Arlow Pieniak has been a passionate personal trainer for 20 years. With his training concept, he raises awareness about the topic of "better movement" both live in Hamburg and online throughout Germany. In this interview, he explains why sport, training and exercise are so often confused, how the fitness industry needs to communicate better and where social media can help.
"No plan B for real movement"
"When we move, we move wrong most of the time," says Arlow Pieniak. The 44-year-old runs the Hamburg studio "Work It Training" with his wife and nine employees. There, the team works on rebuilding muscles that have regressed over years of sitting in the office, on the couch, in the car, and so on. Even if it sounds unconventional, Arlow prefers to have clients with a specific complaint: "The worst thing for us is when someone would just like to be a bit fitter. That's too unspecific, not measurable and also doesn't provide the necessary attitude."
"There is no such thing as one right movement pattern".
In an interview, the expert explains where this specific pressure of suffering can come from: "It is almost always due to the wrong movement. It's because people don't use their very own muscular system in the way that is intended for their individual body. Every person's movement pattern is different. People who move inefficiently have a relatively low performance capacity, use some parts of the body too much and others too little. This leads to overexertion, to pain and is guaranteed to cause stress." So the goal of the first consultation, he says, is always to show that the real problem is everyday movement and posture: "Training is not limited to the three to five hours actually exercised per week. Training has to impact every step, every second I even hold myself upright. And that's why proper exercise impacts everything, not just the time spent in the gym."
"Exercise is not automatically right"
In terms of content, Arlow Pieniak's concept is firmly rooted in training and fundamentally differentiates itself from areas like sport and exercise. Even though the word movement comes up again and again in Arlow's work, it is all about quality of movement, about systematic training: "Teaching someone the 'right movement' is very time-consuming, but if you manage it, it helps immensely".
"Sport does not train, or if it does, then only by chance"
Very often Arlow hears, like many of his colleagues at the initial interview: "I'd like to learn a sport that I enjoy, that I can maybe even do with friends, outside, with good music – and that trains me properly." Arlow says, "There is no such thing! Football, tennis, high jump, and so on – that's sport! Sport is about fulfilling goals, for example, scoring goals. And of course it can be fun, but then it's about the sport itself. What it's not about is the body." He illustrates this with an example: "Training for football players does not consist of playing a game three times a week. In training, the sport is taken apart: The athletes' training consists of becoming faster and more agile and increasing their endurance. At the same time, the moves are practised. And then the sport is put back together."
"We need to provide more education"
Of course, it can also happen – when you start a new sport – that you benefit from the physical training for while by chance. According to the expert, experience shows that this is around eight to twelve weeks, but it is not systematically the case. "It's up to us to pass on this knowledge, because otherwise people approach sport, training and exercise with the wrong expectations. When you start to train systematically, back pain disappears, you stand straighter, lose fat and build up performance, but just not that you have fun," says the personal trainer. "It happens regularly that a hypermobile client, who already does a lot of yoga and Pilates anyway, asks us for stretching exercises. The last thing this client needs is stretching. To a large extent, training is exactly what you enjoy the least but achieves the most. And it's up to us trainers to make that perfectly clear from the beginning." Arlow Pieniak talks about how he really “negotiates” with his clients before the first training session: "I ask very clearly: are you willing to put in X hours of effort per week for your back? And then they just say yes or no."
"The customer is welcome to be king, but he is not allowed to decide".
In the fitness industry, Arlow says, for many years there was an attitude of, "such a colourful choice of wares here, why don't you pick something nice?" He says, "That's nonsense, of course. The customer can't choose anything if he doesn't know what to do with it. And then he usually does what he already knows how to do. I don't go to my tax advisor and tell him I'd like this and that. No, my tax advisor just does his thing and I do what he tells me." So the future lies in very individualised support. "Of course, the trainee has to express his goals, but from then on he doesn't have much to say. Everyone understands that the trainer is the expert and he has to set the plans, adapt them, increase them and so on."
"I always refused to do Instagram until COVID came along".
At the start of the COVID pandemic, self-employed Pienak and his wife were just like other studio owners: "We thought we were ruined because overnight we had no more turnover. Then we started to set up our concept digitally and, excitingly, it works very well." The training approach itself requires extreme explanation and before the pandemic, "Work It Training" actually enlisted new clients exclusively by word-of-mouth. "I had always refused to do Instagram. 18 months into the pandemic, I am now on the platform every day trying to explain our approach there. It's working very well." He adds, "We also provide education in our online courses, of course, but no one buys a course if they haven't understood what it's about. Most protégés try out our methodology on Instagram and then want the whole package – which ultimately means buying an online course or getting into personal training. Since then we've had more clients than we can ever train, I never expected that."
"A school subject for correct movement, that would be the solution".
When it comes to making systematic training understandable for the general population, however, social media platforms are not enough. Arlow Pieniak would like to see training in this form catch on: "My big goal would be to introduce a school subject called 'Moving Right'. That's where you could start and really make a difference." But already on a small scale, he believes the general health awareness that has been created during the pandemic will not flatten out so quickly: "My experience shows that people who start exercising quickly get better and forget that they ever had back pain. When those who exercise then stop again, the relapse comes automatically. So those who build up successes usually don't notice it so clearly. But when these successes slip through your fingers again, it is clearly noticeable and a real pain in the ass. Over the last few months, many people have acquired a taste for this success and I don't believe they will let go of it again so quickly."
About Arlow Pieniak
Movement therapist and personal trainer Pienak has a special talent: He recognises wrong movement patterns at first glance. In his Hamburg studio "Work It Training" and through his online training, his clients receive individual training plans that are tailored to their physical weaknesses. He also offers coaching in companies and is a published author (Typgerecht Trainieren – Die perfekte Methode, 2016).