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. Whats your opinion? Brenda, North Plains
Im sorry you were injured. If theres one thing thats truly frustrating, its getting hurt during exercise, because it doesnt seem fair. Youre 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 thats the part thats easy to understand. The most compelling part of your situation is how you were injured.
All injuries are due to the bodys 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).
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 arent 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. Ive seen this create a frustrating situation for the personal trainer with a college degree, because she/he often doesnt get compensated for having more education.
What it really comes down to is your comfort level with your personal trainers 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 bachelors 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 doesnt mean she is competent or that youll 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