Northwest NEWS

October 21, 2002


The bottom line: Do your homework when choosing a trainer


Leslie Sweeney trains Kazmer Wirkus at the Woodinville Athletic Club. Photo by Ian Gleadle

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   These days, personal trainers dot the fitness landscape in the same proliferation as Starbucks do within the coffee arena. They work at health and sports clubs, wellness centers, specialized clinics, schools, spas, recreational centers, rehab facilities, corporate gyms and a host of other locales.
   The field attracts its share of both men and women, of a wide age span and of varying levels of experience and expertise. Due to these factors, consumers have many choices when it comes to selecting a personal trainer who will fit their needs. The decision is not an easy one, as the investment of money and time is significant and the expectations are high.
   According to longtime independent personal trainer Dan Ball, who works at the Woodinville Athletic Club, people should first check the professional background of a personal trainer. He says, "Look for nationally recognized certification, either with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which has the highest standards to maintain, or the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Then ask about experience and specializations. Some trainers focus on doing a lot of body building work; others emphasize mobility and range of motion, while others do injury reconditioning."
   According to Ball, one needs to decide what one's goals are and then find a trainer who has experience in helping people achieve these aims. The other aspect to consider in the selection process is rapport.
   "Obviously, people want a trainer who they can relate to and who they will be able to easily talk to," explains Ball. "That and whether the trainer is a good listener are both important qualities."
   Before people invest in a trainer, they want to know what the trainer can do for them. "Trainers are teachers," explains Lyn Novak, personal trainer and owner of Fitness First LLC in Woodinville. "They impart knowledge and instruct people on what to do to achieve their goals. They tell you the what and the why for each exercise and help in the area of injury prevention. People find that they can reach their goals faster with a trainer than on their own because their workouts are more effective and efficient. Trainers understand exercise progression and adaptation. It's also safer to work out with a trainer."
   Novak has been in the fitness industry for 20 years, starting out as an aerobics instructor and then becoming involved with personal training. At her studio, she works with clients in small groups and tries to keep her rates economical in order to help others make fitness a part of their life-style. She doesn't use any fitness tests because she feels that many people are intimidated by such tests.
   She says, "I tell them to note how they feel and see how their clothes fit after training for a month. I also tell them to avoid the scale and just to use their powers of observation and self-awareness." With clients who come in with unrealistic goals, Novak tries to focus on setting mini objectives that can realistically be accomplished and then work slowly and steadily towards a larger aim. She emphasizes that results depend greatly on the motivation level of the individual and whether they are working toward a total picture of health that includes cardio activity, weight training and nutrition. "Fitness is really about being healthy and strong to face the challenges that life presents," comments Novak.
   The field of personal training continues to grow by leaps and bounds and where it used to be a profession dominated by men, it now attracts large numbers of women. Some view it as providing a great part time income and others, like Jennifer Nelson, independent personal trainer working at Gold Creek Tennis and Sports Club in Woodinville, see it as a full-time career.
   Nelson, who entered the field three years ago, makes her living as a trainer. She says, "A personal trainer can definitely make a living, but it depends on how much effort he/she is willing to put in and it definitely helps to be independent."
   Personal trainers charge on an average of $25 to $90 an hour (small group training costs can be significantly less per person).
   Nelson was attracted to the profession because she saw it as a way to work with people and help them to learn what to do to be healthy.
   "I went from a stressful office job where I spent much of my time behind a desk and not interacting with lots of people to a job where I get to move around, talk to people and feel a great sense of satisfaction in my work," explains Nelson. "When I made the move to this field, I also knew that there were lots of opportunities for employment and that the situation would continue to be good in the future."
   Nelson feels that a good personal trainer needs to have excellent people and listening skills. She believes that it's not only important to have the knowledge, but to know how to communicate it effectively. "If you can't do this," adds Nelson, "then you won't make it as a trainer."
   The communication skills also come into play with clients who begin to lose motivation over time a common problem according to Nelson. Her approach is to remain upbeat, turn the negative around to the positive, use lots of positive reinforcement and emphasize how far the individual has come since he/she began their efforts. Over at the Northshore YMCA, Laurie Gerrard, Director of Health and Fitness, feels that if a trainer can prevent a client from not setting him/herself up for failure, then that's half the battle in fighting the motivation issue. She says, "A trainer needs to plan out how the client can achieve success realistically and then provide encouragement each step of the way. Also, it helps to remind people that they're not alone when they're feeling less motivated that this happens to everyone and that it can be cyclical, too, depending on where they are in their lives."
   Gerrard and her staff of five personal trainers use fitness testing to help show clients how far they've come in their efforts, which also aids in keeping people motivated. "We encourage people to look at the tests as a measurement tool and then every three months we retest to view the progress made," explains Gerrard. "If there's been no progress, then we work on adjusting the program and look at what can be done to move forward.
   "We don't cookie cut our programs because you just can't in this type of work. You need to tailor the program to fit the needs of the individual and then continue to tweak it."
   All certified personal trainers are required to earn a certain number of continuing education credits per year in order to maintain their certification.
   They can take on-line courses, attend conferences and conventions or enroll in local classes offered by various organizations and institutions in the area.
   Many trainers do much outside reading and subscribe to various journals, as well as belong to professional organizations to help them stay current in the field.
   Nelson says, "Lots of new info comes out all the time and if I want to keep up with what's happening in the profession, I need to make sure I read about the latest trends, equipment and theories. This helps me keep things fresh for my clients and allows me to be better informed when I talk with them or answer their questions about various issues or current fads."
   According to Gerrard, staying up on what's occurring in the profession is the duty of the trainer and a good trainer should pass on relevant information to his/her clients.
   "On the other hand, it is the consumer's job to do the necessary research in finding the right trainer," adds Gerrard. "Really take the time to check out a trainer, both for his/her certification, training and experience.
   And personality plays an important part in all this, too. Do you want a nurturer, a drill sergeant, a cheerleader what type of trainer has the style that will be a good match for you? It's a great idea to watch a trainer at work to note his/her approach and style.
   The bottom line is: do your homework so you won't be disappointed."