I had the chance today to speak with Cara Castronuova, one of the new trainers for “The Biggest Loser.” I write for AOL’s That’s Fit which allows me access to group calls where a bunch of reporters pile on and each asks one or two questions.
I usually hang back and listen to the other reporters before I jump in, but today I went second. My two questions: What are your certifications? Do you have any prior experience working with the morbidly obese?
Cara may or may not know about the post I wrote last month where I discussed how I couldn’t find any certifications for her listed anywhere online. This is unusual; if you’re a personal trainer, you want people to find about you and know your training so they hire you. Cara answered that she was formerly a licensed boxing coach with USA Boxing, is current on her New York state boxing license, and has an International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) certification for personal training.
I don’t know much about the boxing world; fitness industry people tend to study watered down versions of cardio kickboxing or throw some shadow boxing into a group exercise class. We don’t usually see the nitty-gritty, actually punch a guy stuff. I did some cardio kickboxing training with a man who was competing at the national level (I loved him!) and I have taken a couple of intro classes at a place called The Ring (very fun, but can’t afford it at the moment). So my exposure is pretty limited here.
I checked with Bob Choat, a fabulous fitness expert and a retired Marine boxer. His response to the boxing licensing was, “That means she’s gone through extensive qualifications and training to be able to get licensed.” My response back to him was, “Phew.”
An interesting note here: Bob mentioned you have to be licensed to teach boxing in most states, meaning you have to register with the state in order to do business. But for personal training, someone only needs to be certified and doesn’t need to register with anyone. Technically, you don’t even need to be certified either (since no one has oversight); you can just “declare it so” and go find clients.
As for the ISSA personal training cert, Cara picked this up on September 2nd, I’m guessing just before the show started shooting. This is an online-only certification featuring 50 multiple choice and 50 true/false questions. This means she didn’t have to prove her skills and knowledge in front of a live tester who could evaluate her ability to train clients in a gym. The ISSA has pretty decent material, but I am always really bothered by people who don’t have to take a practical exam. The practical for my Pilates certification was two hours long and that doesn’t include the two-hour written test. This four hours exam was for my third level of training; there were also exams for both mat and reformer training.
I’m a certified Pilates instructor. I had a low-level personal training certification a million years ago that I let expire. The Pilates certification is 500 hours and a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and money. It pales in comparison to a weekend personal training certification or an online certification. Most instructors take about two years to get the full certification. And all that being said, I’m seriously thinking about acquiring the ACSM personal training certification just so if anyone asks I can say, yes, I am a certified personal trainer.
So with Cara, she has training, having proven herself worthy to the venerable NY state board (they take their boxing very, very seriously) and she picked up the ISSA to cover her bases for personal training.
Her Teaching Skills
I wish I could comment on her skill set, but I haven’t seen enough yet on the show and I’m not as good a judge about boxing as I am other forms of fitness. I haven’t seen anything from her that made me cringe, so that’s good. I thought it was smart that she (or the show’s medical team) had Moses doing shadow boxing while seated. The few times I saw her throwing punches they were damned fast and accurate. I wouldn’t want to be in a ring with her. (Although if she’s reading this, she probably really wants me in the ring with her! LOL)
As a side note, I watched about 30 minutes of Brett Hoebel, the other new trainer on the show, cueing exercises on YouTube clips, and I was impressed. He kept focused on form, breath, and varied his cues a lot. He also used visual and tactile cues to help people into good form. All good stuff there.
Working with the Morbidly Obese
Cara and Brett both said they had never worked with a population like this before. I would imagine a boxing club doesn’t get a lot of people at this weight. Cara pointed out that “not one page” of what she learned from her certifications prepared her for working with this group, and that she and Brett both got help and support from the seasoned staff of “The Biggest Loser.”
Personally, I have worked over the years with a couple dozen people who are morbidly obese, but not as overweight as those on the show and not in a group setting. The biggest issue is client retention; this population will start and then tend to fade out and leave the studio. It usually happens after they start to see some good progress. It’s a big topic in the fitness industry, and is common and frustrating for trainers because we truly want to help these people live their best lives.
Cara didn’t have to worry about anyone leaving, at least not voluntarily, but she did have to deal with the consequences of them staying and “having” to do the work even though mentally they have not fully invested in the process. I know just from interviewing former Olympian and current “Biggest Loser” contestant Rulon Gardner last week that there was a lot of push back and testing of boundaries.
Maybe the trainers should all have psychology degrees, too? (I’m half serious here)
Still Some Questions
I do think Cara was more interested in pursuing an acting career than a fitness career. The web presence she had before being revealed as a trainer is geared towards becoming an actress, not a personal trainer. She really did land the job of a lifetime and she’s going to do well here. There will be a lot of opportunity for money and product endorsements and just by getting the gig on the show she has solidified herself in the fitness industry and in Hollywood.
Do I think there were other, more qualified people they could have hired? Yes. Do I think Cara will do a good job? Actually, yes. However she landed on the ranch, Cara has a lot of passion and I truly believe she cares for the contestants and wants to see them do well. I hope she keeps learning from the medical staff and keeps seeking out good information to incorporate into her training sessions.
Good luck Cara, but yes, I’ll still bust you if you cue crappy form. :-)