Going to the Pros

Do you need a personal trainer?

WebMD Feature

Feb. 21, 2000 (Santa Monica, Calif.) --You might think that hiring a personal trainer is like hiring a personal chef -- an extravagance that suits the rich and famous but is out of bounds for the rest of us. But the nature of personal training is changing. Increasingly, trainers are selling their services on a short-term basis, teaching clients the fundamentals and then, after two to six weeks, setting them free to exercise on their own.

This new emphasis has made personal training far more accessible to the average person. Instead of paying $150 a week for life, you can pay a total of $300 to $500 for six to 10 sessions. "You don't have to be Oprah to use a personal trainer," says David Gilroy, a spokesman for Idea: The Health & Fitness Source, an organization that certifies trainers. A recent survey conducted by Idea found that more than 4 million Americans used trainers in 1998, with 47% having fewer than seven sessions.

Lower cost isn't the only advantage of short-term training. "You also gain the independence to work out wherever and whenever you want," says Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, another organization that certifies trainers. "People who are dependent on a trainer tend not to exercise unless their trainer is standing right there."

Learning the Basics

If you hire a trainer on a limited basis, experts say, it's important to take an active role in your sessions. "Act like you're taking a crash course in Italian three weeks before you move to Rome," says Liz Neporent, President of Plus One Fitness, a New York City company that manages 16 fitness centers. "Be prepared to soak up a lot of information. Arm yourself with questions and take notes."

Your trainer needs to take an equally active approach. Instead of simply telling you which exercises to do and adjusting the machines for you, Cotton says, "the trainer has to be in the teaching mode. They have to be willing to share what they know, instead of holding back information in an attempt to keep the client coming back." He even recommends that trainers assign a list of exercises as homework, to be demonstrated at the next session.

Cotton also recommends that a fitness novice sign up for 10 sessions: twice a week for two weeks, once a week for the next two weeks, then once a month for the following four months. The trainer should start by evaluating your health and fitness and then discussing your goals. To get the most out of short-term training, trainers say, it's particularly important to pinpoint specific objectives for the sessions. "Do you want to learn a routine you can take on business trips?" Neporent says. "Do you want training advice for a marathon? Do you want to get started on a weight-loss program?"

Daniel Hernandez had always felt intimidated by both the machinery and people at his gym. He needed a trainer to get him started. After eight sessions, the 30-year-old designer learned to use just about all of the equipment at his club and knew how to design an effective weight routine. "My trainer was so thorough," Hernandez says. "He opened up a whole new world. Now I go upstairs to the free-weight room where all the big guys go."

Personal Attitude

The trainer should tailor your program specifically to your fitness level and personal objectives. By the end of your sessions, you should know several strength-training exercises for each muscle group, allowing you to vary your routine and stay more motivated.

In addition to mastering the proper technique for each exercise, you should understand why the trainer has chosen these particular moves for you. You also need to learn how to progress once you have mastered the basics and when it's appropriate to lift heavier weights and perform more sets of an exercise. "Trainers shouldn't just give you a list of exercises; they should tell you where to go from there," says Chicago trainer "CC" Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

Although a personal trainer can be most valuable when you start exercising, even workout veterans can benefit from an occasional session. If you hit a plateau or simply get bored with your routine, a trainer can get you back on track, Cotton says. "You may just need a little tune-up, just like the same way an established golfer would go to a golf pro."

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