Updated: Dec 10, 2018
My interview questions and answers for the American Council on Exercise ProSource article.
Benefits of Specializing
Back in December 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed for an American Council on Exercise ProSource Article called Benefits of Specializing.
Author Carrie Myers wrote a piece which investigated how finding a specialty and carving out a special niche is a path to consider for your personal training or group fitness career.
It was fun to see my words put into print, and I was so delighted to be included alongside individuals I consider to be models and mentors to my own career.
Here's my quote from the article:
“Finding a certification that allowed me to address others’ chronic pain within scope of practice, as well as provide programming that includes a full assessment, self-myofascial release and corrective exercises—which can be a hybrid of modalities—was what I really needed and found in The Biomechanics Method. This is a field of continuous learning. You must love the challenge of a problem and the process of discovering the right solutions for your clients. A one-size-fits-all approach will eventually fail.”
Certification specialization has given me the freedom to truly create innovative programming based on each of my client's unique needs. I am often asked for mentoring advice and my opinion on what I think the right certification is to invest in, and recently wrote another blog about the topic. [See What Certification is Best for Me]
But I also thought that my whole set of interview questions and answers might give my readers a better insight into me and how I like to train by clients here at Pain Free Posture MN a little better.
Q: At what point in your career did you decide to specialize and in what area do you specialize?
A: Honestly, specialization found me. It was an evolution of my career based on a need to solve pain problems for my clients. I began to specialize in 1998 when I was first introduced to Pilates. My first specialization was full certification in the Mathwork and Reformer. I went on to get the Injuries and Special Populations course with STOTT Pilates, and my certifications and specializations quickly expanded rapidly from there.
Q: What made you decide to specialize?
A: In 1998 I was given the opportunity to begin teaching STOTT Pilates classes and had full access to top of the industry equipment. At that time, it was a rare thing here in the Midwest.
My background is in anatomy, kinesiology and biomechanics. I received a BPE from the University of Manitoba in 1995. I was blessed to have been instructed and cared for by some of the most talented and brilliant minds in the athletic therapy field at that time as both a student and an athlete.
Because my background came from the physical sciences I inadvertently became the “go to trainer” to take on clients with muscle and joint pain problems like spondiolthysis, hip/knee replacements, osteo/rheumatoid arthritis, idiopathic/genetic scoliosis, severe injury/traumas and those with excessively poor posture and lack of kinesthetic awareness. Most of my colleagues at the time found clients like that intimidating, simple because we had never dealt with it.
Honestly, I didn't either. But I was often asked to work with these clients simply because I knew more about how the body was put together anatomically and should move biomechanically.
I always marvel that I wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. I liked helping find creative and viable solutions. I can’t explain it, but at that time, I simply had had a deep internal peace and vision that I could figure out a solution if I slowed down and really took a thoughtful look at the client I was working with from a bigger perspective. I used to say that I had to look at the client from the inside out.
If a client couldn’t perform the most basic of demand, I knew had to de-construct those demands into simple building blocks to help a client eliminate muscle and joint imbalances, restore posture and eventually accomplish his/her goals. That’s truly where the art of corrective exercise programming began for me.
Often, the most essential of Pilates movements were too difficult for some of my early clients. I knew I could help, and I knew that they could eventually get to Pilates, but not in their current pain/postural presentation condition.
So when a problem or pathology presented itself where I didn’t have experience didn’t necessarily know know what to do, I didn’t make promises. I told my clients this, and I went to the library. I studied more anatomy, read everything I could get my hands on regarding chronic muscle and joint pain relief, and began taking more courses in the field of posture analysis and corrective exercise (that wasn’t a term back then).
I intuitively put into practice a whole body versus pain/symptom approach. I can’t tell you why I knew that, maybe it was all of my kinesiology and biomechanics classes in the back of my mind but I could see where clients were compensating or missing essential movement sequencing patterns. I felt strongly that a client shouldn’t “give up something to get something”. If a movement was designed to be organized in an A-B-C type pattern, and they were accomplishing it in a C-A-B kind of way, was it really benefitting or helping them? The resolution of pain or not was always the indicator.
I also gave myself permission to not promise results in a particular timeframe because there were too many variables to consider. Training frequency, finances, client mindset, ability/willingness to do “homework”, learning style, etc. I was always honest with my clients about that, and spent a great deal of time talking and listening to their needs. Then we would work together to come up with a program that was agreeable for us both.
I certainly made mistakes, and I hated that, which is why I was bothered if I couldn’t figure out a solution to a problem.
So overtime, I was able to say I was a great Pilates teacher who had some very dramatic pain relief and posture restoration success stories with clients, but I also felt that I needed other certifications to qualify other instructional modalities more so I could help more people.
Q: What benefits have you gained from specializing?
A: The benefits are probably too great to number, or pinpoint to specifics.
There is something so incredibly special and satisfying when you know you were instrumental in helping someone change their lives for the better.
I’ve learned empathy, patience, and improved in my listening skills and ability to think creatively. My expertise and efficacy at postural evaluations and assessments continually improves, and I am not afraid to be honest in a kind and considerate way with my clients. I do not make promises I can’t keep, and if I can’t come up with a workable solution, I’m not afraid to refer out.
Perhaps best of all is that I’m truly able to create a corrective exercise program based on the unique needs, learning style and finances of each client. I like that I’m not stuck on one specific modality as my only tool to work with.
Q: What, if any, challenges have you run into by specializing? Have you felt like it's limited you in some way?
A: Yes, there’s been challenges. One modality that I love has a motto that it is the only way to help a person get out of chronic pain. That was hard for me because the longer I worked in the field because, the more people and difficult the circumstances of the pain problem, the more I realized how chronic pain relief is more that just a simple act of working with the physical body. The pain problem is more of a bio-psycho-social model and each person’s situation is unique. Finding a certification that allowed me to address this within scope of practice, as well as provide programming that includes a full assessment, self myofascial release AND corrective exercises (which can be a hybrid of modalities) was what I really needed. I found that with The BioMechanics Method Certification.
Q: Do all of your clients/students fall under your specialization? If not, what percentage of your clientele falls into your niche?
A: No not all. I’d estimate that 60% of my clients fall under the hybrid approach of specialization (The BioMechanics Method Certification allows me do do this), and around 30% are Foundation Training and Pilates specific.
Q: What advice would you give to a fitness pro who is thinking of specializing?
A: Corrective exercise and all forms of personal training is a field of continuous learning. You must love the challenge of a problem, and the process of discovering the right solutions for your clients.
You have to love to teach! Not everyone is gifted with that. Simple route memorization of facts and exercises doesn’t mean your client will improve. Corrective Exercise instruction is a labor of love and patience. You have to work hard at your teaching skills to be able to identify his/her learning style, how you deliver information, and improve in your coaching ability. Ultimately, healing comes down to your ability to empower your clients by giving them the right information and tools to help them fix themselves.
A “one-size fits all”, or one methodology only approach will eventually fail. Human beings are unique. There are general rules you can follow, and they will work 50% or more of the time. But they don’t always work. When you run into a problem you can’t solve, do not make promises. Ask for help within your certificating body, stay within your scope of practice, and be honest with your clients. They will appreciate it, and you will learn from it.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: I’m so grateful to be given this opportunity! Thank you so much.