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Sean McCawley

Sean McCawley 

Part of my job as a personal trainer and lifetime fitness coach in Napa is to create and manage exercise prescriptions for our clients at our fitness studio. Overseeing numerous fitness programs per month, I also have the privilege of creating my own new and improved exercise prescriptions every four weeks. Just like a chef making a new menu for another upcoming season, gathering ideas for what types of new exercises to benefit my current fitness levels can be challenging.

Seeking out new ideas, I turned to one of my personal trainer colleagues and inquired about what types of exercises I should add into my new program. She said something very simple, “Well, you seem to like deadlifts. They make you feel really good and you talk about them a lot.”

She couldn’t have been more accurate. I love the way performing this resistance training technique makes my body feel. As an exercise physiologist, I know that the dead lift technique will help support lean muscle gains in my body and produce natural occurring growth hormone to support the density of my bones.

It’s appealing to me to delay the likelihood of arthritis and deteriorating joint conditions caused by a lack of bone mineral density. Not only would this technique assist my body in the physical sense but including this technique will help me support my hobbies of hiking, surfing and playing softball.

As I sit here writing this article, I could also use some reinforcement to my postural muscles to sit up right and properly activate my shoulder blades while my arms are extended out in front of me toward my key board. Yet another benefit of performing dead lifts in my exercise routine.

I enjoy being able to hike up a steep hill at a steady pace, having the lower body strength to control a surf board in the waves and being able to slam a softball over the opposing outfielders head when I play my rec league softball. My colleague reassured me that I was exercising for the correct reason, to support the activities that I like to do.

The dilemma of designing my own exercise prescription led me to think about a client for whom I always have a challenging time designing new exercise prescription. Let’s call him Jonny. We make sure to interview our clients before designing their next four-week exercise phase design. This interview asks:

1. What specific results have you experienced so far?

2. What exercises did you enjoy?

3. Which exercises would you like to omit from the program?

When I reached #2 with Jonny, he informed me, “I don’t like any exercises. I hate exercises. I do this because the doctors and my wife tell me it’s good for me.”

This is not an unusual occurrence with clients as exercise is sometimes the last thing people think about, but it challenges me to dig deeper and discover what might be driving Jonny to choose an exercise out of his own free will that we can work on through out his program.

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Relating back to my previous exercise prescription that I just designed for myself, I asked Jonny, “What would you like to be able to do physically that you haven’t been able to do for a while?”

Looking over his shoulder about 30 meters outside the shop, Jonny replied, “I’d like to be able to run to that stop sign and back with out feeling like I was going to have a heart attack.”

Bingo. I discovered that Jonny wanted to be able to not feel out of breath after running. You can imagine that I gracefully avoided question #3 of this interview, because I think the answer would be obvious. (He would probably reply “All of them.”)

I stuck to the theme of choosing the exercises that gave Jonny the benefits he was looking to achieve. I wanted to do everything in my power to ensure Jonny could run to that stop sign and back feeling empowered, strong, and able to run to the stop sign 400 meters away. Therefore, while designing Jonny’s next exercises prescription, I input exercises that challenged his heart rate and made him breath a little heavier.

More importantly, I explained to Jonny that these exercises would improve his aerobic capacity to help his body perform at an improved level of cardio vascular fitness by challenging his lungs and heart to work harder in a safe and controlled fashion. Jonny was pleased to know that the fruits of his labor would yield a result he enjoyed. This made the exercises that Jonny dreaded so much become more of a gift to him and support something he enjoys, breathing.

I agree that exercising can be time consuming and physically challenging. Just like Jonny, many people dread the idea of exercises. However, choosing exercises offering success in activities we like to do, exercise becomes more of gift than a task. When taking the time to exercise, why not choose exercises you enjoy giving the results you want? Just like it wouldn’t be worth grinding away at a career you don’t want, performing exercise just because someone is pressuring you is a drag. Pick the exercises that will make your life more enjoyable after you put in the work.

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Sean McCawley, the founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa welcomes questions and comments. Reach him at 707-287-2727, or visit the website