Exercise in Futility Muscle man: Somewhere around the second sit-up it becomes painfully clear. This working-out stuff is hard work.

March 06, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

It's one of those late winter days when the world is an endless shade of gray and story ideas are harder to come by than a tobacco lobbyist with a conscience.

I'm in the newsroom, not in a swell mood as it is, when the guy at the next desk says: "You should hire a personal trainer."

Well. What do you say to something like that? Sure, I've put on a few pounds -- who hasn't? But to practically call someone a fat tub of goo to his face . . .

"No," the guy says, "you hire this personal trainer to work out with you, see? Then you write about it. Personal trainers are the hot thing right now." So I make a few phone calls, and it turns out the guy is right, which is even more irritating.

At the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise (ACE), spokesperson Debby LaChusa says her organization now has more thanover 15,000 certified trainers, compared to just 2,200 in 1992. And the number is reportedly growing at the rate of 33 percent a year.

Then Ms. LaChusa starts yakking about "society as a whole pushing toward wellness" and yadda, yadda, yadda, which is my cue to say so long.

The point is, it's not just big-shot Hollywood movie stars and corporate CEO's hiring personal trainers these days, it's Mr. and Ms. Average Citizen, too.

Well. Being about as average as you can get, it's time for me to get in on the action.

Jake Steinfeld ("Trainer to the Stars") may be running 5 miles and doing sit-ups with Madonna pool-side in Beverly Hills. But within hours, I've got a guy right here in Crab Town, Chris Kaiser, who's gonna whip my butt into shape, or kill me in the process.

Chris is 25, the president of CBK Fitness, which runs the personal training program at the Downtown Athletic Club. He is square-jawed and thick-shouldered, a former college baseball player who's extremely fit but not pumped-up in the Michelin Man mode.

He's a certified trainer with five years' experience and says he's concerned about the image of his profession, which he calls "muscle-heads in tank tops."

He means all those pretty boys and pretty girls with the body-fat of a greyhound and biceps the size of grapefruits. Except it often turns out these pretty people aren't certified, which means they don't know what the hello.k. per proctor they're doing, which means that pretty soon the client's hamstring snaps loose like the tether on that space satellite the space shuttle Columbia launched last week.

CBK Fitness charges $25 to $45 to work out a client in a health club, and $60 for a home visit. This is in line with rates across the country and strikes me as eminently reasonable, especially since The Sun is paying.

Chris agrees to be my in-home trainer for three days. At the end of that time, we will assess our professional relationship and, assuming I don't think he's one of these Spandex Nazis bent on torturing me, possibly extend it a while longer.

After I fill out a lengthy medical questionnaire, listing, among other things, my current fitness status (dubious) and injuries (a surgically repaired left knee with all the consistency of pastina), Chris promises to develop a customized conditioning program for me, with an emphasis on muscle strength and flexibility.

Then I sign an insurance waiver, which basically says that if I keel over while working out, my heirs will not hunt Chris down like a war criminal and drag him into court.

"See you at 7 tomorrow," Chris says.

Seven? As in a.m.?

Day 1: Let the Pains Begin

The sun is just peeking over the hills when the doorbell rings. It's 6: 45 a.m. Gee, I wonder who that could be? Surprise, surprise, it's Chris. I offer him a cup of coffee, figuring he's one of these no-caffeine, my-body-is-a-temple fanatics who'll turn it down.

"Sure," he says. "You having one?"

Why not? I'm already on my fourth cup and vibrating like a gong.

After the coffee, we get down to business. First we go for a brisk 15-minute walk to warm up, with me carrying a five-pound dumbbell in each hand.

Chris wants me to pump my arms up and down ("adds more intensity.") But I'm reluctant to do one of those goofy, we're-off-to-see-the-Wizard walks lest the neighbors spot me. I gotta live with these people, pal.

Returning home, we jump into some weight work: chest presses, overhead shoulder presses, regular bicep curls, reverse curls -- all with two 20-pound dumbbells.

Twenty pounds doesn't sound like much, until you do a couple of real slow sets, working the muscles deliberately. Soon, my chest is heaving and I'm sweating like an onion picker.

This is when Chris tells the story of a one of his clients, a 35-year-old Philadelphia businessman who had enough of chest-heaving and sweating two years ago.

Chris had the guy doing circuit training, which combines cardio-vascular exercises with weight work. In this case, the guy was pedaling madly on the stationary bike and running on the treadmill interspersed with furious bouts of barbell work.

"We were just ripping out, going crazy," Chris recalls fondly.

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