Personal trainers once functioned as fitness gurus for the rich and famous. But in Howard County, as elsewhere, they are now an important part of a healthful lifestyle for many average people, especially baby boomers who want to make sure they enjoy an active old age.
Clients find trainers in a variety of ways, from personal referrals, to gym memberships, to follow-up sessions after a medical crisis.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun reported an incorrect Web address for personal trainer Mary Concannon. The correct address is www. upandmoving.com. The Sun regrets the error.
Trainers often are the next step after therapy or medical treatment, serving as a guide through the unfamiliar territory of a gym and ensuring that people exercise in ways that prevent injury.
Gail Miller, a certified personal trainer at the Columbia Association's Supreme Sports Club and a post-rehabilitation exercise specialist, says most of her clients are women in their 40s and 50s - including breast cancer survivors and cardiac patients.
"Most of these people have never lifted a weight in their life," says Miller, who is certified through the National Strength Professional Association. "I think a lot of times you go into a gym, and it's totally intimidating."
But she praises their spirit as they persevere.
"These women have decided they want to take control of their life,"she says.
Columbia's Mary Concannon, certified by the American Council on Exercise and a holder of a master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Maryland, worked 15 years in health care settings, focusing on cardiac rehabilitation and doing ultrasound echo cardiograms.
"I really had gotten pretty far from my original training, which was fitness," she says.
That's when she decided to become a personal trainer, working with clients in their homes. She emphasizes exercise routines that aren't intimidating, especially strength training for women.
"It doesn't have to be done in one sweat-drenched session," says Concannon, who maintains a Web site, www.upandcoming.com. Concannon points out that what many think of as the symptoms of aging are really the symptoms of inactivity.
No one has to convince Brent Stine, a trainer at the Columbia Association-owned Columbia Gym in Clarksville, of the value of fitness.
Stine, with certification from the American College of Sports Medicine, is an aerobics instructor - he's taught for 14 years - and an avid runner who also loves tennis and soccer.
Early one morning, at age 55, he awoke in pain from a massive heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and survived - with significant damage to his heart.
But his doctors were amazed at the capability of his damaged heart. He proudly recalls his days in rehabilitation at Howard General Hospital in Columbia, saying, "I was the first person they allowed to get on a treadmill and run."
Stress tests put him at a level of 82 percent fitness, meaning that only 18 percent of people his age could do better on a treadmill.
"It's all attributable to the fitness before and after the heart attack," he says. "That's why I'm even more committed to it."
When he retired from his job as a manager for the Pillsbury Co. this past January, he already had certified himself as a trainer and embarked on a new career to teach others the value of fitness.
"I was partially into it with the aerobics," he says. "I realized that after I retired, I needed something to do - and wanted to do. I'd always enjoyed being around the gym and helping people."
He advises anyone who joins a gym to take at least three sessions from a personal trainer to make sure they can do the exercises safely. "You can hurt yourself in a gym," he said.
A personal trainer also helps a person set goals. "To say, `I want to get fit,' is so vague," says Concannon. "Usually, the goal is weight loss, but I say, `Let's change that to an action goal. Let's get you to the point where you could walk 5 kilometers.'"