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Measuring for Success!

We have previously blogged about the importance of measuring your food for portion control. While food measuring is very important to keep diets and macros in check, measuring is important in other ways.

Client Goals

Every person at the gym has a goal or reason to be at the gym – especially if they are investing in a personal trainer or coach. For all clients and trainers gym goals are important because goals shape client programming. If clients do not provide a goal or reason for working with a trainer, they have no units of measure to work towards. Without units of measure, the tangibility of a trainers program is nonexistent.

Losing Weight

When it comes to establishing goals, the most common client goal is weight loss. This is probably the easiest goal to track – clients either lose weight or they don’t. Right? Not quite. Just because weight loss is the main reason many people workout, it doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to measure. While the majority of the US is morbidly obese, most of those people unfortunately are not at a gym. So how do you measure weight loss for a client with nominal weight loss goals? Take body measurements using calipers or a measuring tape. While the scale might not be extremely helpful for small weight loss goals, taking various body measurements will help. 

Leaning Out or Getting Toned

For clients indicating they want to lean out or get toned body measurements will help, but might not be enough. For clients only seeing subtle changes in body measurements, other methods of progress or improvements can be used. For example, tracking increases in weights or improvements in ranges of motion can be used. If a client is looking for improved cardiovascular or endurance, establish monthly exercises for the client to perform, such as a timed run or timed push ups. Document the results and share the changes with the client.

Making Gains

For clients simply wanting to lift more weight and gain muscle, progress or success will be reflected in the amount of weight they move in the various exercises. If clients feel as though they are plateauing or progressing too slowly, tracking their progress over time is most helpful.

When to Measure

Measuring client progress will vary depending on the client goal. For weight loss clients, monthly measurements (scale weight and body measurements) are recommended. This gives the clients enough time to show changes and also establishes a pattern for accountability.

For clients with less noticeable goals, such as leaning out or gaining muscle, monthly body measurements could be used. If body measurements are not the chosen unit of measure, progress reports every 2-3 months showing weight increases can help. Alternatively, using predetermined exercises, such as a timed run for endurance or joint measurements for flexibility changes can be used.

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Creating Successful Personal Trainers Through Classroom and Gym Training

At PFTA Austin, our goal is to create successful personal trainers through classroom and gym training. This is more than just a tagline for us. We believe that anyone can become certified online, but without the hands on experience and practice, personal trainers fall short. Every single student that enrolls with PFTA Austin is guaranteed hands on practice in the gym.

If you follow us socially on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you will see what we mean. We know that what we offer makes us different. We know that what we offer is extremely valuable to new trainers. We know this because we’ve researched and lived it.

Why You Should Care About Us

We love what we do and we practice exactly what we preach. In addition to instructing new certified personal trainers, we are certified personal trainers with active clients. When we aren’t helping students in the classroom or gym, we are hands on with our clients at the gym or in their homes. Amongst the instructor team at PFTA Austin, we have approximately 20 years gym experience, the bulk of which has been as certified personal trainers. We have successfully worked in commercial gyms and run our own practices. We have worked with people from early teens to approximately 80 years old. We have helped people lose weight, become more function, regain mobility, get back the pre-pregnancy curves, recover from surgeries, and gain muscle for competition. 

Why Gym Training Matters

Have you ever joined a gym and been offered a free personal training session? How was the experience? Did the trainer follow a script and feel distant? Did it seem like the trainers knew what they were doing? This is the experience we don’t want any gym client to have – regardless of where they workout. We want people to work with trainers. We want people to want to work with trainers. More importantly, we want people to work safely with competent and confident certified personal trainers.

What PFTA Austin Offers

Regardless of the Certified Personal Training session that you take, you experience a mix of classroom and gym time. If you join our Tuesday and Thursday session, which runs for 12 weeks, you enjoy Tuesday in the classroom and Thursday at Gym One. Our 15 week long Wednesday and Saturday groups spend every 3rd session at the gym. While it might seem like the Wednesday and Saturday groups are missing out with fewer gym sessions – trust us – they are not. We maximize every class – especially at the gym. Students experience a true learning environment, where the instructors demonstrate and explain, the students then perform the work on each other, and finally the students practice on the instructors. We take our time and we practice, practice, practice!!!

