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Personal Trainer Might Help You Jump-start a Stalled Fitness Plan

Posted - Oct. 4, 2003 at 8:20 a.m.



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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hiring a personal trainer might seem like a luxury for the likes of Oprah and Madonna, Sylvester and Jean-Claude, Keanu and Tobey.

But it also worked out nicely for Becky and Whitney.

"We just needed someone to get us started on a training regimen," said Becky Martin, a legal secretary from Lexington, S.C.

"I didn't really want to spend the money to go to a gym," she said. "I wanted something we could do at home, something my daughter and I could do together."

Martin, 51, and daughter Whitney, 17, enlisted the help of personal trainer Tim Graham to develop a summer shape-up plan.

Thanks to his diet and fitness advice, their muscles are getting tighter and their jeans, looser.

"I never looked at the calorie or fat content of food before," said Whitney, who wanted to slim down for her senior year at Lexington High School.

"But now, I do."

It turns out personal trainers are not just for celebrities and supermodels - and not just for people who need a fitness guru to oversee every sit-up and bench press.

A short-term relationship with a personal trainer might hot-wire a fitness plan that's been going nowhere. Or a pro might give you pointers on a workout that you then can do on your own - perhaps with follow-up sessions by phone or e-mail.

You might find a personal-trainer arrangement that's not much more expensive than what you're already doing. For example, Graham offers a five-session "quick-start" program for $99. That's about the cost of a bottle of dietary supplements, two weeks' worth of Slim-Fast and a couple of dozen Lean Cuisines.

Here are other examples of personal-training options:

-Ken Smith, 32, finds that a more traditional personal-trainer arrangement works best for him. That means three mornings a week with personal trainer Mark Hinen at Stronghold Athletic Club in Columbia. S.C.

"A trainer keeps me motivated and keeps me on track," said Smith, a Columbia public relations specialist.

"There's just no substitute for having that personal contact with someone."

-Dana Risinger, 40, knew her sedentary lifestyle and love for crab legs were not a healthy combination.

A producer for Clear Channel news radio station in Columbia, she is host of a Saturday morning flea market program on WVOC. Intrigued by Graham's fitness program when she heard him talk about it on the radio, she enlisted him to give her diet and workout pointers.

She coupled the strength exercises with walks near her home in West Columbia, S.C. In a month, she lost 10 pounds and 10 inches.

"I think that initial instruction is key," said Risinger, who had tried a variety of diets.

-Marsha Gordon, 38, has seen both sides of the personal-trainer biz: She has hired one and she has been one.

As a former competitor in "natural" bodybuilding contests, she felt a trainer was necessary because "there's someone always there to push you."

Now, she works part time at the Northwest YMCA in Irmo, S.C., leading a class for women using weights. The $5 fee is a fraction of what a one-on-one personal trainer would cost. But because the class is small, she can provide lots of individual attention.

"You develop a friendship and trust with them," she said.

Hinen, a 46-year-old exercise physiologist, sees clients at the gym, in their homes, and even at the Jenni-Lynn Retirement Center in West Columbia.

He said that as people in the baby-boom generation see their contemporaries suffering heart attacks and strokes, some turn to personal trainers to get serious about improving their own health.

"Probably 60 percent of my business is with people 55 and older," Hinen said. "Baby boomers want to get in shape; they want to live longer."

The numbers bear that out. According to one report on health trends, the number of Americans using personal trainers grew by 32 percent between 1997 and 2000. And with myriad choices, it's important to research your options.

"I've seen so many people hurt by the wrong personal trainer," said Teresa Moore, a clinical assistant professor in University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health.

Moore is a registered nutritionist, an exercise physiologist and a nationally ranked bodybuilder. She said it can be hard to evaluate trainers, since any fitness buff can take a weekend course and then advertise as a personal trainer.

"What you want to look for is experience," she said.

Moore said a trainer should know how to screen clients for risk factors - not just calculating body composition but also assessing conditions such as arthritis, blood pressure and heart rate.

A trainer should know enough about anatomy to give directions about form and technique, and tell you why exercises should be done a certain way.

As for diet advice, beware of anyone who promises weight loss of more than a pound or two per week. Anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, Moore said, and though a trainer needn't be a registered dietitian, you should ask about his or her background.

Hinen said that along with an initial screening, trainers should make sure prospective clients don't have unrealistic expectations. That's a common problem.

