CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy, Do you believe personal training is worth the cost? I am a runner-turned-walker and, now with some undeniable limitations, wonder if completely changing my exercise habits would be a good move? Would you recommend personal training? I know nobody is guaranteed results, but what should I expect, other than it costs a lot? -- Steven Dear Steven, If you snag a competent personal trainer, my guess is you'll feel as if it was one of the smartest moves you ever made. As with any profession, however, there are all levels of expertise and skill that set personal trainers apart. They are not all created equal. In fact, you'll find there are many with weak qualifications and little practical experience, but also those with notable credentials, hundreds of clients under their belt and the wisdom to prescribe appropriate activity to clients with a variety of physical limitations. Selecting one is the most critical step. Nationally certified It's important to choose your personal trainer based on education. The trainer should be certified by a nationally recognized body (ask for credentials; this should include a current CPR certification), experience and a proven track record rather than solely on convenience, cost or popularity. This will require some work on your part but once identified, you can trust the trainer to take it from there. What can I expect? Your first personal training session should never start with physical activity. A competent trainer will spend time gathering information and background on you to provide a quality program that is personal to you. This is based on your current level of fitness and health as well as existing limitations, such as muscle imbalance, pain or weakness from previous injury or age-related conditions you may have. Boundaries can only be determined once the trainer has completed a comprehensive fitness assessment along with a thorough understanding of your goals. Is it worth it? In my opinion, your desire to find a safe and effective exercise regimen to keep your body active and strong is probably the best reason to consider a personal trainer. Trainers are hired for a variety of reasons, but often it is out of the need for motivation rather than the actual exercise prescription. You will get more bang for your buck. And the good news is that personal training is evolving and offering more options than ever before. In the beginning Traditionally, personal training was a one-on-one experience -- just you and the trainer. For example, a fitness program would be designed to meet your goals, and you would work with your trainer for an hour two to three times a week for six to eight weeks. Then the trainer would tweak your program to keep you motivated and challenged. This is certainly a fine way to train, but some clients elect to work independently of the trainer once their program is created until they need their plan readjusted. These people typically need more help with exercise prescription than they do motivation. Comfort in numbers As it has evolved, personal training has spawned even more options. Group personal training seems like a misnomer, but it's actually a very effective alternative to one-on-one workouts. In a group, people gain the support of those with similar goals and fitness levels without losing the attention of the trainer. This has the added benefit of being more affordable because the group is sharing the training fee. It can sometimes be tricky, but the most important part of the group dynamics is matching both the physicality and personality of the clients, which can lead to either the best or worst of situations. Great trainers have the aptitude to do this quite successfully. Personal training is a great choice if you:
Need a time-efficient, personalized program designed to challenge you.
Have a medical condition or limitation that needs special attention.
Recognize you need help with form and technique.
Desire fitness education and nutritional counseling.
Are working out regularly but not making progress.
Have a training deadline for a specific event with limited time to meet goals.
Require motivation, accountability and feedback to stay active.
Remember: Personal trainers are not magicians or miracle workers. Some people mistakenly believe hiring a personal trainer and showing up at a gym will automatically transform their body. Even with a great trainer, these clients will come away feeling it's a waste of money. A personal trainer can only help you get out of a training session what you put into it.
The first step is showing up on time, adequately rested, hydrated and nourished, and the rest is 60 minutes of focused effort. You must prepare to train. When you do, not only will it work, it'll feel like a bargain.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail email@example.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.