OLD COLONY MEMORIAL
by Emily Clark Jan 28, 2011
Jennifer Burgess' own challenges help her connect with personal training clients
PLYMOUTH Jennifer Burgess has difficulty wiping the smile off her face. She's been watching injured clients undergoing rehabilitation as they embrace their exercise routines and let go of the notion that they can't do stuff. It makes them feel good, and that makes her feel good.You wouldn't know it to look at her, but she's faced more than her own share of physical challenges, and battles with that fatalistic inner voice she's become so expert at shutting out. A birth injury caused partial paralysis of her left side. More specifically, Burgess has hemi-parisis or partial paralysis of the motor nerves that control the left side of her body. It affects the fine motor skills in her left fingers and toes as well as her range of motion.
"There is a constant contraction on my left side," she explains. Growing up, Burgess learned she'd have to take charge of her destiny or someone else would commandeer it. Bullies in school suggested she raise the white flag, but Burgess passed on that plan. She joked her way through the obstacle course life had handed her and realized this was pretty powerful training she could pass on to other souls with equally challenging paths.That road led Burgess to become a certified personal trainer and open Hart 2 Hart In Home Personal Training Balance & Movement, where she helps clients with physical challenges rise above. In addition to her in-home training business, she's also a personal trainer at Village Racquet and Fitness in The Pinehills.
Her so-called weakness has become her greatest strength, and the reason she is breaking new ground as a personal trainer. "Most people are so focused on the injury or disability they don't realize their other strengths," Burgess said. Clients can become fatalistic about their condition, mentally weighted down by their inability to live up to their image of perfection. People with physical problems sometimes suffer shame and embarrassment as a result of this disconnect. It's a trap and Burgess knows just how to extricate her clients from its grip it because she's felt that pull herself.
"I'm just a big cheerleader," she added. "But I also talk to people like they're regular people. I have a client with a brain injury. He's 27 and likes to be talked to like a 27 year old. I teach integrated fitness; I teach a client an exercise or to perform a brain activity that increases muscle function on the opposite side of the body. The type of personal training I do is balance and movement instruction."
For Burgess, the key to great training is striking that balance between inspiring her client to realize their potential, and not pushing too hard. She won't coddle, but she won't yell. She calls upon her vast knowledge of the human body to help people rise off their plateau to greater physical prowess, no matter what their limitations. She taught a cerebral palsy client how to rise out of her wheelchair and put herself back into it. Her head injury client may have limited mobility, but activities that stimulate different areas of his brain are helping him make strides.
"I teach people not to need me," she said. "When people come out of physical therapy, they're babying the injury. They often don't realize that they need to strengthen the muscles surrounding the injury. They don't know how to do their normal exercise routine alone." Burgess always asks what the client's doctor or physical therapists told them and enforces those directions.
"I don't diagnose," she said. "I always ask them, 'What did your doctor say?'" Her knowledge of how the human body works often helps clients identify something they might be overlooking. For instance, many neck injuries have their origins in hip imbalances that set off a chain reaction of muscles that overcompensate and cause injury. Hamstring problems sometimes have their root in similar structural imbalances like sciatica, where a pinched nerve causes the client to favor a particular side, causing muscles to be more susceptible to injury.
Chiropractor Dr. David Leaf has helped Burgess reach her own physical potential since she was 5, and this long-term care has given her an understanding of kinesiology and the origins of some injuries and physical problems. Again, she is careful never to diagnose or try to diagnose a problem; but she may suggest clients ask their doctors about a particular issue.For instance, Burgess suggested an elderly client with balance issues ask her doctor about vertigo; the doctor confirmed it. Another client with a hamstring pull had sciatica; another guess that proved correct. Clients say they love Burgess' sense of humor as much as they love her gift of perception.
"For 29 years I've been hiding this," Burgess laughed, gesturing to her left hand, which has impaired mobility. (The joke? She's 38.) For 15 years, Burgess worked as DJ Jennifer Hart for radio station WCOD 106.1 and FM 107, playing top 40 hits. She was good at that, she said, but she is great at this. By day's end her left leg will be dragging, but Burgess feels wonderful knowing she's inspired her clients and even made a few of them laugh.
"Everybody has some kind of injury or something they struggle with. If you don't have weakness, you don't really know your strengths. I want people to feel comfortable with themselves, because I wasn't comfortable with myself for so long. If you're comfortable with yourself, you can get ahead," she said. "Nobody's perfect; that's just not reality." In addition to personal training, Burgess teaches DanceFit classes.For more information or to schedule a session, visit ww.hart2harttraining.com or contact Burgess at or at 508-944-3961.
Copyright 2011 Wicked Local Plymouth. Some rights Wicked Local photo/Emily ClarK