I’ve had a few personal trainers, only one knew my medical history, a non-binary person who knew I was trans before becoming my PT. In terms of how to do exercises with good form, what sort of sets are better suited for adaptation, hypertrophy, max strength or toning, that stuff is universal. So it seemed irrelevant to share my medical history.
I had a small irritant with two trainers, who regularly insisted leg exercises were important because they increased one’s testosterone production. I tried getting a fact based answer out of them to explain this claim. I was open to the possibility that it might be in terms of increasing blood flow to the area impacting my assumed testicles, or something of that nature. They kept dodging the question, until one of them said there probably was no correlation between testosterone production and leg exercises, it was just a commonly used urban myth used so guys don’t skip legs.
I found this unnerving for two reasons. If there was truth to it, it probably didn’t pertain to me. Unrelated to this, and underpinning why I’m not presently interested in working with a trainer is that all of my exercise outside of weight lifting is leg centred. There is no risk of me having skinny legs. My goal, which I shared with all trainers is to augment my upper body size to even out vis-à-vis my legs, which reflect 3 decades of exercises focused on my lower body. My weight lifting is a compliment to other exercises to make me more balanced. Beyond adjusting weights or difficulty in performing exercises, my experience has been that personal trainers are generally unable to doll out personalised routines. They prefer generic advice intended for people with generic fitness goals. As a trans person wanting to address body image and a strength deficits resulting from cisnormative limits imposed on me prior to transition, this rubs me the wrong way. This was best exemplified by the trainer I dismissed the fastest.
He kept making sexist comments that triggered dysphoria. This PT would go on about how it was “pretty girly” of me to have good cardio and a strong core while being a slim guy with such a weak chest. Eff all of that. The other trainers made far fewer cisnormative sexist comments but I go to the gym to get stronger, not bite my tongue or educate someone I’m paying to support me.
[Photo of someone about to lift a barbell from the ground by Victor Freitas from Unsplash.]
I most enjoyed working with the non binary trainer. Part of that was about us already being friends beforehand. But it was also great to be able to explain what I was taking time off for (I was amidst lower surgeries) and why select exercises were a no go or why I sporadically had to rush into the toilet in the early days of recovery (I’d been cleared to workout, but some exercises made me pee a little, others irritate my penile implant) or that I had to do them in a particular way to appease my urethra, implant or donor site. They also never made sexist or dysphoria triggering comments. But they too insisted on full body routines, instead of letting me focus on my upper body.
I’m content with the gains I’ve made since I’e been training exclusively on my own. I’m unlikely to resume seeing them in that capacity when I move back, but I’m grateful for many of the things they taught me, and I’ve happily recommended them to friends of all genders.
In broad terms, it shouldn’t make a discernible different whether a trans person shares their transition history or not. The important thing is having a PT who’s a decent person, and validates our fitness goals. Thus far though, the more strength I’ve built in my upper body, the less self-conscious I am of my health history, and I’m accomplishing this on my own.