Dawid Pyra

The personal trainer cooperating with 52Challenges.comDawid Pyra answers questions considering workout and motivation: Is it possible for everyone to achieve the looks of a movie star? How important is a well-designed workout plan on a way to success? How can a personal trainer help you? How can you motivate yourself better? And many others. Read the interview with an expert to get some professional hints on your workout.

Dawid Pyra is an ex-decathlonist with over 8-year experience in professional athletics. Now, he works both as a coach of the top athletes, as well as a personal trainer and a biological regeneration instructor. He used to aim at medals, and now he aims at success of his protégés and clients.

52Challenges: You’ve been engaging in professional athletics for many years. But how long do you work as a personal trainer in recreational sport?

Dawid Pyra: For over three years. The first courses preparing for the job started when I started working at the gym, so I decided to take such a course. This course was actually one of the first of this kind in the country.

It took the job of a personal trainer really seriously and in a broad perspective, so to say: we were trained as fitness and aerobics instructors – so to lead group classes, as well as personal gym instructors of bodybuilding. I was always more into the latter, but this course gave me a complex preparation for the job of a personal trainer: in terms of health exercises, fitness, and bodybuilding.

The course took practically a whole year, and the classes took place in five cities, so the learning environment changed a lot. At the end I had a major exam to get the certificate. It wasn’t one of those weekend courses some of my friends took later – “become a personal trainer in three weekends”. The course I took provided me not only with knowledge but, above all, with a lot of experience which one cannot get within three weekends.

For me, it was a fresh view on training, and physical activity as such, as I had mainly dealt with professional sport before. I have to say, it is the professional sport that I have gained most of my experience from. The experience bases not only on cooperation with local coaches, but also on preparations to competition on the international level. That has provided me with a broad outlook on various training approaches and methods – on what can be done, and how we can do it right.

52C: So, as an experienced trainer, would you say that an ordinary guy has real odds of looking like Brad Pitt in Snatch? Would you say that a man with a regular full-time job, but having a good attitude, displaying high motivation, and doing proper exercises, is able to reach the looks of a ‘Hollywood actor’? Or is it reserved for those who devote a significant part of their career lives to taking care of appearance?

D.P.: I believe that everyone is able to reach a great figure, but it depends on many factors. First of all, there is the time devoted for reaching the goal. If an actor, for example, has a relatively little time to reach some specific appearance, they have to work really hard every day on their looks, plus they might use some chemical support.

If we’re talking an average person, reaching a similar effect would obviously require a significant amount of time, high motivation, systematic workouts and proper nutrition. The frequency of workouts plays a huge role here.

If someone assumes they will work out twice a week, reaching the same goal will take them proportionally more time than it would take a person working out four times a week. To speed up the process of physical change, we need to increase the frequency of our workouts. Plus, there’s also the workout content and intensity that should be properly adapted to the frequency.

That is in reference to recreational sport, of course. If, on the other hand, someone is preparing for some kind of a competition event, like the professionals do, then the body-shape up comes as an additional result – most often, a great figure is not an athlete’s goal, but rather a side effect of the training regimen they’re in.

52C: Have you come upon a striking metamorphosis resulting from regular workout? A change that was noticeable at first sight?

D.P.: An example of such a metamorphosis is my protégé, but she’s engaged in professional training regimen and prepares for competition. We see each other on a daily basis, so it’s easier for me as her trainer to control not only her workout, but also proper nutrition.

In recreational sport, the nutritioning aspect is of highly importance – especially if one’s goal is to lose some weight. In such a case, workout sessions with personal trainer are not enough. It is necessary to impose specific rules of healthy nutritioning and stick to them on a daily basis. And that isn’t something which can be controlled by a personal trainer – unless he or she installs a system of cameras in their customer’s fridge, but I guess that’s not what it’s all about.

In fact, there are many ways for defining a metamorphosis. As a result of workout, we can notice a metamorphosis in terms of our general physical capability. Our efficiency improves, along with our endurance, the physical state of our body and that result in us simply feeling better and being capable of more.

After some time, we will definitely observe that we don’t have to engage as much effort in running through a distance as we first had to. We will be able to lift more at the gym. Or in case of stretching – we we’ll actually see how our flexibility improves from session to session.

I also run some tests using the body composition analyzer, and the detailed analysis shows that there are significant changes in the proportions of tissues. The fatty tissue is reduced, but at the same time there’s a gain in the muscle tissue. So, as a matter of fact, even if after some time of regular workout we don’t see striking changes in our appearance, or at the scales, it doesn’t mean that nothing has changed.

With the course of time, depending on how often we exercise and how intensive our workout is, we will see the visual change. We have to remember, however, that working out twice a week is too little for a significant change in our looks. We will need at least four sessions weekly for a visible effects, within some time, of course.