To keep our content solid and industry certified, we have proudly partnered with the National Council on Strength & Fitness. As a result of this partnership, you get:

  • NCSF student and lab guides; online access to an NCSF account containing review content, sample exercises, practice quizzes, and practice tests; and an NCSF exam voucher.
  • PFTA provided student guide with additional student content and notes.
  • Strength Training Anatomy and Stretching Anatomy books.
  • Over 60 hours of classroom and hands on gym training.
  • A gym membership at Gym One for the duration of the course.
  • End of course study groups to help prepare you for the national exam.

Additionally – we are here for you when class wraps up and you have completed your 12 or 15 weeks in the class. We not only want you to pass, we want you to be successful, so we make time to help you study and become comfortable with all the content. Did we mention that we also have a Spanish class? Hit us up for more information.

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Powerlifting or Weightlifting

When joining a gym and determining a goal or focus, how do you decide what you want to pursue? While both lifting styles are demanding on the body, they are very different in movements, purpose, and preparation.

Bench press

Powerlifting for Overall Body Strength

If you use weights at a gym, there is a good chance you are familiar with the big three powerlifting exercises of bench, squats, and deadlifts. While you might not actually lay on a bench and press a bar up or stand in a rack with a bar across your shoulders and squat downwards, you probably do a variation of these exercises. 

  • Bench press: In the bench, the lifter lowers the weight to the chest and then presses it back up. The bench press can be done with a bar, dumbbells, or bands. This exercise helps develops upper body strength and an alternative is push ups.
  • Back squats: For the back squat, the lifter places the bar across the top of the back, lowers towards the ground, and then drives back up. Squats can be performed with weight on the front, overhead, or at the waist. Barbells, dumbbells, and various machines, such as the belt squat can be used. The squat is great for core and hip activation as well as lower body strength. Alternatives include box squats, body weight, and air squats.
  • Deadlifts: For deadlifts, the lifter lifts a loaded barbell or bar off the ground to the level of the hips and then lowers it back to the ground. Deadlifts are a great posterior exercise that can be performed with bars, dumbbells, and bands. Alternative exercises include hip thrusters and kettlebell swings.

Powerlifting exercises are very muscle power focused. These exercises are easily adaptable to accommodate or adapt to individual needs. For example, if someone is weak in the hips or glutes, a box squat can help. Alternatively, if someone is weak on one side, these exercises can be modified to single leg or arm to isolate and strengthen. If someone is very strong using two legs or hands, these exercise can easily shift to one leg or arm to challenge stability.

Jerk press

Weightlifting for Strength and Flexibility

Weight, or Olympic, lifting includes many lower body-focused exercises. While the lower body does the bulk of work, a weightlifter also requires a strong core and shoulder complex. The common exercises in weightlifting include:

  • Snatch: For the snatch, the lifter takes the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single motion. This exercise involves power from the ground, through the feet, and all the way through the body. The ankles, knees, and hips start flexed, are quickly extended, and then flexed again. The elbows stay fairly straight, while the shoulder, or rotator cuff, is the joint action (shoulder extension and abduction) that takes the weights from the floor to over the lifters head. While there aren’t alternative exercises for the snatch, it involves the snatch deadlift, rows/high pulls, and overhead squats.
  • Clean: For the clean, the lifter moves the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids, without resting fully on the clavicles. Similar to the snatch, the ankles, knees, and hips start flexed, are quickly extended, and then flexed again. The wrists and elbows start extended and then flex as the bar settles across the deltoids. The shoulder, or rotator cuff, is the joint action that takes the weights (extension) from the floor to rest (flexion) on the delta. While there aren’t alternative exercises for the clean, it involves the traditional deadlift, rows/high pulls, and front squats.
  • Clean and Jerk: For the clean and jerk, the lifter moves the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids, without resting fully on the clavicles and then presses the bar overhead. In addition to the joint actions involved in the clean alone, the jerk adds shoulder abduction as the lifter presses the bar overhead. The military press, traditional deadlifts, high pulls, and front squats are used to build this exercise.

