Train­ers face tough choice

Ig­nor­ing pain puts them in big­ger hole

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By ERIC PIANIN

What hap­pens when ex­er­cise pros get in­jured?

Sev­eral months ago, Sarah Walls, a prom­i­nent North­ern Vir­ginia fit­ness and con­di­tion­ing ex­pert, was demon­strat­ing a sin­gle-leg jump for a client — essen­tially hop­ping for­ward on one leg to test agility and bal­ance — when she twisted her an­kle.

The painful an­kle roll both­ered her for a while, Walls re­called re­cently, but "in the mo­ment you sort of have to shake it off and keep mov­ing, which is what I did." But later, she rolled the same an­kle again while run­ning out­doors, and the pain lin­gered on.

Walls, 36, founder of Strength & Per­for­mance Train­ing (SAPT), is re­spon­si­ble for con­di­tion­ing and train­ing am­a­teur, col­le­giate and pro­fes­sional ath­letes, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics women's bas­ket­ball team. But even she is sus­cep­ti­ble to some­thing that rarely gets at­ten­tion in the phys­i­cal fit­ness in­dus­try: nag­ging in­juries to per­sonal train­ers and coaches.

Per­sonal train­ers are keenly aware of their clients' in­juries and aches and pains, and they tailor work­outs to speed up re­cov­ery and avoid a re­cur­rence of an in­jury. But when tak­ing care of them­selves, train­ers are of­ten in­clined to try to work through the pain, re­luc­tant to halt a ses­sion or seek med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

"I feel like we're a group that really ig­nores things as long as hu­manly pos­si­ble be­fore seek­ing the cor­rect med­i­cal help," Walls said.

Per­sonal train­ers are vi­tal cogs in the $24 bil­lion-a-year health and fit­ness in­dus­try, a na­tional col­lec­tion of roughly 36,000 health clubs and fit­ness cen­ters that in­cludes such gi­ants as LA Fit­ness, 24 Hour Fit­ness, Life Time Fit­ness and Equinox, ac­cord­ing to Statista.

Last year, more than 299,000 fit­ness train­ers and in­struc­tors earned a me­dian an­nual wage of $38,160, ac­cord­ing to the Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. The bot­tom 10 per­cent of the train­ers earned about $19,150, while the top 10 per­cent re­ceived more than $72,980.

Train­ers suf­fer a wide va­ri­ety of oc­cu­pa­tional in­juries, in­clud­ing sprains, mus­cle tears, lower-back in­juries, cuts and frac­tures, ac­cord­ing to a Jan­uary 2016 re­port on ad­verse work­ing con­di­tions in the fit­ness in­dus­try jointly pro­duced by Slate and the In­ves­tiga­tive Fund at the Na­tion In­sti­tute.

Work­place in­juries are not only a nui­sance for train­ers. They can also dis­rupt their gym's or stu­dio's op­er­at­ing sched­ules, up­set or anger clients who don't like hav­ing their weekly rou­tines in­ter­rupted and re­sult in the loss of hourly fees of $75 or more that typ­i­cally are divvied up be­tween the gym and the trainer.

At many fit­ness cen­ters, train­ers are re­spon­si­ble not only for work­ing out with clients but also for bring­ing in new busi­ness. Ban­daged or limp­ing train­ers don't project the im­age that many fit­ness stu­dios strive for in re­cruit­ing new cus­tomers.

What's more, most train­ers — who op­er­ate as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors — aren't en­ti­tled to health in­sur­ance cov­er­age from their gyms and are re­luc­tant to rack up costly med­i­cal bills.

Even those in the best shape can hurt them­selves sim­ply by bend­ing over the wrong way to pick up a weight or a piece of equip­ment or by demon­strat­ing a squat. Some train­ers have in­jured them­selves try­ing to prop up frail or wob­bly clients to keep them from fall­ing.

Ger­ald Davis, a trainer for more than three decades who owns a stu­dio in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., says that the fit­ness busi­ness can be very tough on train­ers' bod­ies, even younger ones in the best of shape. "Gyms abuse the hell out of train­ers," he said.

Davis, 65, the owner of Chevy Chase Per­sonal Train­ing, spe­cial­izes in train­ing mid­dle-aged and older peo­ple and se­niors with se­ri­ous health or cog­ni­tive is­sues. (Dis­clo­sure: This re­porter has worked out with Davis for years.) Davis dis­cov­ered the hard way the dif­fi­culty of help­ing his clients af­ter he se­ri­ously in­jured his right an­kle in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent on his way to work on July 4.

The in­jury has slowed him down and made it harder to keep up with the daily de­mands of op­er­at­ing and clean­ing his stu­dio and mak­ing sure it is prop­erly stocked with clean tow­els and re­fresh­ments.

Eric Pianin

Ger­ald Davis in­jured an an­kle in July, which has made it harder for him to op­er­ate his per­sonal train­ing stu­dio.

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