52C: You’re also work with professional athletes. What is the difference in working with the athletes and your clients?

D.P.: Oh, the difference is substantial. And that refers to so many levels that I would say these are two separate worlds. My clients are often beginners when it comes to physical activity, so first of all, they don’t know how to exercise – what to do, and how to do it properly. A major part of my job here is to demonstrate things and explain a lot.

The professional athletes, obviously, already know what to do and in most cases they know how to do it right. So here, I’m more of a counselor – I give them some tips if they need my advice. But basically my work here is to plan the training process and control the progress of my protégés.

Another major difference is in the field of motivation. The athletes know exactly what they want, and what they aim at. Their motivation is strong, they are usually very ambitious and goal-oriented.

The clients, on the other hand expect some additional motivation from my side. They are easily demotivated by the lack of immediate results, the hard work and effort they need to put into workout. So my role as a motivator is very important here, I would say.

I also used to work with clients who came to session mainly to talk about their problems, personal life, and career. I must say it was difficult to work with them. I don’t mean there shouldn’t be any conversation between a personal trainer and his or her client – but like to focus on workout during a workout session

And here’s another difference between working with professional athletes and working with clients – the athletes don’t expect their coach to talk to them during sessions. They are really focused on their goals and hard work, they know they come to the sessions for anyone else than themselves.

52C: You said that motivating your clients is very important part of your job. And what about other aspects? How significant is the role of a personal trainer for success, or failure, of their protégés and clients?

D.P.: We have to differentiate between the two stages in workout: first, there’s the planning; second, there’s carrying out the plan. A trainer plays very significant role in the first part. I’d say even 70% of success depends on how well a trainer will adapt the plan to the abilities and predispositions of their protégés or clients.

In athletics, for instance, even if an athlete has a great talent, but his or her coach doesn’t know how to use it well, they may never succeed. If the athlete is regularly overstrained during too strenuous workouts, he or she won’t be able to make any progress. The workout has to be properly planned to bring optimal effects.

And it’s the same for recreational sports. The first step to success is a well-designed workout plan. The type, intensity, and frequency of exercises should be properly adapted to every client’s individual needs and physical capability. Next, the plan should be modified to bring appropriate stimuli for the client’s body – as its capability will improve with time. And by the body I don’t mean exclusively muscles, but also the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system.

52C: And what about the second stage?

D.P.: Here’s where the role of a coach or personal trainer is not as important as the motivation and determination of those who carry out the plan. As a trainer, I can motivate my clients, but my role in overall success is no more than 20%. I can arrange a great plan, but it’s the athlete or the client who has to work hard realizing it.

If they’re not motivated enough, or they don’t follow my instructions, there’s not much I can do about it. A trainer can help you achieve success, but they won’t succeed for you. They’re responsible for a well-designed plan, and you’re responsible for carrying it out.

52C: And when it comes to carrying out the plan, do you recommend tracking the progress somehow? For example, by keeping a workout journal?

D.P.: Definitely. I would say, that’s basic. Working with athletes usually I ask them to keep their own raining journals, or I keep them myself. In case of clients, I always take care of it myself.

I have to be sure, that the journal won’t be lost, so that I can get back to the exercises which were already performed, the number of repetitions and so on. It’s very important in the process of modifying the workout schedule.

52C: So we can conclude that a well-set goal and a properly adapted workout plan are very important on the way to success. What should we pay most attention to when hiring a professional trainer or getting ourselves a detailed workout plan?

First of all, before we decide to go for a workout plan with specified objectives (like for example preparing for a half-marathon, or even exercising within CrossFit framework), we should go for a general improvement of our strength and endurance.

In professional sport, no one is actually specializing from the very first workout. In athletics, you don’t become a sprinter, a high jumper, or a pole vaulter at once. First, we do general workout for some time, than we try different things, and on the basis of our predispositions and preferences, we choose specialization.

I recommend the same course of events in recreational sports. First, there should be some time for a general preparation of our organism to the more intensive physical effort. Then, we can go for training of a specific type and set specific goals. Again, we have to remember that not only our muscles, but also other systems have to be gradually prepared for more – for the sake of our health and safety.

52C: What would be your advice for those who want to work out regularly, but don’t really know where to start? What should be the first step for a healthy lifestyle?

D.P.: It’s a good idea to start with a consultation with a personal trainer or an instructor, for instance at your local gym. These people will use their experience to tell you on what level is your current physical ability, where should we start, and they will explain to us how to exercise properly.

If we decide to start on our own, without any guidance, it may not bring the effects we aim at, or we can injure ourselves. If the last time we had engaged in regular physical activity was at school during PE lessons, and then we barely had a contact with sports, it sounds reasonable to ask someone for help, at least at the beginning. At the gym I often see people who have problems doing the very basic exercises.

