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Your Personal Trainer: The Good, The BAD, The Healthy

April 1, 2004
"Feel the power in the floor." Did you know there is power in the floor? Well, there is, especially if you are concentrating on balance and core strength.

"Feel the power in the floor."

Did you know there is power in the floor? Well, there is, especially if you are concentrating on balance and core strength. A year ago, I had no idea what I was doing incorrectly. I had an exercise routine, as it were, and managed to eke out tennis in one form or another a few times a week. I thought I was doing my routine correctly. How wrong one can be.

I do not profess to be an exercise expert. But as a health professional and a former library trustee, I am a student of research and knowledgeable in finding the source of a wealth of fitness information. I sought out the assistance of a personal trainer who had been working at my tennis club for many years. I had observed Julie on numerous occasions, assisting other people in their quest for effective workouts, better fitness routines, and all-around physical therapy routines. I will not discuss my current state of fitness, my combatant view of my own body image, or my chronic battle to do any abdominal workouts. I do want to discuss the merits of selecting a personal trainer: the good, the bad, and the healthy aspects of seeking a trainer who will work for your lifestyle, goals, and ability.

As any patient would only consider receiving treatment from a highly qualified, state-licensed practitioner, personal trainers also have specific qualifications and certifications that should be considered prior to beginning an exercise program. A trainer should have a degree in exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, athletic training, exercise physiology, or physical therapy. In addition, trainers are usually certified with a reputable association, such as NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), or ACE (American Council on Exercise). These affiliations, just like our licensing boards, recommend a minimum of appropriate continuing-education hours per year to maintain a trainer's certification.

Experience is very important when evaluating the person who will be assisting you to improve your physical well-being. Regarding experience, how many years and where have they practiced are important questions to ask. Personal training can be performed in health clubs, gyms, schools, or in private homes. Many times, specific health clubs have a set "routine" delivered to "clients," with little concern for individual needs. Experience in a variety of settings and with many different age groups may be an important element in the versatility a trainer has to offer.

Many personal trainers now have specialty areas: weight management, functional training, post injury or cardiac rehabilitation, athletic or sport-specific training, and special population focus, such as pre- or postnatal, adolescents, older adults, and women's strength training. If you are interested in osteoporosis prevention, you may want to seek out a professional who knows a variety of strength and balance techniques.

Personal trainers usually are covered by malpractice insurance through a personal policy or one furnished by a club. CPR training and use of the facility's AED (automated external defibrillator) equipment are also recommended.

As with visiting any health-care practitioner, personality and appearance are paramount when entering a program with a personal trainer. Consider these questions:

  • Do you think you will mesh well with this trainer?
  • Do you feel like this trainer is simply "selling" him/herself to make a buck?
  • Does this trainer genuinely care and want to help you? Listen to your instincts; they are usually correct.
  • Is this trainer trying to compete with you, either in appearance or physical prowess? A trainer who tries to one-up you is self-defeating.
  • Is this trainer clean and professional in personal presentation and hygiene? There is nothing worse than being trained by someone who is overpowering physically or whose body odor or excessive perfume actively assaults your senses.

Consider the amount of time you will need to devote to your physical undertaking. How much is too much? How many sessions are you interested in, and how much money do you want to spend? Fees can range from $30 to $125 or more per hour. Depending on the area of the country, qualifications, affiliations, and following, personal trainers may charge far more per hour. Determine if this trainer is worth the fee he/she requests. Remember, this is a one-on-one training session, personalized to your skill level and goals. You need to work with the trainer to establish your goals, and the trainer needs to develop a program agreeable to you both for the expected results. You must be able to live with the fees and the program to maintain your interest and motivation level.

A word of caution — don't buy prepaid sessions until after you have worked with the trainer individually a few times. Trainers need to prove their personal worthiness to you, in addition to creating a certain level of trust and respect. At first glance, prepaid sessions may appear to be cost-effective; however, they may end up costing you more if you are not in synch with the trainer assigned to you. Additionally, prepaid sessions may lock you into a program that is not created specifically for your needs, but which only benefits the health club's bottom line. Remember, you have the final word on whether or not to perform an exercise, choose to exercise, or continue to exercise.

