Recently, I ran into the parents of a high school classmate. Bill, my classmate’s dad, told me that he and his daughter were surprised to learn I had a personal training business because I had never been athletic when I was younger.
It’s a comment that doesn’t surprise me but dismays me. Most outside the industry hear the word “trainer” and picture one of the following: a trainer for a sports team or athlete, the trainers on shows like “The Biggest Loser,” some highly-connected individuals who train the rich and famous, or gym regulars who figure out they can workout as much as they want for free if they become trainers for other gym regulars. Not surprising because all these trainers exist and are most visible to the general public. Dismaying because there are thousands of excellent trainers that fit into none of those categories but are invisible to the 2/3 of our population who would benefit the most from a skilled trainer. I am a trainer and would be intimidated by Jillian Michaels (“The Biggest Loser”), Bob Greene (Oprah Winfrey’s trainer), and the six-pack bearing trainers strolling around the gym floor in between sets of bench presses. Don’t get me wrong, these trainers are good at what they do and serve their specific clientele well. But seriously, what over-worked, time-strapped mother is going to sign up for that?
Most would characterize my own path to trainer as non-traditional. As my classmate noted, I am not and never have been athletic. I never took dance classes, I’m not coordinated in that way. What happened is I witnessed at a young age the consequences of an unfit life. My mom, who struggled with weight most of her adult life, was diagnosed with hypertension when I was in high school, type II diabetes when I was in college. Two diseases that are highly preventable and treated best by a combination of medicine and lifestyle changes. She chose to treat them solely with doctors and medicine. But, while she could extend her life with this approach, she couldn’t maintain a high quality of life without permanent changes in diet and abandoning her sedentary lifestyle. Her weight continued to increase and a number of complications ensued: joint problems, neuropathy (painful and mobility-killing nerve damage in the feet), multiple infections and heart disease. Her mobility was already compromised at the relatively young age of seventy. By 76, she was wheelchair bound in a nursing home. Realizing I was likely genetically predisposed to the same diseases, I was bound and determined to adopt a lifestyle that would stave them off for as long as possible.
As a young woman, I was thin but not fit. My diet was atrocious and exercise was non-existent. Gradually, I educated myself on healthy cooking and eating and I started to dabble with exercise. That all changed after children. Losing the baby weight was more of a challenge and dabbling with exercise wasn’t enough. I don’t like gyms or exercise classes so I found things I enjoyed on my own. I am a self-taught exerciser and, eventually, I began to love exercise. I love how it makes me look, how it makes me feel and I especially love the energy and vitality it gives me. I feel alive when I exercise.
At age 40, it occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly be the only person out there with a desire to be fit who lacked athleticism, didn’t like gyms and preferred solo exercise to group classes. It wasn’t enough for me to save myself from a fate like my mom’s, I wanted to save others too. That is when I decided to become a trainer. For me, training is a labor of love.
I encourage you to shun the clichés about personal trainers and think instead about how valuable a trainer would be to you. A good trainer is, indeed, personal. She can design a program that is specific to your level, personality, goals, strengths and preferences. But, having said that, I believe hiring a trainer should also be about finding someone who can relate to you and vice-versa. I have the knowledge and skills to train someone to run a marathon. But I’ve never run one and have no intention of ever running one. I don’t think I’d be the best choice for that individual.
To select the right trainer, first be sure he has been certified by an accredited organization, such as ACE (American Council on Exercise) or ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine). Then think about the kind of person most likely to motivate you. Are you highly competitive and more likely to be motivated by a trainer who will challenge you in every workout to push yourself to your limits? Or are you a social person and more likely to be motivated by someone you can connect with – perhaps who is the same gender and of similar age and lifestage as you? Many trainers, like me, choose a niche or specialty. There are trainers for cancer survivors, recreational athletes, obese individuals, senior citizens, military families, the list goes on and on. (I train women only, in a home setting.) Many trainers offer free or highly discounted first sessions. Make a first session appointment with a few trainers before selecting one.
Bottom line is trainers are not just for the rich and famous or people who are already fit. Training sessions with my clients don’t even remotely resemble the extreme workouts you see on television. Yet my clients have lost weight, strengthened and toned their muscles, and become self-sufficient with workouts they enjoy. The pool of trainers is as diverse as the clients we serve. With a little homework, you can find the perfect trainer for you.
To find a certified personal trainer near you, go to www.acefitness.org, click on “Get Fit” and enter your zip code under “Find an ACE Trainer.”