While all of these exercises might not sound overly difficult, every joint from the wrist to the ankle is used, with a high amount of force pushed through the body. As mentioned above, preparing the body for these types of lifts requires lifters to complete powerlifting exercises including front squats, snatch deadlifts, and military presses.

Supporting Both Styles

Regardless of which lifting path you choose, do not neglect your joints! Additional exercises, such as external shoulder rotation with bands or light weight shoulder movements can benefit all powerlifting and weightlifting exercises. Air squats are great for warming up the hips and lower body, while lateral lunges warm up the knees and stretch the hip joints laterally.

45 degree front raises

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Working Safely in the Gym

When working out at the gym and approaching a piece of equipment, do you know how to set it up for your safety? In an exercise movement, do you know how get out of the movement to avoid injury?

Working Solo to Avoid Injury

While some exercise movements might have an obvious “out”, such as dropping the weights, many exercises do not. There are many variables to consider in exercise safety, including:

  • Type of weights used: Barbells and dumbbells are different. You cannot disengage your body with a barbell the same way you would a dumbbell. For example, bench press. Using a barbell on a bench press, you must have safety bars in place or not have clips securing the plates to tip the weights off. In a dumbbell bench, you simply need to release the dumbbell safely away from your body.
  • Machine used: Fixed weight machines move or they don’t. If you are able to get the weight up/moving, you better be ready to bring it back down safely. For a machine, such as a belt squat, you can use safety pins at the bottom to prevent the weights from pulling you to the ground, otherwise, you must be able to grab the handle bar and rack it. If using the rack, use the safety bars placed at an appropriate level for the exercise, such as knee height for squats and shoulder height for overhead presses.
  • Personal space: When performing free weight movements or mobility exercises, such as kettlebell swings or walking lunges, know what is going on around you. If you plan on doing weightlifting, such as a front squat or clean, make sure you have the surrounding space to safely drop the bar forward and move your body backwards.
  • Exercise movement: Similar to the issue of personal space, know the exact movement you need to execute the exercise properly. If you are in a small space, you might not be able to execute the exercise properly or safely. When setting up your space for the exercise, make sure you have safety features, such as a safety bar in the proper position if you must abort the movement.

Having a Spotter to Avoid Injury

As you work up in weights or become less comfortable moving in an exercise, you might ask someone to spot your movement. While most people are willing to help, not everyone knows how to do this safely. For example:

  • Bench press: Spotters should be overhead at the bar and ready to assist with a neutral grip on the bar. The neutral grip helps ensure the spotter doesn’t lose the bar backwards or forwards when trying to pull the bar up.
  • Front or Back Squats: If one spotter is in use, they should stand behind the lifter with arms ready to wrap around the torso under the arm pits to help the lift move up and not fall forward. Additional spotters can be at either side of the bar ready to grab the ends of the bar to help lift it up.
  • Dumbbell exercises: Depending on the exercise, it might be easiest for the lifter to simply drop the weights. If however, an assisted lift is requested, the spotter should be providing stability at the wrists.

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Standing Upright

At PFTA Austin, in addition to teaching students hands on learning with equipment in the gym, we teach students how to fix or correct common conditions that can lead to pain, discomfort, and injury.

Previously, we discussed the importance of breathing and how without a proper tight core, you can create repetitive strains and injuries.

Are You a Sloucher or Do You Stand Tall?

When standing or walking, does your posture look more like left or right Justin?

