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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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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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Nourishing Your Body Properly – Part 4: Proteins

OMG, I’m soooo fat, time to cut the carbs and up the protein! Everyone thinks that protein is the answer to everything and carbs are the enemy. As mentioned last week, carbs – when the right ones are consumed – are beneficial to overall health.

The Importance of Protein in the Body

Similar to carbohydrates and fats, proteins contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but proteins differ because they also contain nitrogen. Proteins are long chains of linked amino acids and most known for muscle growth and repair. However, protein also plays an important role in the development, maintenance, and repair of all tissues in the body.

Proteins are divided as follows:

  • Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be acquired by food.
  • Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body and do not need to be consumed in dietary sources.
  • In some disease conditions, nonessential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and they become conditionally essential amino acids.
EssentialNonessentialConditionally Essential
LysineAspartic acid
PhenylalanineGlutamic acid

Protein Food Sources

To get the proper protein – aka amino acid – consumption, you also need to know if what you are eating is considered:

  • Complete protein – which provides all the essential amino acids in the amount the body needs and is easy to digest and absorb.
  • Incomplete protein – which are foods not containing all the essential amino acids in the amount needed by the body.

Complete Proteins Include:

Whole eggYogurt and granola
Milk and milk productsOatmeal with milk
Meat and poultryLentils and bread
FishTortillas with beans or bean burritos
Rice and beansMacaroni and cheese
Peanut butter on whole-wheat breadHummus
Sunflower seeds and peanutsBean soup with whole-grain crackers

How Much Protein Do You Need

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per daily. When expressed as a percentage of total calories, the recommendation is that 10–35% of an individual’s daily calories should come from protein.

Diet Examples

Using the same data from the Carbs and Fats articles, we will work backwards to determine the amount of proteins per day. 

1600 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 20% protein-based diet (50% carbs and 30% fats), a person eating 1600 calories a day would consume 320 calories worth of proteins. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of a protein, so on a 1600 calorie diet, a person would consume 320 calories or 80 grams of protein per day. A simplistic approach to breaking this down across the day would be splitting the protein across 3 meals and 2 snacks, for 20g per meal and 10g per snack.

2500 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 10% protein-based diet (60% carbs and 30% fats), a person eating 2500 calories a day would consume 250 calories worth of protein. 250 calories of protein is equal to 6.25 grams of protein per day.

Don’t Be Scared of Protein

Protein helps the body by providing:

  • fluid balance
  • blood clotting
  • enzyme production
  • acid-base balance
  • immune function
  • hormone regulation
  • carrier services for several nutrients

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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Nourishing Your Body Properly – Part 3: Fats

Already have too much fat on your body? Eat the leanest meats, cut the carbs and cut the fats! Right? Similar to carbohydrates – aka carbs, not all fats are equal. Because many people think that a fat, is a fat, is a fat, they make bad diet choices and are easily fooled by food labels and titles. 

The Importance of Fats

Fats, also known as lipids, are a primary source of fuel for the body. While fats and carbs have the same structural elements, fats are metabolized and stored differently in the body. 

Fats are divided as follows:

  • Simple lipids include oils that are liquid at room temperature and fats that are solid at room. These fats contain only one or two different compounds. Examples include triglycerides and triacylglycerols.
  • Compound lipids include phospholipids and glycol-lipids, which frequently contain three or more chemical identities.
  • Derived lipids include sterols and fatty acids. Examples include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and saturated fats.

From a dietary perspective, fats are unsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fats (mono-and poly-) are commonly found in plant sources, while saturated fats are found in higher amounts in animal sources. Diets high in saturated fats affect the blood lipid profile resulting in an increased chance of coronary heart disease risk.

Canola oil
Olive oil
Peanut and other nut oils
Corn oil
Cottonseed oil
Safflower oil
Sunflower oil
Cocoa butter
Coconut oil
Ice cream
Palm oil
Red meats
Whole milk

How Much Fat You Need

Unlike carbs, fats are 9 kcal per gram – meaning they contain 5 more calories per gram. NCSF recommends a daily fats intake of 30% or less of the diet coming from fats, with only 7-10% coming from saturated fats. 

Diet Examples

Using the same data from the Carbs article, we will work backwards to determine the amount of fats per day.

1600 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 30% fats-based diet, a person eating 1600 calories would consume 480 calories from fats. There are 9 calories in 1 gram of a fat, so on a 1600 calorie diet, a person would consume 480 calories or ~53 grams of fats per day. A simplistic approach to breaking this down across the day would be splitting the carbs across 3 meals and 2 snacks, for 13g per meal and 6.5g per snack. To keep the fats low in saturated fats, this breaks down further to a total of 112 calories (7%) or 12g of saturated fats in an entire day.

2500 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 30% fats-based diet, a person eating 2500 calories a day would consume no more than 750 calories worth of fats. 750 calories of fats is equal to 83 grams of fats per day with only 175 calories/19g of them coming from saturated fats.

Don’t Be Scared of Fats

Fats help the body by:

  • Providing energy to the body
  • Transporting molecules in the blood
  • Storing nutrients, including vitamins
  • Serving as conduction canals in the nervous system
  • Forming hormones
  • Protecting organs
  • Regulating body temperature
  • Communicating energy needs
  • Forming cell membranes

For information about 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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