Recently I spent a week in Phoenix at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health & Fitness Summit. As I review my notes and reflect on everything I learned I have mixed feelings.

I loved the opportunity to learn about the latest research in exercise, nutrition and behavioral change. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I picked up that I hope to expand on in future blog posts:

  • NEAT (None Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is much more important in weight management than we may have once thought. Did you know that 2 people of similar size can have diets that vary by as much as 2000 calories? It has nothing to do with their “metabolism” and everything to do with how much they move in a day.
  • The crunch really does need to go. Think about how much time we spend in forward flexion (hunched over our desk or phone). Do we really need an exercise that repeats that movement? No. We should focus on our core in ways that can reverse the damage of modern life and help us stay functional.
  • Exercise should be front line treatment for mild depression. The effects of exercise can be compared to those of common anti-depressants. In the UK, doctors turn to exercise first but the US is still far behind.
  • We often say we’re starving, but most of us don’t know true hunger. We eat for so many other cues that most people don’t get to experience the physical signs of hunger.

I also had a great time trying out new exercises and going to group workouts. With three workout classes (Kickbox, BOSU and Mysofasical Release) plus two workshops (Core Off the Floor and Partner Circuit Training), I’ve got plenty of new stuff to play with. Get ready for things like:

  • Buzzer Planks
  • Single Hand Tap Pushups
  • Monkey Swings
  • Single Leg Small Ball Burpees
  • BOSU Tricep Push Ups
  • BOSU Bridge Tilts

They all sound fun, right? Maybe the hour of foam rolling I did is more up your alley? I plan on teaching all my clients how to make their own roller for home with a sock and two tennis balls.

I appreciate ACSM for being science focused, for sticking to the basics and viewing the fads with a skeptical eye. What I don’t like is the divide between the have’s and have not’s. While I am a certified personal trainer and health coach (from ACSM and ACE respectively) I do not have a lot of other letters behind my name. Many of my fellow attendees work at universities, medical fitness centers and corporate wellness programs. There were a lot of PhDs, students, and wellness program administrators. I didn’t feel like I met a lot of people who work with the “average person”.

This is why I think a disconnect still exists. We’re all professionals, dedicated to creating a more healthy population. Yet I feel that there is a lack of understanding about the challenges exercise professionals face in the real world. I do not often get to work with healthy bodies. Most of my clients come to me with physical issues (like back or knee pain) or health condition to improve (like high blood pressure or diabetes). As a “non degree” professional I am supposed to refer them on to physical therapists and registered dietitians. The problem is many of these people have already been that route with no real solution. That is why they seek my help and I am not willing to turn them away.

I do have two advanced certifications (my ACE Health Coach as well as my Level 1 Precision Nutrition Coach) so my scope of practice is a broader than someone who only holds the personal trainer designation. That DOES give me permission to talk about nutrition and tools to assist with behavior change but it leaves some of my fellow CPTs at a loss. I understand I am not a doctor nor do I try to act like one with my clients. I don’t feel as though I practice “out of scope” but I think there are some at the conference who might feel differently.

I think these are the same people who don’t understand the demands an average woman is facing: relentless work schedules, boomerang children, aging parents, spouses who just don’t get it, body image pressures and the hormonal stew brought on by stress, the environment and menopause. It’s easy to say, “Exercise 30 minutes or day” or “Don’t eat out” when your life is research studies on a college campus or managing other personal trainers at a large fitness center. If you aren’t in the thick of it day to day you can easily lose touch with what the real world brings.

Perhaps it is also another by product of the gender divide. The ones who did seem to understand were the women I had the opportunity to learn from. Dr. Kara Mohr had a wonderful session on the real reasons we eat and how to deal with hunger. I took a moment to ask her advice on how to help my clients deal with husbands who insist on bringing home cookies and going out for pizza. She said something extremely profound. She said to ask them,

Why are you giving away your power?

I’m going to be using that phrase a lot. There was also a session with four women who came together to discuss the issues of body image and life transitions called the Wise Woman’s Journey. They only had 10 minutes each to discuss topics that could have lasted hours. I left feedback for the conference committee that they should have each had their own session. The next morning at breakfast I stopped to tell one of the presenters how much I enjoyed her talk and how grateful I was for the information she shared.

I also missed my blogging friends. At registration I met one other blogger but was never able to connect with her again during the packed days. There were a few sessions on social media but most of the attendees appeared to be rookies. I attended a great one by Fred Hoffman, an American living in Paris whose job I desperately want. He had great information but a bit basic for this “old hand”. Amanda Vogel did her session on the 7 Social Media Mistakes that she did at IDEA World Fitness but, since I saw it last year, I skipped it.

I don’t regret my decision to attend the Summit because I did come back with new skills and ideas. Plus I got to take a side trip with my mom to the Grand Canyon. I enjoyed the constant sunshine and blue skies. However in 2016 I’ll be joining my friends at IDEA World Fitness or IDEA PTI. I may propose to present my own session on blogging or going solo to start your own fitness business.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on real world fitness. What do you think exercise professionals don’t get? Where are we missing the mark?

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