Ninety percent of personal training clients we meet, have a variation of upper crossed syndrome because of their daily activities. The majority of these people experience this syndrome because of working with technology – sitting at a desk or with a device in hand – for extended periods of time.

The Sloucher

In the image of Justin slouching, you can see how disengaged the posterior, or backside, is and the resulting effect on the body. If we had another angle, you might also notice knees and ankles turning in.

What Does it Mean?

Depending on the person, the results of a slouched body could include:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Core discomfort including the ribs
  • Back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Upper body weakness
  • Knee pain
  • Foot pain
  • Lower body weakness

In addition to the items above, a sloucher is simply going to be prone to injuries. Injuries will occur because their backside is dormant and their core is weak. Anyone with this posture, will have difficulties doing basic things, such as getting up and down, picking things up, reaching, walking, or assisting others.

Standing Tall

In the image of Justin standing tall, his shoulders are pulled back and his chest is up, helping straighten his neck. His glutes and core are also engaged pulling his hips into neutral.

By making these changes while standing, Justin has taken the pressure off his anterior, or frontside. This change in posture means that his entire body is engaged. If he were to trip or lose his balance, he is less likely to strain a muscle or hit the ground because his body is not anterior dominant or dealing with a forward momentum situation.

How Can You Stand Tall?

If you happen to have a desk job, get up! Get a standing desk to straighten your hips, but also get moving. Find ways to stretch your chest, activate your back, and loosen up.

The Effect at the Gym

If you don’t take the steps to fix the poor posture, you are guaranteed to experience problems in the gym. While it might not be obvious, in addition to the back-focused exercises of rows and pull downs, your back is extremely important for the following exercises:

  • Shoulder press
  • Shoulder raises
  • Front raises
  • Chest press
  • Push ups
  • Bicep curls
  • Hammer curls
  • Front squats
  • Back squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Planks
  • Step ups

Does this surprise you? If you think about the focus of an exercise and how the body is used, a strong back is required. For example, if you don’t have a strong back, how can your shoulders support weight above your body? If you don’t have a strong back, how can your rotator cuff act safely as a stabilizer for anything chest, shoulders, or back?

Notice the inclusion of the lower body exercises? Many lower body exercises involve placing weight on the upper part of the body or lifting it off the ground. If you don’t activate your back and core for squats, then you are likely to tilt forward and get injured. When executing a deadlift, if you don’t engage your back/lats to get the weight posterior focused, you run the risk of anterior strain because your chest is bearing the weight of the bar, pulling your shoulders and everything else forward.

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Continuing Personal Trainer Education in Austin

When students complete their Certified Personal Training certification with PFTA Austin, we want to continue to help them succeed in their personal training careers.

As a result, we continue to improve ourselves and expand our educational offerings for the personal training community. We are excited to share that Keli Hay will become fully certified as a CPR/AED instructor next week with the American Heart Association. With this new certification, PFTA Austin will be adding monthly CPR workshops – stay tuned for the exact dates!

Provider for Continuing Education

In addition to the CPR courses, we are creating workshops to help personal trainers hone their skills in different areas. Where are these workshops coming from? We have created them based on our first hand experiences as personal trainers (working in corporate gyms and as private trainers) and from feedback in the field.

To make sure certified personal trainers receive credits for our workshops, we became an approved provider of continuing education with the National Council on Strength and Fitness. Our inaugural workshops are:

  • Client Assessments and Engagement
  • Program Design

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or are interested in our continuing education workshops, we would love to hear from you!

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Bracing and Breathing to Avoid Injuries When Lifting

Watching people lifting around the gym, it’s hard to tell how much time lifters spend thinking about and practicing the elements of creating a strong core which includes – bracing and breathing. Faces go deep red/purple because people hold their breath for too long or breathe at the wrong time resulting in body shifts – mainly hips and shoulders.

