Amputee Fitness: What to look for in a personal trainer

Kevin Manuel Blog, Blog

The decision to join a gym and work toward improving your physical fitness is often not an easy one to arrive at, especially as an individual with limb loss. I’ve been training people (including those with limb loss/limb difference) for over six years. Most of the time I train in person at a gym, but I also consult and write exercise and nutrition programs for people over the Internet. By the way, I’m a bilateral above-knee amputee as well!

Working with a personal fitness coach or trainer can be a safe, fun and effective way to reach your fitness goals. Whether you want to work on balance, build your strength, or lose weight, most personal fitness trainers have the general know-how to help you attain your goals. However, as amputees, we need to be particularly selective with whom we entrust our fitness. Having experienced life as a personal fitness coach and an amputee, in addition to having trained many individuals with limb loss and limb difference, I want to shed some light on the special considerations that should be given to selecting a coach who can effectively help you reach your fitness goals while giving the needed attention to your limb loss.

The first order of business when considering a trainer is to ensure that your potential trainer/coach is certified and/or holds a degree in a field like exercise science or kinesiology. Now, certification doesn’t necessarily make a trainer any more qualified to specifically help an individual with limb loss, but it does mean that the trainer has taken the time to acquire an advanced level of knowledge pertaining to the human body, movement and nutrition. Far too often, I’ve seen people calling themselves “personal trainers” or “fitness coaches” without any credentialing – just because they’re in shape and people ask them for advice doesn’t mean they’re capable of coaching, especially not someone who has limb loss/limb difference. NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), and NPTI (National Personal Training Institute) are all certifications held by myself and trainers I respect highly, although there are many others available. Bottom line: Your trainer should have some letters after their name.

Beyond finding out if your trainer is certified or holds a degree, inquire as to what experience they have with special populations. Special populations includes individuals with limb loss but can also include other physical ailments, such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or other spinal cord injury (as well as more “basic” special populations, such as diabetes and hypertension). Having experience with people with limb loss/limb difference is obviously a plus, but let’s face it – we’re not the most common demographic. If your trainer does have experience in working with special populations, this indicates that they are capable of going the extra mile when it comes to research and giving extra consideration to special conditions. In addition, your prospective coach should express a clear understanding of any limitations or movement differences that are encountered with prostheses (or whatever assistive devices you may use).

Now, if your potential trainer or coach doesn’t have relevant experience in training individuals with limb loss/limb difference or other special populations, that may not totally disqualify them from becoming your coach, but you should at the very least ensure that they have a plan that you feel confident in. Once they have your full medical history (not just regarding your amputation, but any other conditions you have), ask them what they would plan for you as far as a workout goes, what a typical week may look like, and how they would help you progress and ensure that you reach your goals (for example, if your goal is to be able to balance better in your prostheses and all they talk about is weightlifting, chances are they don’t know what they’re doing with you).

Trainers are a special variety of people. We want to help everyone, and sometimes we (honestly) get in over our heads due to excitement over the possibility of helping a member of a special population. Personally speaking, I’ve witnessed many instances (and have probably been guilty myself) of trainers taking on clients with medical issues or health concerns beyond what the trainer was capable of handling properly. This often results in a negative experience for the client – anywhere from simply a bad workout to not getting the results they wanted or even to further injury! Your health is an important investment, and getting a personal trainer or coach will serve to enhance your return on investment – as long as they’re the right fit for you!

About the Author:

Trevor Bunch is a bilateral above knee amputee, personal fitness coach, and athlete. Physical activity has always been a passion of his, and he has put that passion to use by helping coach other amputees at all stages of their journey. Whether it’s motivation/mindset coaching, exercise or nutrition instruction, Trevor is always happy to help those who reach out to him maximize their physical potential!