Knowing your personal goals is critical. What do you want to accomplish? Discuss your personal goals with your trainer prior to commencing any program. Your trainer should be interested in what you have to say. Do you think that this person can help you reach your goals? Will the trainer motivate you to achieve those goals at a reasonable pace with reasonable expectations?

You can't rush success. Toned muscles are not created in the short few weeks the infomercials would like you to believe. Reasonable weight loss is one-and-a-half to two pounds a week. It is unreasonable for anyone to tell you that you will lose much more. At the beginning of any exercise program, you may lose weight at a quicker pace. But rapid weight loss will result in losing lean muscle mass, which is counterproductive to a good exercise program. I have osteopenia, so I was concerned about strength training. Before we embarked on our strength journey, Julie wanted to focus on balance and core strength. With her help, I got off to a good start.

When considering a program, location is another factor. Here are more questions to consider:

  • Is the facility conveniently located in a studio, gym, or health club?
  • Is there an extra charge (in addition to the trainer's fee) to use the facility?
  • Do you have to take a membership?
  • Will the trainer come to your house?
  • What supplies and equipment does the trainer travel with, and what will you need to provide?

I have visited Julie in our tennis club, in a personal home, and at Northwestern University, where she was a guest of mine with my membership to the athletic facility. Different locations have different equipment. Again, it all depends on your needs and whether or not you use any or all of the plethora of exercise paraphernalia available. Julie usually travels with a variety of balls, disks, elastic cords, and Styrofoam balance pieces, in addition to having extensive knowledge of stationary equipment and free-weight dynamics.

The most important focus of the training is the personal aspect. Julie stays with me the entire time. She isn't on the phone, in the restroom, or chatting with other exercisers. She is focused on me. When I do a movement, she watches my every move. She constantly reminds me to keep my chest up and my tummy tight. She knows muscle origin and insertion and discusses the muscles we are working.

With her 20 years of experience in various settings, the routine is never the same. Although we may work on similar mechanics, such as balance and core strength, the program differs. Julie listens to me as a person. If I arrive complaining of lower back pain or a knee issue, the focus of the session will be on relieving that specific ache. "No pain, no gain" is not true. Yes, there are times when I want to find her a day or so after our workout and ask her what she did to my tortured muscles, but those days are few and far between. Her focus on core strength and balance is important in aging. Relearning how to bend and lift has saved my back from many an ice pack. In the days between sessions, I am motivated to continue exercises on my own, first cardiovascular then a focus on specific exercises.

Finally, remember you are a team. As in any partnership, the team should be a good blend of motivational, positive energy. This is all about you. You need to feel good about yourself. It isn't about the trainer feeling good. You need to be optimistic and satisfied with the new you that you are creating, and the person you have chosen to get you there. Think realistically and wisely. It all depends on your goals.

With the obesity rate in the United States skyrocketing to almost 60 percent of the population, the cause cannot be only one-sided. Super-sizing of meals, eating on the go (sometimes in the car), and usually higher-fat-content fast foods, are several reasons for the added weight, but these are not the only factors. Although the portions of today are larger than in the past, it is not only the quantity of food consumed, but the sedentary lifestyle that accompanies our hectic schedules. City sprawl, huge elevator buildings, and lack of suburban sidewalks all contribute to our lack of exercise. Enlisting the services of a personal trainer will help direct you to your goal of a healthy lifestyle. The value extends way beyond outer appearances and cardiovascular benefits. It is a soul motivation that is something you do for you. It is empowering. As Julie would say, "Good health to you!"

Additional Resources

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine —
  • American College of Sports Medicine —
  • American Council on Exercise —

Note from the author: I would like to thank Julie T. Wolske, BA, ACE, for pushing, prodding, and balancing me to reach personal goals that I thought were unattainable, and for her wise words to help create this article.

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Sheri B. Doniger, DDS
Dr. Doniger has been in private practice of family and preventive dentistry for 20 years. She is currently focusing on women's health and well-being issues. She can be contacted at (847) 677-1101 or donigerdental@