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How to Pick a Personal Trainer

By Marisa Torrieri
Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, February 7, 1999

    Personal trainer Jolm Adams works with Kelli Richardson at Results – The Gym Personal trainer Jolm Adams works with Kelli Richardson at Results – The Gym. (Tyler Mallory for washingtonpost.com)
There was a time when only Hollywood celebrities had personal trainers. Now, your neighbor probably has one, too.

Personal trainers, who work one-on-one with clients to help them meet their health goals, are part of the strongest growth segment in the fitness industry, according to IDEA, a health and fitness organization with more than 23,000 members, most of whom are either personal trainers or health professionals.

"It's definitely not just for the Hollywood star anymore," says David Gilroy, a spokesman for IDEA. "Much more, people are using them and it's more popular with specific groups, like pre- and post-natal women and post-rehab clients (people who suffer from sports injuries). I'm sure appearance is part of it, but I think people go to feel good."

But Cathy Masterson McNeil, spokeswoman for International Health, Racquet and Sportclub Association, said she believes the desire to look good tops the desire to maintain health. She says the fitness craze blossomed in the '80s, during a time she calls "the appearance period," especially among the baby boomer generation.

"More people in the [baby boomer] demographic – they started the whole thing," McNeil says. "They're the ones who have made health clubs what they are. Originally, they were in it for appearance, now, they're in it for health.

"There's also been various studies about how exercise lowers peoples' risk of heart disease, and the boomers are watching the effects not exercising had on their parents," she adds.

Whatever the reason, whether to maintain – or get into – a size six or to ward off diabetes and bone density loss, the personal training business is red hot. But not everyone who passes himself off as a personal trainer is someone who should come near your body. As with any other service purchase, ask questions, do your homework and take your time before signing a contract.

Here are some tips for selecting a personal trainer:

No matter why you choose to have a personal trainer, you have to think about what is important to you and what kind of trainer would suit your needs. It's like finding the right doctor.

Ask yourself: What are your fitness goals? How much time do you have to devote to a personal training program?

"Whenever somebody walks in, I ask them if they're ready to make personal training a part of their lives," says Bobby Kelly, a personal trainer and owner of Results Only, a no-frills Rockville gym that emphasizes one-on-one training. "If someone's not gonna come in here and work their butt off for me, I don't want them in here."

You also should consider how much you are willing to spend. The average personal trainer costs $41 an hour, according to IDEA. For three 90-minute sessions a week, that is $184.50 a week or $738 a month. But you don't have to spend that much. IDEA's survey of members found that 17 percent of trainers cost less than $20 an hour. Another way to save is to schedule fewer appointments with the trainer – say twice a week – but do another two days a week working out on your own using a list of exercises drawn up for you by the trainer. You can also split the cost with a workout partner, if your trainer is willing. But keep in mind that your partner might be more or less advanced at exercising than you are, which could hurt or help your progress.

Most importantly, find out about your trainer's background. Ask about experience and certification, keeping in mind that there are different types and levels of certification.

Here are some questions from the IDEA Web site that you should ask a potential trainer:

  • What is your exercise and educational background, and are you certified by a nationally recognized organization?

  • How do you keep current on the latest training techniques, research and trends, and are you a member of a professional organization for personal trainers?

  • Are you certified in CPR and first aid?

  • Can you give me references from other clients and industry professionals?

  • What is your communication style with your clients?

  • Will you set reasonable goals with attainable results?

Follow up with references, but also ask if you can get at least one free session so you can judge for yourself how the person interacts with you – if she explains the workouts properly or shows you sufficiently how to do a certain exercise.

At the end, it is your choice – not the gym's. And remember that the personal trainers are there to motivate you, but eventually you have to leave the nest. While you can shell out money for personal trainers as long as you want, at a certain point, the motivation to be fit must come from within.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company