Poor Bracing and Breathing

As you continue to build strength in any exercise – especially the main three of bench, deadlifts, and back squats – you must continue to brace and keep your form. Without proper bracing and breathing, you can hurt yourself – especially as you increase weights. For example, you could:

In addition to injuries in the moment, you could cause repetitive stress on joints and muscles creating other issues, such as lower back or neck pain.

Tightening the Core

Buddha Belly Breathing

How do you practice core tightening and breathing? Lay flat on your back and breathe! If only it was that easy 🙂 To truly brace your core, practice breathing in through your nose to expand your belly and then exhale out your mouth.

To practice bracing your abdominal muscles:

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Get your hips into neutral position.
  3. Breathe in through your nose.
  4. Lift and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles.
  5. Very gently contract or tense your abdominal wall.
  6. Keep your pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles contracted.
  7. Relax your abdominal muscles after maintaining your abdominal contraction for 5-10 seconds at a time.
  8. Exhale out your mouth.

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Sharing A Passion for Training

Over the past few years, the health and wellness industry has continued to see an uptick in consumer spending. While the investing areas vary, the results are conclusive – people are starting to take better care of themselves.

With consumers investing $702.1 billion on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss and an additional $595.4 billion on fitness, personal trainers need to find their piece of the market.

Making Your Mark

On June 25th, PFTA Austin was proud to welcome Justin Mihaly and Megan Davis from Team Mihaly to the school to share their lessons learned with the upcoming graduates. If you haven’t heard of Justin and Megan, you might not be into body building or use online coaching. Since 2015, Justin has successfully built a very successful online coaching product and service. The company works with clients in 9 different countries and 50 states. 

Justin and Megan shared their previous life and work experiences contributing to their current successes. Additionally, Justin shared his beliefs around what makes a great trainer. Top of the list was passion. He believes, as we do at PFTA Austin, that you must love personal training. Whether that passion means helping create the perfect physique for competition, helping people lose weight, or simply helping people move better, you must have a passion for it. 

His second and third items on the list were knowledge and networking. In a previous post, we discussed how personal trainers must be self motivators and lifelong learners, so we were very happy to hear Justin reiterate the importance of continued learning. He also emphasized the importance of networks – whether it be in person contacts or networking groups.

Finding Partnerships

We really want to thank Justin and Megan for spending time with us at the school. As the health and wellness industry continues to evolve through technology and people continue to invest in their health, we want to make sure that all PFTA Austin graduates have the tools to succeed. 

If you are interested in becoming a certified personal trainer or would like to partner with PFTA Austin to help educate personal trainers, we would love to hear from you!

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Working with Client Goals

When working as a personal trainer, the most important aspect of connecting with a client is understanding the client goal. While the most common goals include weight loss and muscle gain, you must let clients tell you their goals. Taking the time to listen and understand what the client is saying is the most important. For example, if a client is overweight, never assume their main goal is weight loss. 

As a personal trainer, it is very rare that you will encounter the “perfect” client. For example, a weight loss client might hit it hard at the gym, but struggle with food, so the weight loss is slow. It is not your job to tell someone what to do, but rather coach and encourage the client when progress and healthy choices are made.

Be Ready for Curve Balls

Most clients come to you with health conditions or variables making the achievements of the goals challenging. Your goal as a trainer is to work with whatever the client brings you. Weight loss programs, dieting trends/fads, workout programs, muscle disorders, medications…every single thing a client will tell you they have/are doing can be found online.


If a potential client is on a prescription, research the product to understand the impact of the drug. When researching the product, look up the side effects and impact on the body. Also research any potential conflicting medications or supplements incase something, such as caffeine – which is common in pre-workout – impacts the effects of the prescribed medication.

Injuries or Physical Limitations

The most common injury amongst athletes is a sprained ankle. The next 5 common injuries are all lower body. In addition to the common injuries, because of commuting and sitting the majority of the day, most office job people have visible anterior body movements. Be ready for this, but never make assumptions. Use your pre-exercise screening tools to help assess client movements. Also be ready for clients in a mental state of being disabled. What do I mean? Clients will indicate they were injured over 5 years ago and still mentally think the injury is a problem. Realistically, the injury is long gone, but the client is favoring the injured muscle/joint causing other problems.

