When thinking about who I would like to interview to ask about interdisciplinary work, Liz Littell immediately came to mind. Liz is a professor in the Health and Human Performance department here at Plymouth State University, as well as a personal trainer, class instructor, and manager at The Fitness Edge in Meredith NH. I’ve had the pleasure of taking multiple classes with her, and I knew it would be great to talk to her about interdisciplinary work because she is constantly working with people in her field (fitness) who don’t actually know much at all about fitness. While her focus is on fitness, Liz is involved with business and communications as well. Because of the major I am pursuing (communication & media for wellness & exercise), I take a lot of interest in this and wanted to hear from someone with years of experience about her work.
To begin with, I asked Liz what she does at Plymouth State. She is a professor of three classes in the Health and Human Performance (HHP) department. She teaches physical fitness training for law enforcement, resistance training techniques, and flex/core/balance training. I then asked her what she does for work outside of Plymouth, and she told me that she is a group instructor at a gym (The Fitness Edge), she is a personal trainer, and she also is a manager at the gym. I then asked her about the kinds of people she works with. At PSU, she works almost exclusively with students (almost all of them in the HHP department) and doesn’t really have much interaction with other professors. She does, however, have someone in the office who is there for assistance if she needs, and has a liaison in the HHP department. However, at The Fitness Edge, there is quite a variety of people she works with. She works with people of all ages; from children to elder people upwards of 80 years old. She has worked with someone recovering from an avalanche accident who had to completely relearn how to use all his muscles, she is currently training a future air force member, she has worked with cancer patients, people with Parkinson’s disease, she has trained people for athletic events such as marathons and spartan races, she has helped people with goals of both weight loss and weight gain, and trains a lot of people recovering from injuries. Clearly, Liz has worked with basically every type of person imaginable.
When asking Liz what it is like to work with people who are educated about exercise and health compared to working with people who aren’t educated in that department, she replied by telling me it is “like night and day”. At Plymouth, since most of her students are HHP students, they generally know what she is talking about and have some background knowledge of fitness, exercise, and the human body. At The Fitness Edge, however, a majority of the people she works with are very unknowledgeable about these things. She said, “I might be talking about the glutes, and they might very well think I’m talking about their arms”. With these kinds of people, she cannot use technical and specific terms. This is a very important lesson she incorporates into her classes at Plymouth. She teaches how to deal with the public population instead of professionals or peers. She focuses in her classes on working with people who probably don’t understand much (if anything) about exercise. She reminds students to “remember who the target audience is”, because after graduation day, chances are these students might not always be working with exercise scientists or fitness experts.
I was intrigued by this, so I then asked her about methods she uses when teaching and explaining to people who don’t understand what she does. She said it is helpful to know their interests and what they do, then make analogies based on what they know. An example she provided was a client of hers who is an architect. She said he doesn’t know his muscles at all, but knows a lot about building and architecture. For this client, she explains how you want a solid foundation for both the body, just like you would for a building. From here, she can more easily explain the importance of the core, and building strength throughout the body from there. Another tip she provided was to figure out if the person understands something more visual or tactile. Someone who is a visual learner will learn better from watching her and looking at their form in the mirror, while as someone who is a tactile learner will perform better in a hands-on way.
I then wanted to delve into learning about working and collaborating with co-workers at The Fitness Edge. She said at times it can be difficult to work with people at the gym who don’t really understand fitness. For example, if a member tries to go to them for help, it can actually be counter-productive because they might not know what they’re talking about. She said it’s a better idea if they come to someone like her. Additionally, she has to watch for members talking to each other and giving each other poor advice, and from there has to decide if she should step in, because poor advice in regards to exercise can be quite dangerous and can put people at risk for injury. On the other hand, she has to work closely with the owner of the gym, who doesn’t have much of an exercise science background but is all business and numbers. She said “finance is his expertise and it is vitally important. His work is key to the success of the gym, her work is key to the success of members, and her managerial role is important for “keeping the peace”. If you don’t have one or the other, things would never work the way they do. Although they have knowledge of different disciplines, working together is extremely important at The Fitness Edge.
Liz talked to me about her education, and told me that she has a communications degree from UNH, as well as a minor in business. She also used to do accounting work, which in combination with her education has led her to be successful with her managerial duties such as payroll and keeping members happy. She has been active her whole life and has a passion for fitness and exercise, which is what lead her to where she is today. She started as an instructor and trainer because it is what she loves, but she said: “I never thought I’d be managing or be a professor”. Overall, she said she never thought she’d be using her education and previous experience in combination with her passion to have the career she does today.
My next question for Liz was “what is another discipline outside of fitness that you deal with the most?” and she proceeded to tell me about her job here at Plymouth with education. She never studied education, but knows about communication and fitness. She had to learn as she went how to create lesson plans, tests, assignments, how to figure out moodle, so on and so forth.
I then decided to ask Liz what classes from other disciplines she would recommend that HHP students take. She was very sure in her answer, telling me “communications, public speaking, business, and marketing”. She said this knowledge is extremely helpful to success in this sort of career. You want to have an understanding of how a business runs, you have to be able to market yourself as well as exercise and health, and she said “you have to know how to talk to people, it is not going to be like working with your peers and you have to be prepared for that”. Overall I got the understanding that communications is a key discipline to understand in the fitness world.
Last but not least, I asked Liz what advice she would give HHP students vs. non-HHP students. Her answer “my advice wouldn’t be any different. She said that students should find what they are passionate about and pursue that, but shouldn’t forget to be well-rounded. She said to try other things and learn about other things too. She said to be able to communicate with others well, and overall, to make sure you love what you do.
It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Liz and learn more about her work. She has a true passion for what she does, and feels fortunate that her jobs have a lot of variety and she never gets bored. The information she provided me with is information that will be very useful to me throughout the rest of my studies and my future career. Overall I think all college students could benefit from her advice and should keep in mind the importance of working with disciplines other than their own.