Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Body Image in Sports and Fitness

How many of us have undergone some type of health of fitness test? Maybe some kind of VO2 max test or step test when starting work with a PT, had body fat percentage measured or a resting heart rate or blood pressure check at the doctors.

Testing was a big part of the Personal Trainer course I took part in recently. We were encouraged to try our hands at taking blood pressure and heart rate readings as well as circumference measurements to assess body fat percentage. We were shown how a number of ways to assess VO2 max (the maximum rate at which we can consume oxygen, a measure often used to determine a person’s fitness or endurance) and muscular endurance. Our results were then compared to a number of norms tables to determine where we fell on a scale.

The outcome of all this was that I realised that I'm not half as fit or lean as I thought I was and that’s a bit depressing. I was well within the average or normal ranges however as someone who puts a lot of thought into what I eat and makes an effect to stay active, and as someone training to be a PT, I expected to fare better. And as I caught myself thinking this, I realised that two things my tutor said suddenly made a lot of sense.  

Firstly, as a PT, choosing the right tests for your client can make the difference between building confidence, motivation and self-efficacy and destroying it. And PTs aren’t immune to this effect, although they’re possibly more inclined to see an unexpected result as a challenge and feel motivated enough to tackle it.

Secondly he suggested that more emphasis put on your appearance as a PT in the fitness world than as a coach in the sporting world. If a PT doesn't "look the part" in terms of muscle mass, leanness and so on, then they’re often seen to be less of an authority on the basis that if they can't follow their own advice then how can they possibly make a difference to you, the client. However when it comes to athletic coaches, or any coaches for that matter, there's less of an assumption that they should be able to do that things that their athletes can. In fact in most cases coaches can't perform at anywhere near the level of their athletes but that doesn't make them any less of an authority or of any less use to their client. You can bet your bottom dollar that, for example, Mo Farah’s coach isn’t capable of running half as fast as Farah himself. Neither will he exhibit the same kind of lean frame or body fat levels, but he still coached Farah to Olympic standard.

It’s a pity that this attitude isn’t as prevalent elsewhere. As a trainee PT, I’m learning that this will be part and parcel of the job; I will come up against prejudices and judgments will be made based on how I look, way before I can demonstrate my abilities and there’s little I can do to change this much as I’d like to.

Have you come up against these sorts of attitudes? How did it make you feel? Is it something that we can change?

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