"It took them 20 years to get out of shape, and now they want to lose 50 pounds in two months," he said.

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In the Columbia area, personal trainers usually charge $25 to $50 an hour - perhaps more if a trainer to comes to your home.

Money can be part of the motivation, Moore said: You won't want to skip a session you've already paid for.

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A gym or health club membership might entitle you to some training sessions, or a discount with a trainer who works there. Gordon's classes are $5 for YMCA members, for example.

But even at the same gym, the quality of trainers can vary. Smith said that before he hired Hinen, he observed him in action.

"I watched him working out with other people, to see what his manner was like and how he operated," Smith said.

Moore said trainers should have connections with doctors, counselors and other professionals. Sometimes they will encounter clients with serious problems (such as depression or eating disorders) who need more help than they are qualified to give.

"A good personal trainer is going to have to be understanding, but they need to know their limits," Moore said.

Initially, your trainer will evaluate your condition, learn about your likes and dislikes and discuss your fitness goals. Then you'll get a plan designed to help you reach those goals.

A typical workout program might include warm-up, stretching, work with weights, floor work such as crunches and cardiovascular activity such as walking or jogging.

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With Becky and Whitney Martin, Graham spent four weekly sessions demonstrating weightlifting techniques, monitoring their form and instructing them on everything from dieting to stretching.

The walking or jogging, they did on their own. They've lost more than 20 pounds between them.

"Even though I've only lost a small part of the weight I want to lose, I already feel so much better," Becky Martin said.

Graham, 56, also has an e-mail fitness program and a Web site, www.grahamfitness.com.

By contrast, what Smith sought was a strict, regular regimen.

"I wanted to drop some weight, increase my strength and look better overall," he said, adding that a family history of heart problems was another incentive.

Hinen supervises his weightlifting workout, offering instruction and encouragement.

"Weight training is incredibly boring," Hinen said.

Under Hinen's guidance, Smith has eliminated most junk food and lost about 25 pounds.

"I just make this a priority," he said.

Hinen does a lot of one-time sessions, sometimes with people who just wonder what all those workout machines do.

"They walk into a gym and they're intimidated," he said.

Risinger had only one session with Graham, who demonstrated a workout with exercise bands. She bought dumbbells to use at home, and follows her workout with a walk.

"I had tried everything," she said. "Cutting out red meat, diet pills, all kinds of diets, even Ephedra."

Graham's moderate approach "sounded like something I could maintain."

Hinen said that in working with women, he often has to help them struggle with unrealistic ideas of thinness. He has a gripe against women's magazines:

"They take a 14-year-old who's anorexic, paint her up, put her on the cover and then try to make 40-year-old women feel that's how they should look."

Whatever your fitness goal, Moore cautioned against expecting miracles from personal trainers. They can't exercise for you, or be responsible for what you do when you're out of their sight.

"You've got to change your lifestyle," she said.

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ALL ABOUT PERSONAL TRAINERS

Tips from Teresa Moore, a registered nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical assistant professor in USC's Arnold School of Public Health. She's also a nationally ranked bodybuilder.

You might need a personal trainer if:

-You lack motivation - but could muster some if you were paying someone to be your personal coach.

-You don't know where to start in developing a fitness routine.

-You need rehabilitation after an injury or disease.

-You want a training buddy, someone to spot you during workouts and check that you're doing things right.

Costs:

-Usually about $25 to $50 an hour in the Columbia area.

Arrangements

-Vary widely and affect the overall cost. A couple of initial sessions with a trainer to get you started in a fitness routine might be just $100. Three sessions a week might run you $600 a month. Small-group training at the Y might cost only $5 per session, plus your annual membership.

Dos and Don'ts

-Don't expect a trainer to work miracles. You'll have to change your lifestyle if you need to shape up, and it won't happen in a week.

-Do look for a trainer with experience, and with an educational background that is more than just a weekend certification course.

-Do check out personal-training options offered by health clubs. Realize that even at the same club or gym, the quality of trainers may vary.

-Don't think a "name" athlete is necessarily the answer. Past athletic success is not a guarantee of knowledge or of teaching skills.

-Do consider short-term training if you're on a tight budget. Perhaps all you need is an orientation session so you know what to do. Or, seeing a trainer just once a month might make you more accountable and disciplined.

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(c) 2003, The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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