Name: Shereen Motarjemi
Location: Pleasant Hill, CA
Occupation: Personal Trainer and Medical Exercise Specialist
How do you or your business help those with chronic disease/medical conditions or who need pre & postnatal care?
When I started my business 30 years ago, I didn’t know that my career path would evolve from Personal Training into Medical Fitness. It happened because some clients just needed additional expertise from me. So I researched what I could about each client’s condition, and kept current on my continuing education. My advice to other trainers is to seek out and soak up as much knowledge and training as you can. Consider going outside of your comfort zone for education. One of the secrets of my success, I believe, is the great variety of workshops and courses I took over the years. As a result, I felt prepared to deal with many different kinds of health conditions. I also knew enough to refer a client who I wasn’t equipped to help. I was fortunate to have a friendly chiropractor and physical therapist that would answer my questions and send referrals.
How do I help my clients? I believe that doing the right thing for the client is much more than choosing the correct exercise, although that is important. Before that happens though, I listen. I see my job as starting right where the client is. In other words, I try not to have a preconceived agenda, but instead honor the client’s needs and abilities on that particular day. In addition to listening, I observe. The client’s body tells a story when it moves. Where are the imbalances? What part is dominating? What muscle isn’t working?
Another way I help my clients is by making house calls because, for some clients, getting themselves to a gym or clinic becomes another barrier to healing.
What makes you different from all the other fitness professionals out there?
Besides a bachelor’s degree, I am certified by ACE as both Personal Trainer and Medical Exercise Specialist. Over three decades I’ve taken workshops in Pilates, Movement Medicine, Feldenkrais, Rosen Work, Alexander Technique, massage, yoga, meditation, and stress reduction, to name a few. There are so many other good modalities available nowadays to choose from. A trainer might choose to specialize or to be more of a generalist, depending on personality. For myself, I enjoyed taking a broad range of continuing education. I think it gave me more tools, and often my clients have been pleasantly surprised by my versatility.
What makes me different from other trainers, in addition to what I’ve already said, might be my philosophy. I want to make the experience safe, effective and fun for the client. Here is my mind’s image: I see myself as the one holding the flashlight while accompanying the client on her own path. I strive to be present to her needs while giving her control over what she does. Thus, the client is free to explore the movement, confident that I am attending to her safety.
What is your favorite activity or class to participate in?
For my own workout, I love to do yoga. On most days, I practice at a local studio which has excellent instructors. Being a student and having my own body experience informs my teaching. I also enjoy taking Pilates classes for the same reason.
What is one piece of advice that you would give other fitness professionals about working with special populations or those who need pre-& postnatal care?
My advice for other professionals:
• Develop your “eye”. Learn to see the details of what the body is doing.
• Develop your listening and empathy skills
• Elevate good cueing to an art. (Know at least 10 ways to say the same thing).
• Take care of your own body
• Become a “body translator”. Sensation is how the body communicates. Teach the client to understand which sensations are normal and which are red flags. (Most people have no vocabulary for the sensations which lie between ‘ouch’ and ‘ahhh’.)
• Always work with integrity. Be true to yourself.
What is one of your favorite memories involving working with someone who has a health challenge or disability?
One of my most memorable clients was Robert who kept persevering in spite of the exacerbations of multiple sclerosis. He’d used a wheelchair since the age of 24 and was remarkable in the positive and creative ways that he coped with his evolving situation. For example, when it became too difficult for him to go out to socialize, he began inviting friends to his house for potluck dinners. One day I teased him about being a “social butterfly”. His poetic response gently clarified his reality: “I’m more like a ‘social garden’ and the butterflies come to me.”
What would you like to see change/develop/emerge in the future of healthcare and the fitness industry?
Looking towards the future, I’d love to see better connections between the allied health care professions and fitness. Medical Fitness is certainly that bridge. The healthcare industry can use our expertise. They just need to be educated about the helpfulness of our work for their patients. Cross-referrals would benefit patients and professionals. During my career, I have tried to network with my own health care professionals with uneven success. The best referrals came from alternative and allied health care practitioners. A medical doctor once told me that their standard protocols don’t include referring to Medical Fitness, only physical therapy.
What type of community activities are you involved in?
My community activities include helping low-income students attend college and then graduate to meaningful careers. I provide scholarships and I mentor these outstanding students through a non-profit called Students Rising Above. In addition, once a year I am a community judge for senior projects at a local high school. I am also a member of a sangha or philosophy discussion group which meets once a month.
What is your favorite fitness/inspirational/motivational quote?
A favorite quote? There are so many inspiring ones, but here are two:
“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.”
“Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens.”
Anything else we should know about you?
I’m 62-years old and happily married for more than 30 years. My husband and I like to raft and hike with our dog, Rocket.
Now in the twilight of my career, I am grateful to the many clients who helped me to grow. The elderly ones showed me what it means to age with grace. The injured ones showed me the miracle of healing. Always, they welcomed me into their world and allowed me to witness their journey. What an honor and a privilege. May we, as Medical Fitness Professionals, never forget the special position of trust we are in.
One of the things that makes my work immensely satisfying is watching how the human body and nervous system will change when offered the right stimulus. For example, one day my 97-year-old client expressed concern that he felt unstable while standing. At the end of the hour, though, his stance was solid and his confidence was evident. His quality of life just went up a notch.
I hope young trainers recognize that our work provides immense gifts to our clients including independence, self-efficacy, and social connection. These are not small things and this is why I believe that Medical Fitness is a calling for great-hearted individuals.