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Blood, Sweat, Tears And The Right Trainer


Personal Business: FITNESS

BLOOD, SWEAT, TEARS AND THE RIGHT TRAINER

Last fall, I asked my body-sculpting class instructor if he would be my personal trainer. I liked his no-nonsense teaching style and dedication to fitness and admired his chiseled body. So did he. Glancing in the mirror, he told me to ask him again in six weeks, after he had competed in a fitness contest. That should have been a warning.

We trained together a few times at my gym, but I quickly learned that I had made a big mistake. He often arrived 15 minutes late, and once didn't show up at all--without bothering to call. He seemed interested enough in my weight-training goals but not in my former ankle or back injuries. Despite my complaints, he urged me to use machines that hurt my weak spots. Finally, I requested that he develop a training program for me. He said I didn't need one. That's when I knew I had hired the wrong guy.

I hadn't taken seriously that there are guidelines to finding a good personal trainer. "Hiring a trainer is like hiring a doctor," says Debbie LaChusa of the American Council on Exercise. "Both need proper education and certification." The fitness industry, however, is unregulated and requires no standardized license to practice. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call him- or herself a trainer. Even for those who say they are certified, you have to wonder by whom.

FLEXIBLE. Ideally, you want a trainer who has an exercise-science background and has certifications by at least one of the three internationally recognized outfits: American Council on Exercise (ACE) (800 529-8227), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) (317 637-9200), or the Aerobic & Fitness Assn. (AFFA) (800 445-5950). These programs require recertification every two years.

But the trainer also needs to have the right mix of education, experience, and people skills. "I've seen trainers with a PhD in kinesiology look at clients and panic," says Bob Fields, an Indianapolis trainer.

Your goals will help you consider what type of background is important. Do you want to shed a few pounds or run a 10-kilometer race? Look for someone who has worked with clients with objectives similar to yours--one who won't push you to enter an amateur bodybuilding contest, if that's not your vision.

Convenience is another key concern. It's good to know that when your trainer knocks at your front door ready to work out, you're ready too, so you have no excuses. Trainer Eric Fischbach owns Door to Door Fitness in Chester, N.J. He outfitted a mobile home with exercise equipment so he can drive the gym right to customers' homes. Fischbach charges $60 per hour. Trainers generally charge between $35 and $100 an hour, depending on where you live and whether you train at home or in a gym. It's up to you how often you want to work with your trainer, but three times a week is typical.

Once you've considered your goals and background preferences, you're ready to interview candidates. "Word of mouth is your best bet," advises Alicia Goungo of AFFA. Friends, doctors, and health clubs can provide a few names. Two associations, ACE and the International Association of Fitness Professionals (800 999-IDEA), give phone numbers of certified trainers in your area.

ENOUGH INSURANCE? Aside from your goals, the trainer should be interested in your overall health. Nutrition, injuries, and exercise patterns should be discussed. Get an initial fitness assessment and periodic updates throughout your training, says Ann Partlow of ACSM. Of course, I didn't: On my first day, I warmed up on the stationary bike and went straight to the barbells--then we wandered aimlessly around the gym.

Trainers may know how to exercise, but that doesn't mean you won't get hurt. Your trainer should have liability insurance of at least $1 million to cover his or her legal expenses and a client's medical bills. Sports clubs usually insure their employees. Independent trainers typically get coverage through associations, but be sure it's current.

Most important, request a trial workout before striking a deal. "It's like any relationship," says Julie Watson, a writer who hired Fields to help her lose weight. "Go out and see if you like each other." Then get references--and call them. I got along great with my trainer but could have saved time and money had I chatted with folks about his personal-training style. Remember, looks aren't everything.EDITED BY EDWARD C. BAIG BY TODDI GUTNER


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