La J’ai Reed

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The clock strikes 8 a.m. at the nearly empty Winthrop University West Center as Ryan Earle, an exercise science major, and Dr. Kat West, an assistant professor of psychology, begin a personal training session.

“I don’t think you’re going to like me today,” Earle says, as West finishes up her last few minutes on one of the center’s many treadmills.

Earle is spending part of her senior year as a student trainer in an advanced exercise science course (EXSC 481), which grants students the opportunity to prepare for their futures in the health field.

The course matches members of the Winthrop community, including faculty and staff like West, with student trainers to participate in a one-on-one experience with a personal trainer. The training is free and includes a minimum of 25 one-hour sessions.

West said she is grateful for the opportunity for a few reasons.

“One I’m out of shape and I want to be in shape, and two, it was like a win-win, because I got to help a student, and any chance I get to help students, I love to do that,” she said. “I am going on vacation this summer and I have a 6-year-old and I just want to not get winded all the time.

Dr. Kat West, a professor in Winthrop’s psychology department, performs squats with a barbell during a one-on-one session with her student personal trainer (photo: La J’ai Reed).

“I teach developmental psychology and I preach just about every class that the way to stay the most healthy throughout your lifespan is to exercise and I don’t exercise. So I can now actually say I’m actually doing it now,” said West.

The symbiotic relationship also grants students an opportunity to work on skills that are essential to their industry.

“Getting used to talking to people that you may not know or if that’s out of your comfort zone and really getting (out of) your personal bubble,” said Earle, about how the course will help her reach her career goals. “Whatever we learn in class that week is something that we are supposed to be doing that week client-wise.”

Dr. Joni Boyd, associate professor of exercise science and coaching, said the sessions are the first real practical experience where students use applied knowledge to aid clients they don’t know.

She also said the sessions can change the client’s life.

“We’ve of course seen good health improvements,” Boyd said. “People have quit smoking in our program, not just from our program, but our program was an enabler for that. Weight loss, postural improvements, stuff like that.”

West said she hopes the program will help her become more healthy.

“In general, I’m just not very active and I’m not very motivated to be active,” she said. “So one of the things I told Ryan was ‘you’ve got to help me do something that I’ll actually be able to do when you’re not around.’”

Winthrop student trainers, such as Ryan Earle, prepare materials in the classroom to record their clients’ results during one-on-one personal training sessions (photo: La J’ai Reed).

Thus, the experience for students starts in the classroom, which allows them to apply what they’ve learned during the personal training sessions at the West Center.

Once a week students meet with Boyd to plan their weekly objectives.

“First we do an initial consultation, we do a health history assessment, we do a fitness assessment,” Boyd said. “We take that information and their goals and it’s kind of like putting it in a blender.”

After receiving instruction, students are able to formulate a workout plan for their clients.

Natalie Royaards, a senior exercise science major who is working as a student trainer as part of the course, said she finds the course essential, because she aspires to be an occupational therapist.

“Our professor is great, she is very dedicated to putting you with a client that is similar or will somehow benefit you for the future and what you want to do for your career,” Royaards said.

Royaards, who plans to work with students with special needs, said the course has paired her with a client with limited abilities, so she has had to create a plan that best suits her client’s needs.

“The best thing for me is to be able to work with somebody who has that motivation, but then also show them in other ways that they have a potential that they don’t even realize they have,” Royaards said. “It’s intimidating at first and it seems like a lot, but it’s one of the best experiences you’ll have.”

Lindsey Ott, a senior exercise science major who is working towards a career in occupational therapy, was in the course last semester.

“Thinking long term, if an individual begins to be physically active young in life and continues, the thought and hope is that they will be able to stay independent longer,” Ott said. “They are potentially healthier, with less health problems compared to the general population.”

While Boyd said that there is no technical measure for student success, Ott is one student who has used the skills learned to prepare for a career that requires certification.

Currently, Ott is interning and working as a therapist’s aid.

“I’m working more one-on-one with therapists, not really the clients,” Ott said. “However, the course did teach me how to build a rapport with people.”

Boyd said the course also provides service to the Winthrop community through experiential learning, engagement and outreach.

“So many (people) don’t really understand exercise science or how much science is actually in exercise science,” Boyd said. “So, it benefits both sides.”