Getting personal

Health: Fitness trainers aren't just for the rich anymore. More and more, they're providing therapy for all kinds of problems.

Health & Fitness

October 17, 1999|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Special to the Sun

This time, you're really going to get in shape.

You want to improve your tennis game, lose those post-pregnancy pounds, develop a healthy lifestyle after a heart attack, control your diabetes, or have the body shape you dimly remember from an earlier decade.

Whatever the reason, you're serious -- even if you don't know how to go about it. The idea of dragging out the dust-covered exercise bike from the far corners of the basement just doesn't appeal to you.

That's where a personal trainer comes in, or as they often prefer to be called, a fitness consultant. Once thought of as an extravagance for only the rich and glittery, personal trainers are taking on thousands of aging baby boomers.

"There's a perception that personal training is for the elite and the wealthy, and it's not," says Paul Kennedy, assistant vice president of personal training services for Bally Total Fitness, a national company with several fitness centers in the Baltimore area.

It's not exactly cheap, either, but with sessions in the Baltimore area ranging from $35 to $70 an hour, and a variety of introductory packages available, the cost can be about the same as filling the tank of the Suburban.

"Your health is the most important thing you have," says Michael Kelly, corporate fitness director for Sinai WellBridge Health and Fitness. "If you lose your health, the new house means nothing."

Personal trainers increasingly are helping patients regain health, too. "Personal training is really heading in a direction that is post-rehabilitative in nature," says Kelly. While anyone can join Sinai's fitness center, it has components for people with strokes, Parkinson's disease, weight management needs, or cardiac rehabilitation. The center is starting programs for diabetes management, osteoporosis prevention and rehabilitation for patients suffering from cancer.

When the HMO won't pay for any more visits with a physical therapist, a gym -- with the same type of equipment -- can be the person's next stop. "Trainers represent the ultimate after-care," says Kennedy. "You've been released from therapy -- now what?"

That change in focus is represented in Bally's membership. Kennedy notes that people ages 40 to 49 are the fastest growing group of new members.

But personal trainers aren't physical therapists, although the initials can be confusing. Physical therapists, who undergo extensive post-graduate training, are licensed by the state.

There are no licensing or certification requirements for personal trainers -- pretty much anyone can assemble a weight bench and declare themselves a personal trainer. The result can be an ineffective workout for the client, or even worse, a serious injury.

So how do you make sure you get a qualified personal trainer?

Look for a national certification -- and the more certifications, the better.

"Nobody should have just one certification; that means they're limited," says Michael Sallustio, who runs Good Health Inc. of Annapolis with his wife, Lee Michelle Sallustio. A former lawyer, Michael is a certified medical exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine; a certified nutrition consultant through the American Council on Exercise; and a member of the American Association of Fitness Consultants. Lee Michelle, who has an undergraduate degree in health fitness management and a master's in exercise science, is certified through ACE, NASM and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Some other national certifications to look for include: the National Strength and Conditioning Association; the National Strength Professionals Association; International Sports Science Association; Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and certification obtained through the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas.

Trainers interviewed named the American College of Sports Medicine certification as the best.

Ask about any continuing education, signaled by memberships in organizations like Focus on Fitness, or pursuing additional degrees. The Dundalk Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, for example, offers a program that prepares students for ACSM and ACE certification and awards its own trainer certification as well.

Ask, too, how long the person has been training others. You want someone with experience.

Once credentials have been established, then the choosing a trainer comes down to chemistry.

"You need to make sure it's a good relationship because you're going to be seeing that trainer for a period of time," says Daniel Schmidt, a senior fitness consultant and owner of Body Style Health and Fitness. He recommends getting a referral from someone who uses a trainer, and then asking that trainer for an interview. Most trainers will give a free initial consultation, he says.

"The most important thing is that you have a rapport with that person," Kelly says, "If you do not have a good rapport, then they won't be able to motivate you."

Motivation is precisely what you're paying for.

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