Quarantine has us all stuck inside and eager to get out doing what we love, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to prepare ourselves for the time when we can adventure at will. If you’re looking for a way to fine tune your fitness in anticipation of that glorious day, Adventure IO has you covered - and so does our newest guide and certified personal trainer Julia Merwin.
A former Division 1 college gymnast, Julia has a vast experience in physical fitness and is available on the AIO app now to help you be the best version of yourself. Quarantine hasn’t stopped Julia’s fitness journey - it’s just forced her to get creative!
We sat down with Julia (six feet apart, of course) to discuss her role as a personal trainer and overall experience as an athlete, and here’s what happened:
Adventure IO: Tell us about your experience as a collegiate gymnast. What does training for Division 1 athletics look like?
Julia Merwin: It was the most impactful experience ever. Being a Division 1 athlete gives you a whole different college experience, and I absolutely loved it. A typical day consisted of hour-long morning workouts, work as a personal trainer at the campus rec center, a few hours of class, and then back to the gym for three hours of practice, team dinner, homework, and finally bed! We traveled every weekend during each spring semester, so we had to stay on top of all our school work on the road. Our training consisted of two lifting sessions and three conditioning sessions per week, along with four gymnastics practices and sometimes a meet. All of our workouts and exercises were methodically chosen and tailored to suit our needs as gymnasts. We needed to be strong and powerful, yet light enough to safely flip through the air.
AIO: Did your time as a gymnast influence you into wanting to become a certified personal trainer?
JM: Gymnastics definitely influenced me to become a certified personal trainer. I really had never even worked out prior to going to college besides going on runs or doing different gymnastics conditioning exercises at practice.
When I got to college I was nowhere near the best gymnast on the team but I thrived during conditioning and worked my butt off to improve in the gym each year. I was basically the only person who truly enjoyed working out. I thought it was so cool that you could change your body to better suit you for your sport. It was all new to me, and it challenged me, but I loved it.
By my sophomore year, I was making up workouts for myself and really started thinking about becoming a personal trainer. Whenever I was home in the summer, people at the gym would constantly tell me to become a trainer, they told me I’d be a natural. I guess it’s because my workouts are creative, I like finding ways to make exercise fun while pushing my body to new limits.
AIO: Counting your athletic career, how much experience do you have in the fitness space?
JM: I started gymnastics when I was 5 years old and I did it all through college, so 16 years of gymnastics and a little over 6 months of actual personal training with clients.
AIO: How do you assess a new client’s fitness level and goals to build them a custom workout plan?
JM: Typically this involves a series of readiness questions in which I assess if the client is healthy enough to engage in physical activity. This involves asking about their medical history, any pain they may experience while exercising, and if they are on any medication. After these questions, I ask about their current fitness habits, their nutrition habits, their occupation, what kinds of activities they enjoy doing, and the goals they have.
When I work one-on-one with a client in person I typically have them complete a 1-minute push-up test and a 1-minute sit-up test, these give me an idea of their muscular strength and endurance and they serve as a baseline that we test again after their program is complete. If I have access to a body composition scale, I also test their body composition to see their percentage of body fat vs. lean muscle. If not, I ask for their height and weight so that I can see if their BMI is considered dangerous or harmful to their health. There is also the overhead squat assessment that I have all my clients do because it helps to identify any overactive or underactive muscles just by watching the individual do a few squats from the front view and a few from the lateral view.
After identifying which muscles are underactive or overactive I can then make their fitness program tailored to their needs to help their muscles work more efficiently together. The overhead squat assessment test reveals so much valuable information to trainers. I also try to design workouts that the client will enjoy doing based on their interests
AIO: Once they book with you, how does the process kick-off and what can they expect?
JM: Once a client books with me through the Adventure IO app, I will message them in the app and ask which method of communication they would prefer for the initial fitness assessment; either a phone call, facetime, or via email. I then give them my contact information and we proceed with the readiness questions & fitness assessments.
After all of that is done, I design the entire program including warm-ups and cooldowns. I send it to the client, share my exercise library with them on Google drive, and send them a stretching and rolling out guide for reference. I am open to making any changes to the program if the client needs that. I keep in touch each week, hold them accountable and serve as a source of motivation. I also post a ton of workouts on my Instagram (@juliamerwin) that they can engage in!
AIO: Can you tailor movements to specific outdoor activities (surf, climbing, snowboarding, etc.)?
