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The Moving Crew

Resolved: This Year, Get Help

Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page HE03

So you've pegged 2005 as The Year to get fit, stay active, make the U.S. Olympic broomball squad -- or at least climb the stairs without panting. You're not alone: Fueled by New Year's resolve, health clubs nationwide draw about 15 percent of their new business in January, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

But if you want that initiative to last longer than you next paycheck, consider enlisting a personal trainer. A study published in the fall issue of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology suggests that people new to an exercise activity perform better with the help of an expert than those who go it alone.

Sarah Batzer, certified personal trainer, takes one of her clients, Brandon Cook, through his workout session. (Preston Keres - For The Washington Post)

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The study, by researchers at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, involved 50 people who completed a grip-strength test. Those who were then advised by a trainer reported more confidence and squeezed more weight than those who went at it solo.

"When a fitness expert conveys goals to an exerciser, his or her vision could instill goal acceptance and confidence by creating the belief that, 'If an expert thinks I can do it, then I must be able to do it,' " the study said.

The study was small and limited but the conclusion supports a widely held belief in the fitness field: Having a pro help you design a program and set goals will advance your fitness better than if you try it yourself.

"We see a lot more exercise [consistency] with people who work with a trainer," said Katie Rubio, fitness director at Bethesda Sport & Health club. "There's someone here waiting for you to do your workout. We sit down with people and make them feel comfortable. We set realistic goals. A lot of people come in around New Year's and say, 'I want to lose 30 pounds in two months.' That's not realistic and it's not safe."

Personal training costs $60 to $100 per hour, but don't view it as a recurring cost. Think of a trainer as a consultant helping you start a project, not an every-session workout buddy. A trainer can help you develop goals, set up a program and make sure you're proceeding safely and effectively. After a month (or three) of regular sessions, you should be able to continue independently. Monthly or quarterly tune-ups can refresh your program and provide accountability and feedback.

Select a trainer who is certified, ideally by one of the top trainer-ed groups: the National Strength & Conditioning Association; American College of Sports Medicine; or American Council on Exercise. Make sure you're a good match with the trainer: Try a session before agreeing to a package. Avoid trainers who recommend weight-loss or other supplements.

Of course, we like to think the Moving Crew can help keep you on the beam too. We'll answer questions, pass along advice and offer cheerful nags. Sorry, but we can't spot you.

Have a fun and fit holiday, and meet us back here in print Jan. 4 and online Jan. 6. Can't wait till then? E-mail us at move@washpost.com.

-- John Briley

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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