That’s great, five more reps
Personal trainers weigh in about getting you in shape
A few months ago, I finally admitted to myself that the life of a writer is not exactly active. I love what I do, but I could easily predict a future in which my bottom would spread across the seat of my chair. I had to get my rear in gear, and I knew I didn’t have the gumption to do it on my own. So I called in reinforcements from my friend Gina, the personal trainer.
Gina Gilbert is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in nutrition and athletic training. She is certified by both the National Academy of Sports Medicine and nutrition and lifestyle consultant Paul Chek. She not only develops exercise programs for clients but nutritional programs as well, something not all trainers can offer. She primarily trains at Framework, an independent training facility off Lakeside Drive in Reno, home base for several local personal trainers.
My first step was humiliating: I stripped down to my underwear so Gina could measure my body fat. I was mortified about having my body examined so closely, but Gina was unaffected. This is her job, and it’s as routine as eating breakfast. When she was finished, I got dressed, and then we talked about what I eat. I recounted to her my love of simple carbohydrates—pasta, French bread and potatoes—watching Gina’s eyes grow wide as saucers. Then for the rest of my hour, she demonstrated some exercises for me, which I did under her supervision.
For days after our session, I ached. I moaned while sitting up in bed and struggled to do simple things like climb the stairs to my front door, carrying groceries I could barely lift. At our next appointment, when she handed me my personalized nutrition book, full of menus, shopping lists and healthful snack ideas, I came clean with her: “This is hard.”
So why would someone voluntarily do this? Whether recovering from an injury, trying to lose weight, training for athletic competition, fighting the effects of aging, or simply bored with their routine, clients are looking for a highly personalized experience, a motivator and guide, and they will spend the time and money to have the combination.
“I’ve never been a Barbie Doll,” says Kathy Kennedy, a client of Gina’s for almost four years. “For me, this was about staving off the effects of age. I had just turned 40, and I didn’t realize how much things hurt.” She had suffered a minor shoulder injury, and her husband, Jack, had high blood pressure. They knew they needed to get in shape.
But Jack runs a successful law office, and Kathy is Jack’s office manager as well as the general manager for a loan company. They were simply too busy to drive to the gym, wait in line for machines and drive home three hours later. So they built their own gym at the law office and hired Gina to come to them three days a week.
On Kathy’s own suggestion, if the Kennedys cancel, they still have to pay Gina. It’s a real incentive to keep it up. Kathy’s shoulder hurts now only if she skips her workouts. “This isn’t about vanity. It’s about conditioning and feeling good. It’s added tremendously to our quality of life.” Not that everbody is going to build a gym at the office.
Paul Fischer, a personal trainer and the owner of Framework, says one benefit to hiring a trainer is that, frankly, many people just don’t know what they’re doing in a gym. “People come to us and say their doctor recommended a strength-training program, and they don’t know where to start. It’s always better to start with proper technique, rather than trying to move weights around, risking injury,” says Fischer.
There are also non-traditional routes available—Pilates, for example. Pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the body. Skye Garman is a certified Pilates instructor who trains clients individually at a couple local Pilates studios. She and Gina often share clients, to combine weight training with Pilates for a more thorough workout.
“Pilates is really gentle on your body,” Garman says. “It’s stretch-based, and it’s more about flexibility, core strength, your own body weight, with a little bit of resistance.” Developed by Joseph Pilates, who designed exercises using a hospital bed and its various springs to help rehabilitate patients, Pilates focuses on developing core strength—the abdominals, glutes and spine—to help the entire body be more functional. Pilates typically creates a longer, leaner muscle, which is why it’s so popular among women. Garman likes a combination of Pilates with weight training, for both sexes.
“There are a lot of people muscling around too much weight,” she says. “They think the more weight, the better—especially men. But with Pilates, more is worse. Less resistance is better. That’s why you get a personal trainer, to show you that.”
Trainers aren’t cheap. Average rates typically run between $40 and $60 an hour, and most clients train two to three times a week, although package and group deals may save a few bucks. What do you get for your money? Encouragement from someone who’ll push you further than you push yourself. And, on a reasonable plan, you’ll lose about a pound a week with someone who won’t let you give up or gain it back. But you have to take it seriously.
Is there a difference between male and female trainers? “I think women are more touchy-feely,” Gina says. “We have to be less conscious of body presentation. If men are going to show an example of an exercise and put their hands on a client, they have to be careful.”
Paul Fischer, who is training a woman when I meet him, also points out another difference. “Speaking for myself, I might pay more attention to the technical aspect of the workout and not take as much time to talk about their personal lives. Female trainers tend to do that a little more.” He and Gina believe clients tend to confide more in female trainers, based on their experiences. But beyond these slight differences, they both agree that hiring a trainer rarely has much to do with gender and everything to do with being professional.
Regardless of whether you hire a trainer or do it on your own, there is no secret to getting in shape that doesn’t involve hard work. “I think people will find that if they really work at it and push themselves a bit, they’ll find they’re doing things they didn’t think they could do,” says Fischer.
“People think it’s really hard to get in shape,” says Garman. “It’s not. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s about encouragement and having somebody there to encourage you.”
And if Gina could give one piece of advice? “The body was not meant to sit around. It was meant to move, to breathe. That will keep you healthy long term. There’s no magic pill, because if there was, I would take it!”
As for my own fitness plan, I decided after only three sessions that I’d rather write about working out than actually do it. I’m holding out for that magic pill.