JM: Yes! I can tailor movements to specific outdoor activities. I love getting creative with workouts and mixing them up to meet the needs of your sports would do just that!
I used to snowboard when I was younger so I understand how taxing that is on your lower body and core. I have never surfed or done any other adventure sports but I love learning, so I would be open to learning about how to tailor movements to adventure sports. As a gymnast, we did a lot of unique exercises specific to gymnastics that other sports would think we're crazy, so I totally understand the need to tailor exercises to meet your sports/hobbies needs.
AIO: What are your 5 favorite movements to build a home workout around?
JM: My clients probably hate me for this but burpees would have to be my most favorite movement because they burn your entire body and get your heart rate up extremely fast. Although, I really only include them in my more advanced clients programs.
The other 4 essential movements I include in all my programs would be squats, planks, push-ups, and jumping jacks. These are all well known, and pretty simple exercises to engage in. Clients recognize them and there's typically no confusion with these exercises. They can all be progressed or modified which is super helpful for programming. Squats are a very common lower body exercise to help build leg strength and push-ups are an extremely popular upper body exercise that helps build arm and chest strength. Planks are a wonderful exercise to help strengthen core stability which is probably the most important component in overall fitness.
AIO: For those looking to push a little harder, how could they increase the difficulty of the movements you just mentioned?
JM: In terms of increasing the difficulty for strength movements, resistance bands come in handy. Resistance bands can be incorporated in just about any strength exercise. For example, you can wrap it around your back and under your hands for push-ups, or used with dumbbells for added resistance. You can perform many variations of squats with brands as well. It’s extremely common for individuals to have trouble pushing themselves.
Whenever I hear that a client wants to give more effort but can’t motivate themself too, I create an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible in a given time) workout for them or a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout with difficult exercises. AMRAPS are super helpful for increasing difficulty and effort because it gives the client a set time limit and they compete against themself to complete as many rounds of the exercises as possible. They can even do the same workout the next week and try to beat their number from the previous week, that way they can actually measure their progress. HIIT workouts are also great for increasing the difficulty because the ratio of work to rest makes the client more motivated to give 100% during the work period and earn the rest period.
AIO: Can readers use everyday items found around the house as equipment too?
JM: Yes! I can create a completely home-based workout program that involves no equipment at all. I can also incorporate things like stairs, benches/chairs, milk jugs, soup cans, towels, etc. I think it’s really fun creating workouts with limited items, it makes it fun for the client and challenging for me, and I love a good challenge.
AIO: Being stuck at home, what are you doing to keep your daily workouts fresh and fun?
JM: I’ve been creating a bunch of different fitness challenges for myself, going on longer runs (which I had never done until now), going on walks, going on bike rides and I’ve actually been playing a lot of Wii Just Dance since our weather hasn't been very nice. One of my favorite workouts I’ve done at home was a ladder-style workout with increasing reps each round then I finished off the workout with some stair sprints.
AIO: How important is warming up before working out at home? Would you recommend a static warmup or dynamic one? Why?
JM: Warming up is extremely important for preventing injury and to get your muscles firing and ready for activity. I recommend starting with a dynamic warm-up and then cooling down with a static stretch after the workout is complete.
Dynamic warm-ups are more effective at preparing the joints and muscles for the exercises in the workout. They also help promote blood flow to the areas being worked. I base my client’s warm-up exercises around the exercises they will be doing in the workout so that their body isn’t as shocked going into it.
AIO: What are you watching, reading or listening for workout motivation?
JM: I watch a lot of YouTube fitness influencers like Sarah Day and Natacha Oceane, and I have even been contemplating starting my own channel. I really enjoy reading personal development books and fitness blogs. I also am contemplating continuing education courses through NASM to keep my certification valid and to help me be the best trainer I can be. When it comes to podcasts I listen to Sarah’s Day and Kurt’s podcast called “The Health Code.” They talk a lot about health, fitness, and lifestyle and they’re super raw and real. They're also Australian and I love Australian accents haha.
AIO: What's the best Spotify playlist to listen to when working out?
JM: Lately I have been loving the “Pumped Pop” playlist on Spotify for high-intensity home workouts because the songs all have fast beats and I find myself doing my exercises to the rhythm, so my heart rate gets up quickly and I just find it more enjoyable since the songs put me in a good mood! When it comes to running, I like a lot of the run playlists that Spotify has and for some reason I run faster to the songs that are dance remixes! For strength workouts, I really enjoy the “Beast Mode” playlist!