Going to a gym and just doing what other people is not a good solution. You have to remember that other people may be on a different level of advancement and physical capability, have different goals.

Additionally, there’s the body composition analysis, determining your optimal energy expenditure, designing a workout plan that matches our lifestyle and is supported with the proper nutritioning – that would be a complex preparation for a start.

52: And with such a complex preparation we may actually expect results?

D.P.: As I said, that’s just a good start. It’s the realization of the plan and following the specific directions that is the most important on the way to success.

52C: So there’s no golden solution or a recipe for success?

D.P.: Unfortunately, the success requires a lot of hard work. There are people who will have to work harder than others, because we’re all different. It depends on many factors, not only on our initial physical capability, but also on the psychological factors.

It usually helps to take someone with you. Motivating yourself may be really hard, but motivating each other and counting on each other’s support may really boost your morale during workout.

52C: And what are your favorite, the most efficient techniques for motivating your protégés and clients?

D.P.: It all depends on who I work with. Working with athletes, I must admit, I’m usually strict – someone might even see it as a demotivating approach. I use the fact that the athletes I work with are really ambitious, competitive, and goal-oriented. I sometimes try to evoke some ‘sports anger’ in them, so they could release the whole energy in a hard workout.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone, obviously. Working with my clients I have to be a psychologist who reads the reactions of his patients and interprets them correctly. Some people need more positive feedback, and this motivates them best. Some prefer a more strict approach and the sense of control.

With the athletes it’s not that difficult, because they fight for their goals and it’s enough to keep them remember what they actually fight for. But in recreational sports, the issue of workout motivation seems to be a common problem nowadays.

52C: Do you think that the low motivation for workout in recreational sports may result from the lack of a clearly-stated goal? Professionals prepare themselves for competition – they know exactly what they want to achieve. In case of recreational sports, however, the goal isn’t always that clearly specified.

D.P.: Well, you can also set goals for yourself in recreational sports. For instance, it’s quite popular recently to run a distance for someone. Events like that are worth engaging in, since while running, and while preparing for such an event, we don’t really focus on losing weight as such. Instead, we have in mind this other goal and that changes our attitude to the physical effort we put into running. Plus, it boosts our motivation.

Another aim of this kind may be hiking with our family and friends on weekend. During such a hike, we don’t focus on burning fat, but rather on active spending some great time with our loved ones. Imagine that someone wakes you up at dawn and tells you to go hiking ‘to lose some weight’… You wouldn’t be really motivated to go, would you? But if the perspective is having fun hiking, you’ll go eagerly. In the latter case, the being physically active will be merely an addition that we won’t pay much attention to.

52C: And do you tend to have problems with motivation yourself? If so, how do you handle them?

D.P: Well, when it comes to workout, I don’t have any specific goals considering my appearance. I feel good in my own body. So I exercise for myself whenever I need it – I don’t follow any specified long-term workout schedule. I tend to exercise with my clients, and it brings me huge satisfaction.

I don’t feel I should have impressive muscles being a personal trainer – I definitely don’t focus on that myself. I have other goals I care about: as an athletic coach I’d like my protégés to win medals of European and World Championships; as a personal trainer I’d like my clients to make progress and achieve their personal goals with my help.

Of course there are days when I’m not very motivated to exercise, especially when I’m tired. But I’ve still got this thing, from the times when I was an athlete myself, that I feel like I have to push really hard during workout. If there’s no sweat on my forehead, I’m not really satisfied with my workout session.

I didn’t used to have any major problems with motivation, either in athletic career or in personal life, but I think it also depends on the character, attitude, and some general rules that you follow in life. Whether it’s about workout, or any other field, it’s all in your head.

52C: Do you have some additional advice for those who have problems with motivating themselves to work out?

D.P.: The most important thing is to set realistic goals for yourself. Avoid aiming at goals that are barely reachable. It shouldn’t be 60 lbs in two months. And if you really want to lose 60 lbs running, for example, you can set some additional goals within the running itself. For instance, “this week I’ll do my best to run 2 miles without rest.” This way, even if you don’t lose weight as quickly as we would want to, you’ll achieve many other goals on our way. This will bring you satisfaction and you’ll stay motivated to keep going.

For more tips concerning nutrition and post-workout regeneration, read Part 2 of this interview.

About Cathy Patalas

The sports soul and the alleged specialist in words of 52Challenges.com. The main 52C Blog writer. A diligent student at the English Department of the University of Wroclaw, majoring in applied linguistics. An ex-acrobat and aerobic gymnast with the 13-year long experience in „training for winning”. A multiple medallist of Poland nationals in acrobatic gymnastics, and academic nationals in aerobic gymnastics. A fan of gymnastics of every existing type. Personally, finds making everyday choices in a healthy lifestyle even more demanding a challenge than making everyday sacrifices in the athlete’s lifestyle.