Expert Interview Series: Josh Hewett of Top Form Fitness About Personal Training, Fitness Technology, and Helping People Improve Their Health

By Aaron Eisberg

Josh Hewett, B.A.Kin, is the owner of Top Form Fitness. Josh helps clients to transform their bodies while avoiding injury and reducing pain and muscular imbalance. We had a chance to speak with Josh about the ins and outs of fitness plans, as well as how technology is helping people reach their fitness goals more effectively and efficiently.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you decide to become a personal trainer?

The story of how I got into working out and the world of fitness is similar to that of many teenage guys. At 16 years old, I was somewhat insecure about being skinny and weak (weighing 150 lbs at 6 feet tall), and so I started lifting weights and learning as much as I could about strength training and nutrition. The goal was to put on some solid muscle, which I did; by the time I was 18 years old, I weighed 185 lbs and had "filled out" significantly.

However, what began as a quest to look more muscular eventually became a lifestyle and a passion for me, which I turned into a career. I realized that if you can do what you love for a living, it will feel as though you never have to work a day in your life!

I achieved several personal training certifications over the next few years, and ended up graduating from the University of Western Ontario with my Kinesiology degree. From there, my mission has been to help others live longer, healthier, pain-free lives while transforming their bodies and improving their performance.

Generally speaking, have you noticed any differences between Canadians and Americans in terms of their health challenges or fitness goals?

The thing I've noticed is that most people face very similar health challenges and fitness goals. If I were to generalize, it does seem that Americans may be dealing with a larger problem with obesity than in Canada, and there are cultural differences related to body image and similar issues. However, when it comes down to it, most people want the same thing: to look and feel better (usually related to losing body fat), improve their physique, and overcome pain and illness.

Since you provide "long-distance" personal training services, could you outline some of the benefits those clients receive, despite the fact that they aren't working out alongside you?

One of the challenges of working with "long-distance" clients online is that I cannot assess them or work with them in person. This makes it difficult to assess for muscular imbalances and to monitor their exercise technique. But through the use of online questionnaires, photo analysis, and video, I can still provide these clients with very personalized training and nutrition plans and help them progress more quickly and safely than they could on their own. And it costs them less than one-on-one in-person training services, which makes it more accessible.

At what point during a fitness plan do your clients most often struggle? Or is getting started the most difficult step?

An important factor for helping clients progress is related to motivation. I've discovered that clients find it most challenging to just get started, but once they have made the decision to work with me (and have committed the time, money, and energy investment), they get off to a strong start. After that, the sticking point seems to be about two weeks in, because they are struggling with the difficulty of the training program, establishing new eating habits, and experiencing the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

This is when they often start wondering why they aren't looking like a fitness model already! Some people seem to expect immediate results because the perception is that they have been working hard for two weeks and want to see drastic changes for their efforts. If I can help them stay consistent through this difficult time, the odds are good that they will prevail.

Fill in the blanks of this sentence: "For people whose fitness goal is _____, the biggest nutrition-related myth about achieving that goal is _____."

For people whose fitness goal is weight loss, the biggest nutrition-related myth about achieving that goal is that they have to follow a very restrictive diet that eliminates many foods. Many people find it very difficult to stick to a nutrition plan because they believe they can no longer enjoy their favorite foods and have to survive on broccoli and tilapia. While food quality is certainly important, "eating clean" does not need to be so restrictive. In fact, the primary factor for fat loss is to be in a caloric deficit (take in fewer calories than you burn off) while still meeting your macronutrient needs (protein, fats, and carbs).

Other nutrition myths complicate the situation even more, such as no carbs after 6 PM or you must eat six times per day. Your fat loss nutrition plan doesn't have to be complicated or highly restrictive. Once a client realizes that there is some flexibility with their diet (while still following fundamental principles), it becomes much easier to maintain long term.

When it comes to recovering from an injury, what are the advantages of working out with a personal trainer in addition to a physical therapist?

Another big benefit of working with a well-qualified, skilled, and experienced personal trainer is injury prevention. Having spent several years working at a sports medicine clinic alongside physical therapists, it became clear how much more quickly patients recovered from injury when they progressed from working with a therapist to working with a trainer afterward. While a physiotherapist can help a client reduce pain and restore movement and function after an injury or surgery, a trainer can continue that patient's progress by increasing strength and muscular balance, improving range of motion and joint stability, and improving performance while reducing the risk of re-injury. This is crucial for those who want to return to a sporting activity post-injury. Ultimately, a trainer can also support a client in making proper training a regular part of their lifestyle, which is ideal.

How has fitness data and real-time statkeeping changed the way that people work out and/or pursue their fitness goals?

In our modern era with the incredible technology that is readily available to us, it has become increasingly easy for anyone to improve their health and fitness and monitor their progress. From heart-rate monitors and nutrition journal (food tracking) apps to "Fit Bit" watches (that count your steps and estimate calorie expenditure) and multiple other fitness apps and websites, anyone can get started on an exercise routine and track their results at the touch of a button. This also makes it easier to assist clients with online "distance coaching," because I can follow their results and help hold them accountable.

How will technology and science help improve health and fitness training in the future?

I imagine that in the future, the advances in technology and exercise science will further improve the fitness industry by making professional, personalized exercise instruction and tracking available to almost everyone. It won't be necessary to go to an actual gym, as people will have access to exercise equipment and accessories that will take up minimal space and deliver maximal results. I can also see that the advancements in virtual reality (headsets, etc) are making exercise more enjoyable and helping to connect people virtually.

Perhaps one day I'll be sitting in my living room with a headset on, guiding a client through a demanding training session on her porch in another country, and I'll be receiving real-time feedback on her muscle contractions, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, RPE, caloric expenditure, etc. She might be standing on a magnetized platform and holding two small magnetic resistance "dumbbells." Video analysis will provide us with the data necessary to correct her form, and biofeedback will ensure she progresses at the ideal rate for her.

Maybe I'm just dreaming ... who knows?

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