“Anyone can give you a workout that will make you tired.
We give you workouts that make you better.” – some smart trainer chick

We received an email this week from a client who decided she doesn’t want to keep training  with us because she found that the workout just isn’t for her. I have no issues with that – we’re not for everyone. But then she cited that she felt the workout was “not at the intensity” she expected. I felt this deserved comment because I think her desire for an intense workout at this point is misguided.

I decided to share my email response as a blog article, because I think the notion of intensity is one of the most misunderstood aspects of training, and that this is particularly true for beginners and those who have injuries or are returning to activity post-injury.

Here is my reply (I changed the name of course):

Hi Sara,

I am sorry to hear that the training did not meet your expectations. I do of course understand that our approach is not for everyone. We make no qualms about being conservative – in fact I would say it’s one of our selling points. Because we take the time to find the baseline of movement that clients can manage without pain, and progress them from there, we are able to turn clients who have previously had daily pain into uber-athletes who deadlift 200+ pounds and can thrive in a tennis tournament without advil.

I certainly understand the desire to push yourself (been there!), but the reality for you is that you have some physical issues that require us to put on the brakes with you so that we can help you get to the pain free level, and then work from there. The thing is there is sometimes a difference  between “what we want” and “what we need”, and I honestly believe that part of our job as personal trainers is to hold athletes back when they want to do too much, or push too hard. It tends to be the opposite with general public clients: they need us to push them. I have no doubt you will find a workout that you can do that will give you the intensity you want right away; but I suspect that any intense workouts you do will only contribute to the injuries that have plagued you for some time.

Slow and steady is not sexy, but I really think it’s the only way. This doesn’t mean you’ll be doing light weight or bodyweight only exercises for a long time. Quite the contrary! We will gladly progress you once you are able to do the exercises we program for you without pain, and that you feel them where you should. The latter point is as important as the pain-free part. With an injury past, there are often muscles that no longer work properly and so other muscles take over. From a systems design perspective, the body is brilliant – so much built in redundancy! But there is a price: the backup muscles don’t work as well as the primary ones. A bit like your car – the spare tire is a brilliant solution for a short period of time, but if you drove on it for too long, you’ll end up with problems. And so it’s really important that we get your body using the proper muscles for the movements you ask of it. But I promise you – once everything is firing properly, the workout you get at Custom Strength will have intensity.  Some of our clients sweat so much that I can read what their shirt says through the sweat mark they leave on the floor (see attached photos).

If you’re sure that this is not for you, then that’s fine. I wish you the best of luck with whatever training approach you choose. If  you’d like to reconsider and give us a go, then we’d love to see you building up to the heavy sweating phase of the program.



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Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, dedicated to providing the right workout to everyone who comes through our doors.


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