Sizing up a personal trainer


Jeff Libengood
Jeff Libengood

Jeff Libengood, aka the Fitness Doctor, makes no bones about the qualities of a good personal trainer.

"It's somebody that thinks outside the box and understands the body and how it works," says the 40-year-old "total producer" of EastWest Fitness. "It's also somebody who can mix and match a wide diversity of people and who understands that the psychology of a person is just as important as the physical."

Neither does Libengood mince words about what makes for a bad trainer. He says a recent visit to the gym of prominent club in Tokyo offered a prime example: "I walked in to the gym and there was this trainer training a woman that looked to be in her 40s and slightly overweight and he had her hunched over doing one-arm dumbbell rows but wearing a wrist strap. If the lady can't even hold the weight why are you having her do it? It's going to create an even greater imbalance in strength."

The former bodybuilder turned softball champ should know. He's versed in strength, speed and core conditioning, kinesiology, injury prevention and rehab. And his certification includes medicine ball training, power aerobics, golf biometrics, nutrition and fitness for older adults. Yet much like the state-of-the-art facility he unveiled in Asakasa in October, and his previous success at Jeff's Fitness with clients ranging from homemakers to the likes of Bob Sapp, he indicates that a good trainer is more than the sum of his or her parts.

"You should see a motivational increase, right away," he says, adding that simply feeling stronger after a few workouts with a new trainer should be taken with a grain of salt. "Anything that happens physiologically in the first few weeks is just a neural response."

Libengood's approach to, and assessment of, personal training is freely "outside the box." He has probed techniques from the Russian use of counterbalances in bodybuilding to Swiss ball training, which he is currently penning a book about. It all boils down to innovative training tailored to individual needs that the cookie-cutter approach to training can neglect, or even aggravate.

He says about 90 percent of the people he sees experience some kind of pain, often as a result gross-segmented or segmented postural faults. And everyday bad posture in, as well as outside, the gym are contributors. If the knees are misaligned, for example, he says it can affect the ankles as well as the hips going from a single segmented fault to gross-segmented problems.

"One thing I see a lot of is very weak functional strength - even in people that workout in a gym all the time," he says. "I see a lot of inflexibility and very poor core conditioning because they're just sitting in a (exercising) machine." It's a sure sign that some personal trainers may not be on the ball.

Libengood says the pain that results from long-term bad posture is not a medical problem but a mechanical one. It should be corrected by realigning the bones and joints with therapeutic muscle use, strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight ones. But some trainers, he says, are just "bean counters" that assign and count reps.

"I'm not really a reps and bench press guy," Libengood admits. "The bench press is valuable but when in your daily life do you use just those muscles?" Instead, he emphasizes functional strength of all muscles in tandem with the nervous system for holistic body movement.

While EastWest Fitness boasts old-school as well as high-tech exercise machines available in no other gym in Japan, Libengood says they alone do not make for good training. In fact, he cautions against any personal trainer who does little more than direct their clients from one machine to the next.

"Sitting you in a machine that does this," he says while making a linear pumping motion with his leg, "while you work your other muscles less has no absolute value in real life. The purpose of functional conditioning is to make what you do outside of the gym easier - and the way to do that is to use what you use outside the gym."

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