Articles for Employers, Articles for Professionals

The Value of Play in Personal Training


This is a great guest post by Ian O’Dwyer, an internationally respected Personal Trainer educator. Most recently Ian was a member of the panel on the PT Meeting of the Minds at FILEX. You can catch Ian in person on Friday 22nd July. Over to you Ian…

Play is one of the most powerful tools we have in our kit bag, it empowers people to change on many levels!

Recently I had a client come into a session who was in a quandary. It became clear that he was feeling guilty about the time he was committing to himself (by trying to get back into shape) and that he wasn’t really spending enough time with his daughter.

This was having a big effect on his relationship with her but also with himself. There was a lot of guilt and anxiety issues – he worked too many hours furnishing a lifestyle for his family but to the detriment of his own health and relationships. However, without addressing these issues there was very little chance of achieving his desired outcomes, as his emotional state would drive various hormone levels into disarray.

After listening (yes an unusual practice in our industry!) to his frustrations, I suggested he ask his daughter if she’d be interested in joining him for his next session. This created more discussion as he was a little concerned whether the session might lose direction in achieving his outcomes. I assured him that we would just try one session and then re-assess the options after that. He agreed.

It was quite interesting to see he and his daughter walk through the door. They were both excited but obviously nervous of the unknown of the next hour. My first step was to make them both feel as comfortable as possible, so I got Dad to go through some mobilizers (he already knew which mobs were required) whilst I had at quick chat with his daughter. I quickly reassured her that this was not a workout but more a playout, to have some fun and spend some time with her Dad; instantly there was relief in her face.

I went through a modified Program Design Questionnaire (designed by PTA Global) in a non-intimidating manner – covering questions that involved her hobbies, team activities, creativity and movement.

This gave me a very quick but clear overview of what I could do that would “meet her where she needed to be met”!

Based on Dad’s earlier PDQ, he liked structure, variety and to relax when stressed. Howerver, he did sit extensively, had loads of mental stress and wanted more movement in his day (a hybrid program required). An enormous emotional anchor was that he wanted to get into shape to be able to regain vitality and wellbeing to spend more quality time with his family. This was perfect.

The first step was to do something that she wanted to do, to help her feel more relaxed and to observe where “THEY” were today. I gave her three choices… (1) a reaction drill, (2) a ball drill or (3) a balloon drill – nothing too difficult but something that would allow me to see how they reacted to challenges, movement and themselves. She chose number one.

At the start of this game I performed an EE (Environmental Effects – an awareness tool ODOM designed and uses) on the Dad just to see where he was today. His score was mediocre so caution needed to be taken. The power of the EE is its ability to take the guesswork out of where you THINK your client is and where they  ACTUALLY are.

They both loved this and in fact played this game/drill for around 5 minutes, which well and truly got their entire system up-regulated. Laughter, intensity, interaction, challenge, competitiveness this was just what was needed to re-assure Dad (and myself) that this was going to work. Not only was he going to achieve his OUTCOME but he was also sharing QUALITY time with his daughter.

To allow for some recovery, we implemented Fascial Freeing using Whole Body
Vibration and also rollers. This enabled me to gather valuable feedback, explain the
next part of the session and observe their interaction and energy levels.

Dad chose the exercises and the tools he would like to implement in the Goal Based Movement section of the program. They were simple but very effective, feeding the body intelligent motion, challenging the appropriate gears whilst still creating enjoyment and interaction for them both.

At the end of the GBM section there was sweat, laughter, interaction, achievement
but most of all love. It was amazing to see how they inspired and challenged each
other, something that no-one else could produce.

We finished off the session with some flushing on Whole Body Vibration and once again some Fascial freeing. The glowing smiles on BOTH faces and the energy in the room was incredible. It was like I wasn’t even there, as though I was just the guide by their side. I loved it but more importantly so did they, this wasn’t a workout it was family time…a time to play! These guys train regularly together to this day once a week.

I witness daily the power of play, how it brings all types of people together and allows them to experience happiness, freedom, movement and interaction. The secret to play is don’t try to explain it, define it or dictate it, just experience it.


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