Old Habits Die Hard

Old Habits Die Hard
Photo by Gemilang Sinuyudhan / Unsplash

About a year ago, I started working with a personal trainer at a local gym. I felt desperate to regain the strength and mobility I had lost during the pandemic, so I found a place that could take me in and I worked with this guy twice a week for 30 minutes over three months.

From the beginning, I knew we weren’t a perfect fit. He was overly familiar, a touch cocky, and faintly inappropriate. But I was eager to begin and we had bonded over dead parents and wonky knees. I thought I could make it work.

It was good enough.

Embarrassingly, I have found myself in this position more times than I can count. I need something and put up with less than perfect in order to keep moving forward. I’m an expert at rationalizing, justifying, making-do. And because I keep expecting that to be a temporary state, I don’t address my underlying frustration. The results almost always end poorly.

Not surprisingly, this relationship ended the same way. The trainer was handsy - many trainers do put their hands on their clients - but he did it in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I made jokes at first because he’d get defensive when I asked him to do something differently.

I tried every way I could to tell him I was uncomfortable without actually telling him I was uncomfortable.

He finally fired me. He felt my distance and told me he wasn’t having fun anymore.

I was stunned. And furious - with him and myself.

I’m proud that in that moment I was able to articulate that he had a responsibility to establish trust between us and that his inappropriate behavior had eroded my trust which created my increasing withdrawal.

He was equally stunned. We parted ways.

Fast forward six months.

I’ve found another gym that fits me perfectly. The classes, the trainers, the owners - everything aligns with my values.

Last week, I went to see a stretch coach at the gym after straining some muscles. As I lay on my back on the table in the middle of the gym, he dug his fingers into my leg muscles and hip joints. I breathed deeply and let go of all my tension.

But then he took his fingers and dug into my iliopsoas - a deep muscle on the side abdomen just above the pelvic bone.

I almost hit him.

He’d done this movement before and I didn’t have a problem then but, for some reason, this time was different.

It was only when I flipped over so he could work on my glutes that I realized what was happening. I had no issue with him digging into my glutes and hamstrings. But when I was on my back, my body was in fight or flight mode.

I thought back to the break up with my previous trainer and made a different decision.

“I have to tell you something confidentially,” I said, turning around, looking up and making eye contact. My voice was calm, steady, and kind as I acknowledged a truth I rarely speak of. “I’ve experienced trauma in the previous position and I’m pretty sure that’s why I reacted that way. I don’t know why it’s coming up now. I don’t usually have an issue but I think that’s what was holding me back.”

He immediately got it.

“I’ve had clients who have similar experiences.” he responded, “What would help you when I’m working on you?”

“How about giving me verbal cues before you dig in? Also, I love learning - I’m always curious about what’s happening - so if you talk about what you’re doing, I’ll be able to help you help me.”

Our conversation was clear, respectful, and deeply human. He saw me and I saw him. The trust I assumed I could put in him solidified. We finished the session with him explaining away and me asking questions and breathing into the work.

I felt like a million dollars by the end.

As I went to leave, I thanked him for his partnership.

He thanked me as well. “That was a thoroughly enjoyable session,” he said gratefully.

Again, I was stunned but for an entirely different reason.

It had never occurred to me that sharing my uncomfortable truth could make someone else more comfortable.

I could feel every inch of my feet holding me steady on the ground. Strength radiated up through my body. My spine straight, my head high, my heart calm, I moved forward.