Dietary Concerns or Beliefs

When a client comes to you wanting to lose weight, do you think they want you to tell them how to do it? Nope. Don’t even try for a couple of reasons.

  • Unless you have a specialized degree or certification, you are not a nutritionist, so be careful with what you say. Consult the Center for Nutrition Advocacy for the laws applicable to your employment state.
  • Clients need to figure out their diet on their own. You can coach and guide around good nutrition choices, but you cannot force or control what they eat.

If a client has a medical reason for not consuming a certain food, ask why and do some research. All dietary concerns can be accommodated to match a client goal at the gym.

If a client is following a particular diet program or fad, also do your research. While many diet fads can be tough on the body during exercise, they can also be accommodated. If you can tap into the true goal and understand the nutritional habits of your clients, you should be able to coach them mentally to a successful weight loss – regardless of the chosen method.

For information about the open enrollment for the June start of the Certified Personal Trainer course or any PFTA Austin workshops, contact:

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Completing the Perfect Exercise

If you ever watch people in a gym setting you inevitably see the “same” exercise performed in many different ways. While some people need to make adjustments for injuries or body reasons – such as joint or skeletal issues – the reality is many people simply do exercises wrong.

Exercise Considerations

When performing an exercise, there are several things to consider, including the:

  • Purpose of the exercise. Without knowing why you should be doing an exercise, then don’t do it. Without knowing the purpose of an exercise, you will not know which muscles or joint actions are involved. You also won’t be able to distinguish poor form related pains from regular muscle fatigue.
  • Muscles involved. Similar to the purpose of the exercise, to make sure you perform an exercise properly, you should also know the primary, opposing, synergist, and stabilizer muscles involved. With an understanding of all exercise-specific muscles, you can properly warm up and cool down the proper muscles for your workouts.
  • Joint actions. With an understanding of the joint action for an exercise, you can properly execute an exercise for maximal results on the primary muscle and minimal chance of personal injury.
  • Weights involved. While not all exercises use weights, when using weights it is important to know the most appropriate amount of weight, the type of weight, and the grips involved to maximize the results and minimize injury.

Exercising Wrong

To best explain how exercises go wrong, here are three common exercises that people typically perform incorrectly.

Bicep Curls

The purpose of the bicep curl is to strengthen the front of the forearm. The primary muscles involved include the brachialis, biceps brachii, anterior deltoid, brachial, and brachioradialis. The joint actions include elbow flexion, meaning the elbow joints come together in the motion. You can use bars, dumbbells, cables, or bands to complete the bicep curl. Common mistakes include rounding backs, leaning forward, or elevating shoulders. These mistakes result in the lats (latissimus dorsi) and traps (trapezius) and neck muscles firing taking the focus off the biceps and causing posture issues over time.


The purpose of the lunge is to strengthen the butt and top part of each leg independently. The primary muscles involved include the gluteus maximus, rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, sartorius, biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. The joint actions include hip extension and knee extension meaning the hip and knee joints extend in the eccentric motion. While weights can be added to this exercise, unless you can keep your front leg at 90 degrees and your torso tight, focus on form before adding weight. Common mistakes include extending the knee beyond the toes or leaning too far forward resulting in patellar pain. 

Seated Row

The purpose of the seated row is to strengthen the back. The primary muscles involved include the rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, teres major, brachialis, biceps brachii, and brachioradialis. The joint actions include shoulder extension, shoulder hyperextension, scapular retraction, elbow flexion. There are many fixed weight machine options involving weights, but bands and cables can also be used. Common mistakes include rounding backs and tightened core compromising the chest and resulting in the back muscles not being worked.

For information about the open enrollment for the June start of the Certified Personal Trainer course or any PFTA Austin workshops, contact:

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