Local trainers say 'Biggest Loser'-style yelling is all TV, not reality

loberle@islandpacket.com

February 17, 2014 

Maureen Tefft, co-owner of Bluffton Crossfit, demonstrates proper weightlifting form while leading an introductory workout class on Saturday morning.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

When Rachel Frederickson won "The Biggest Loser" in early February, controversy flared as the once 260-pound contestant stepped out for the finale weighing only 105 pounds.

The 24-year-old woman, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, lost almost 60 percent of her body weight through competitive dieting and workouts over the course of seven months -- something many physicians and nutritionists would perhaps deem dangerous. While the show is known for its dramatic results, many viewers at home -- those who struggle to lose even 5 pounds -- might have been left making the wrong connection between what weight loss looks like and the "Biggest Loser" strategy.

On the show, we often see Bob Harper or Jillian Michaels, two of the trainers, screaming at contestants -- often until they cry -- to get on that stair stepper, to keep up that pace, to make it three more reps. It's an intimidating scenario that could scare away those of us not competing for $250,000 from the gym and personal trainers.

But the image of a screaming personal trainer is just TV. Reality paints a much different picture, in which vocal instruction comes as encouragement, not abuse.

"I've been in the gym for 10 years as a certified trainer, and I've never experienced a trainer truly yelling at a client," said Scott Middleton, director of personal training at The Center for Health, Fitness and Sports Performance on Hilton Head Island. "In other formats of training, where you have a peer group, there may be cheering and yelling that's vocal. In that circumstance, it could help someone. But not in a personal training setting."

CrossFit is one example of such a group setting, but there's no bullhorn-barking, no up-close screaming in people's faces, no demeaning a client as a means of motivation.

Mike Tefft, owner and head coach at Bluffton CrossFit, said the classroom-like workout sessions are full of cheering and motivation from both the coaches and peers. Yes, there may be yelling, but it comes in the tone of excitement, encouragement and even celebration, not tough love.

"There's always a coach there to encourage you, keep you safe and motivate you," Tefft said. "You've got other people in the room doing the same thing, so there's this camaraderie. We're all here for the same purpose -- to get stronger and healthier. There's a community that develops. You motivate each other."

In a one-on-one setting, personal trainers usually shy away from yelling. It can come across as too intense and may be counterproductive, shaming a person rather than inspiring them. Middleton said he focuses on keeping the lines of communication open with his clients.

"As a trainer, you have to listen," he said. "You can't feel what the client is feeling. So you have to have that communication to know how far to push them. The moment the trainer is yelling, they've shut down communication."

At Earth Fit Training in Beaufort, owner and trainer Ian Hart works to help people reach their fitness goals by channeling the motivation they already have.

"For people to come in the door, they're already motivated by an intrinsic goal," Hart said. "They're looking for that exterior energy to push them to the next level. So inspirational, motivational yelling can help draw out of them what they already had inside of them."

As a trainer and coach, he is there to give them a nudge. When someone has a mental block during their workout and feels they can't go on, a few encouraging words such as "Don't give up," and "You can do it" may be the key to pushing them through.

"There's a very small percentage of the population that will push themselves to the quitting point. That's where the value of training is," Hart said. "Without that vocal encouragement, many wouldn't be able to push themselves to the next level."

Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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