Continuing education a big focus for Gym team


Robert Garza, Senior Consultant and Programme Specialist at AUT Millennium Gym, loves to learn. He invests a lot of time and energy in keeping up with emerging research in the exercise biomechanics space, and brings this knowledge back to the Gym team. In an industry filled with fads and ‘internet gurus’, keeping on top of changing trends is important. “There seems to be a new study every year conflicting the previous year,” Robert tells. “New exercises might come out, but they’re not necessarily the best or safest. I want to know if it’s a fad or something which is going to be useful.”

In his native United States, Robert studied exercise biomechanics, which looks at the forces exerted on the body and how the body resists them. While working in gyms for over 20 years, he offered continuing education for fitness professionals. To build validity with all corners of the industry, Robert took almost every fitness qualification imaginable. “Strength and conditioning, aging exercise, special populations, I tried to cover the full scope,” says Robert.

It’s this wide-ranging background which gives Robert the foundation knowledge to share with the AUT Millennium Gym team. Throughout the year, he continues his own studying by staying in contact with some of the world’s leading exercise mechanics specialists, Tom Purvis and Dr Mark Slavin. These sessions can get rather detailed, but it’s the overall theory which is the biggest takeaway for Robert. “What I like about exercise biomechanics is that it is based on maths and physics, which never changes. The application of it is what changes,” Robert explains. “I make usable sense of studies and share with the team what’s applicable to them. The effects of exercises can change based on people’s body position or structure, so it’s important that our team know how modify them. We cover the theory, and then we get out on the gym floor to apply it practically.”

Fitness fads or gimmicks are something Robert keeps a close eye on. While some of the self-made YouTube or Instagram fitness stars base their work in science, not all do. “You see some people in gyms following apps or videos on their phones, and most people are unlikely to know if that person is actually legitimate or not. Just because someone is on YouTube, doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about,” Robert laughs. He tries to keep on top of emerging gurus so he can assess their programmes and information, and advise the team. “The ones you have to watch out for are the ones who sometimes have good content and sometimes have bad content,” he tells. “I can easily say follow these good ones, and ignore these bad ones, but when they’re inconsistent, it makes it harder to keep on top of. I’d prefer staff or members come and ask me to see if what they’re following is legit.”

With functional training rising in popularity, and a functional training area coming to the Gym early in 2019, Robert has made a point of asking the question ‘what is functional?’ “I tell our staff that functional has to be specific to the needs of the individual,” he says. “Functional training should assist someone in movements they actually do by strengthening the specific muscles responsible for those movements. But somewhere along the way, functional training came to include acrobatic balance work, rather than building the foundation of a movement. Our staff know the correct meaning of functional, and how to prescribe exercises which are appropriate for each client.”

AUT Millennium offers a unique environment in the sports and exercise space, thanks to the partnership with AUT University. When Robert relocated to New Zealand, he was looking for a gym which appreciated the importance of evidence-backed research. “I didn’t want a gym which operated off ‘it worked for me, so it will work for you’ anecdotal logic,” Robert says. “I wanted science behind what was being done.”

With sports performance researchers only one floor above, AUT Millennium Gym stood out, and Robert has been able to make connections with AUT’s Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ) researchers, in particular Dr Eric Helms. “I noticed him working out in the Gym, and I could see that he knew what he was doing, that he was doing exercises different than your common gym goer,” Robert recalls. “He has a Masters in exercise science and PhD in Strength and Conditioning, so we’re able to work together and explore different research or projects.” It’s not uncommon for Eric to approach Robert and the Gym team to gather information. “We’re currently working with a wearable device in the Gym, to gather some information for him, so he and his collaborators can make changes to the product before it goes into production.”

The level of professional development within the Gym team is a point of difference for AUT Millennium. While some other facilities are playing catch up, Robert’s research puts him, and therefore our Gym, at the forefront. “Essentially, it is a selling point for us,” he says. “We’re able to offer highly educated staff who continue to stay ahead, and it also helps us keep our members. We know how to adapt exercises to ensure people don’t get injured, and stay as active members. This shows us we’re getting results, and having an impact.”

Gym Manager Maria Calderon has high praise for Rob and his efforts. “He is awesome,” she says emphatically. “As well as giving us new knowledge to apply to members, his sessions give our team dedicated time to discuss topics and share our perspectives with each other. They help broaden our views and change our thinking.”

In 2019, the team will continue to focus on how to correctly add resistance to the body. “We’ve only just started to explore that topic,” explains Robert. “We’ll look at how to set people up properly based on their specific body structure, realistic expectations of clients based on their specific ability and how to make corrections along the way.” With this knowledge shared amongst the team, Gym members are encouraged to approach staff to ensure their programmes are appropriate for them. You can book a session with an instructor by visiting Gym Reception or emailing [email protected]

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Heather is our Communications Manager here at AUT Millennium. With a BA/BCom from the University of Auckland and postgraduate qualification in communications, Heather honed her copywriting skills in the recruitment and tertiary industries. As a storyteller, she loves to share the inspirational stories of the AUT Millennium community. Her mood will greatly depend on the current (mis)fortunes of the BlackCaps and Warriors. [email protected]