This is what Norma Pera isn't: wealthy, pampered or famous.
what's this 41-year-old married public school teacher doing with her own personal trainer?
"I never in a million years thought I would be using a personal trainer," says Ms. Pera, a dance instructor at Baltimore's School for the Arts.
Oprah, Arnold and others of their star-studded ilk aren't the only ones employing a personal trainer nowadays. Look around. Your next-door neighbor, your son's fourth-grade teacher or your clothing sales clerk may be booking time with fitness instructors, a growing area of expertise among fitness workers. "We now have more people sitting for our personal trainers exam rather than our aerobic exams," says Debbie LaChusa, spokeswoman for the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise.
In November, ACE certified 1,016 people as personal trainers compared to 945 aerobics instructors. ACE began administering certification exams for personal trainers in 1990. The organization has certified 6,997 personal trainers since then.
Susan Angerer, a 25-year-old saleswoman, has used a personal trainer for the past eight months. Budgeting for the lessons takes priority over a few other things such as "going out" or clothes shopping, she says.
"I will stay with it as long as I can," says Ms. Angerer, who works with personal trainer Pam Homer at the Merritt Athletic Club in Towson.
Engineer Andrew Mazurek, 25, also works out with Ms. Homer. He hired a personal trainer at the same time he joined a gym. "I just wanted to get in better shape, to tone up. But I didn't want to do things wrong or to hurt myself," says Mr. Mazurek. "The little bit of extra money it cost me was well worth it."
In relative terms, hiring a personal trainer still isn't exactly cheap.
The going rate for Baltimore-area personal trainers is about $30- $40 an hour.
Personal trainers are most often employed by health clubs, but iisn't necessary to join a club to use the services of their fitness instructors. However, non-members usually will be charged $5 to $10 an hour more than people who belong. And some personal trainers require you to sign up for a specified number of sessions.
Some personal fitness instructors will make house calls if requested and if the customer owns some exercise gear.
"With $100 worth of equipment, I can work with you at home," says trainer Heidi Young, who independently contracts her services.
Most of Ms. Young's customers are females in their 40s. "It seems to be an age when women say it's either now or never, she says.
The same thing holds true at health clubs. "Most of our clients here are females," says personal trainer John Crockett of the Bel Air Athletic Club in Harford County.
Reasons for wanting a personal trainer vary.
"Some are athletes who are training intensely for one specifievent," says Ms. Homer.
Some are just starting to work out.
"We mostly deal with the person who may not have exercised a day in their lives," says Rhonda Ludwig, personal trainer and fitness manager for the Bel Air club.
Still, some are fitness buffs who have reached a plateau, aren't seeing results any more and want to figure out why.
No matter the reason for employing a fitness trainer, most clients begin with one or more sessions a week but taper off or quit altogether after learning the basics.
After we educate people, they need you less and less," says Kevin Shaffer, personal trainer at the Merritt Athletic Club.
After eight weeks of working with a personal trainer, Mr. Mazurek felt comfortable enough to quit the lessons.
"[Pam Homer] basically held my hand," he says. "But I now know enough that I can work out on my own."
But some people get hooked on having their own personal trainers and continue indefinitely.
Susan Rodriguez, 30, believes she will always use her personal trainer.
Ms. Rodriguez, who works in the fiber optics business, has exercised for many years. She ran a little, worked out a little, watched what she ate. But, she still wasn't attaining the strength she wanted and decided to hire personal trainer J.J. Pearl.
"I always exercised but wanted to get strong," says Ms. Rodriguez, who has suffered broken bones in the past.
Motivation. Most people need it.
For others, that extra bit of encouragement is appealing.
"It's not just that people can't do it themselves. A lot of times, they just want the motivational aspect of it," says Brian Stoltz, personal trainer and owner of HardBody Health and Fitness Center in Dundalk.
Mr. Shaffer puts it in terms many can relate to. "A lot of people need that kick in the butt to keep at it."
He and other trainers will call and scold clients who even think about missing their appointments. "I've called people to say, 'Where are you? Why aren't you here?' You need to harass some people," he says.
Ms. Pera likes the attention. "She pushes you and mothers you at the same time," says Ms. Pera of her trainer.
"He knows exactly when I can push it and when I just can't do anymore," Ms. Rodriguez says of Mr. Pearl. "And we've become friends," she adds.
It goes with the territory. A relationship can't help but become personal when someone knows your exact amount of body fat.