Trainer helps clients achieve their personal best CARROLL COUNTY HEALTH

June 29, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Mark Orrell winces when he sees people who keep coming to the fitness center, don't slack off, put heart into their workouts, but are doing the wrong exercises.

The 34-year-old exercise physiologist and personal trainer said he would like to help, but it wouldn't be fair to the client paying him if he took off to work with someone else. And his usual workday at Marriott Corp.'s corporate fitness center in Bethesda is one client after another, all day on his feet, grab a sandwich standing up.

Mr. Orrell and his wife Caroline, a senior account executive with an advertising agency, share a two-story house in Silver Run with their dog, Nikita. The commute is a trade-off for getting away from it all and getting more house for less money than they could in Montgomery County.

In addition to his work at the corporate center, Mr. Orrell and the two full-time employees of Excel in Fitness Inc. work with individual clients in their homes and conduct programs: a talk to the health staff of the Canadian Embassy, charity basketball games at the Art Monk Football Camp.

"We work with people one to one or in small groups," Mr. Orrell says. "We don't have a factory line."

He describes his career as a product of the fitness craze, but he came to it with years of experience in training his own body. Mr. Orrell played college football at the University of Richmond, where he earned a degree in journalism in 1981. He tried out with the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and New England Patriots.

He got into bobsledding and made it to the Winter Olympic trials in Germany in 1977. The following year, he was on the U.S. team competing for the World Cup in Calgary.

Bobsledding, he says, "is being on the edge. You don't know what emotion to grab."

One side is off on the most incredible amusement park ride ever, 100 miles an hour over a sheet of ice with no brakes, he said; the other half is questioning one's sanity.

Mr. Orrell decided he'd like his life in his own hands, so he drove the bobsled. The sled requires a careful touch, he says. "Your hands have to be subtle, but all your emotions are, 'I want to scream.' "

He stopped bobsledding after two years because the sport was consuming his life. His business, his marriage, everything had to go on hold while he trained. But he did get one side benefit: the chance to put into practice at the Olympic trials what he was learning in graduate school.

"It was kind of neat, learn and apply, learn and apply," Mr. Orrell says. He is now finishing his thesis for a master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Mr. Orrell's version of the "turbulent 20s" was a search for what to do with his life. He worked briefly for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, sold some stories to the Montgomery Journal, then joined Tandy Corp.

He was doing all right, managing Radio Shack stores and learning about business. But working for someone else didn't appeal to him.

Then, like the proverbial light bulb over the head, it all came together. The fitness craze had spawned a demand for trainers to help people get into shape. And he knew how to train.

Mr. Orrell urges people who are thinking of hiring personal trainers to ask questions about the trainer's qualifications. Private trainers aren't licensed, although some have taken courses to obtain certification. Mr. Orrell is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which he says is one of the toughest.

The Excel In Fitness staff starts each new client with a fact-finding session. The trainer asks about eating habits, medical history and whether the person has been exercising regularly. The session includes tests such as body composition and aerobic capacity, to give the trainer the information needed to set up an exercise program.

Mr. Orrell declines to say how much he charges for the service. But he says people don't have to join a health club or buy a lot of expensive equipment to get in shape.

Runners need only a good pair of running shoes. Simple free weight sets are very inexpensive, and the trainers can do manual resistance exercises with simple household items.

"We might raid your broom closet," Mr. Orrell says. The broom becomes a horizontal pole that a client can use to exercise his biceps by pulling up while the trainer presses down.

Some clients work with the trainers only to master an exercise routine. Others stay with their trainers to keep what they've gained.

"We've had clients for six or seven years," Mr. Orrell says. "They're in the best shape of their lives."

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