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Study Shows Personal Trainer Supervision Improves Frequency, Success In Workouts

Local Experts Share Process Of Selecting Trainers, Developing Workout Routines

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

August 14, 2012 - While a plethora of workout videos, group classes or fitness trends are helping people get in shape, there continues to be an increase in the number of people seeking the expertise of personal trainers to design an individualized workout routine.

Americans have been slowly becoming less active since the 1950s, contributing to the rise in obesity over the years. The increase was gradual until the 1980s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then the increase in obesity has been unprecedented, reaching epidemic proportions nationwide.

John Garey, left, owner of John Garey Fitness & Pilates at the Marketplace Long Beach,
coaches Todd Reichart, one of his gym’s personal trainers, in a one-on-one training session.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

Governmental programs and healthcare institutions have progressively implemented campaigns to fight obesity, providing tools and options for individuals to take on the responsibility of changing his or her lifestyle. Eating healthy foods is part of it, but physicians tend to recommend diet with exercise.

“Many health professionals include exercise programs in their programming because incorporating physical activity into as many aspects of daily living as possible can provide many physiological, psychological and social benefits,” Steven R. McClaran, Ph.D., wrote in a 2003 study he authored. The study, published in the Journal of Sports and Science Medicine, suggests one-on-one personal training is effective in changing attitudes about physical fitness, thereby increasing the frequency of exercise. In addition, the study shows that using problem solving techniques under a personalized fitness program is valuable for successful behavior change.

The study included testing of 129 participants, ages 20 to 65, which resulted in 57 percent showing upward movement after nine to 10 weeks of personal training. McClaran wrote: “Therefore there is good evidence that the effect of individual personal training is an effective way to change the client’s attitudes towards increasing physical activity when compared to other programs. . . . Importantly, if we are to have a successful long-term outcome of increasing physical activity while reducing obesity, the most important message is to have an intervention strategy that works not only in the short term, but over a period of years, so many more people maintain their healthy lifestyles for the rest of their lives.”

Understanding Personal Training

Nationally recognized fitness expert John Garey, founder of John Garey Fitness & Pilates at the Marketplace Long Beach, said that while some people are underweight, more and more people are overweight and are looking to shed the extra pounds.

“That’s probably one of the biggest motivators for people to join a gym,” Garey said. “They want to lose weight and they want to be fit.” In his 25 years working in the fitness business, Garey has run personal training programs, taught classes and worked at some of the most prestigious fitness centers across the nation. He travels globally to participate in new forms of fitness and to speak at health and wellness conventions, most recently presenting at the IDEA Fit Convention in San Diego. This year, Garey launched a new element to his business – a personal training education program called JG Fit.

“It’s a program to train people on how to be personal training instructors,” he said. “It is really about the basic knowledge you need to become a personal trainer and to pass one of the certification exams.”

When looking for a personal trainer, Garey highly suggests checking for certification from an accredited organization like the American Council on Exercise. “In order for you to know that they have a baseline knowledge, they should be certified,” he said. “Most clubs will not hire you if you do not have a certification, but some do. Because you are letting someone change your body, work with your body and give you things to do with your body, you want to make sure those things are being done correctly and with science behind it.”

Personal trainers who work at gyms, versus those who are independent contractors without access to a workout facility, may be able to offer more fitness opportunities and means for evolving workout routines. In addition, gyms that do offer personal training tend to have multiple trainers on staff. “It’s okay if you and your trainer don’t click,” Garey said. “Just switch and go to another trainer. Or, if you feel like you’ve learned everything you can from your trainer, ask for a suggestion.”

At his gym, Garey’s trainers share clients or go back and forth between clients. While some only train with a certain individual, others switch things up. “I think that training with other people is a really important thing,” Garey said. “You get variety, and it’s good for you. But when you find a trainer who works for you, make sure you show up and do everything they tell you to do. Otherwise you’re not going to get the most out of it.”

Designing An Individualized Workout

Electing to meet with and hire a personal trainer can be the most difficult hurdle in the process of getting on a workout regimen. Kyle McGillen, fitness manager at the 24 Hour Fitness Lakewood Super Sport, said he and his personal training staff always recognize people for taking that first step; walking through the front door. Once this achievement is recognized, the potential client is questioned on their personal fitness goals and what sort of physical changes he or she would like to see.

“Because no two people are the same, we want to make sure that our personal trainers take personal very literally,” McGillen said. “So we ask them what each persons’ individual goal is, and usually the reason why – what is supplying the motivation?” From there, a personal trainer will conduct a series of tests and collect data on the client to best determine where he or she is in terms of physical fitness.

At John Garey Fitness & Pilates, personal trainers first go through a questionnaire with a new client to better understand his or her history – whether they have experience working out, if they were involved in sports, what their daily routine entails (lots of sitting or standing), if they have had a recent surgery or ongoing illness. “Certain things would be flagged for the client to get a doctor’s permission before we can start with an exercise program, just to be sure it’s safe,” Garey said.

Once a personal trainer knows the client’s background, next is understanding his or her fitness goals. “As a personal trainer, you can have all the best intentions for your client,” Garey said. “But if their whole point in coming to you is that they have a little jiggle when they lift their arm up and they want to tighten that, and you are not addressing that, there’s no incentive for that client to continue. They need to work with clients on their goals and incorporate those goals into a really holistic program.”

According to McGillen, some clients who are influenced by weight loss television shows tend to come to a personal trainer with unrealistic expectations. “A lot of members come into the gym who watch shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ and want to lose 40 pounds in two months, which isn’t realistic for the average individual because they can’t dedicate the necessary amount of time,” he said. “We have that conversation with our clients about the real work it takes and the amount of dedication; that way no one is surprised by the work and effort that they are going to have to put in.”

The first personal training session begins with some simple fitness assessments. Garey’s trainers conduct sit-and-reach tests for flexibility, cardiorespiratory tests and strength tests to collect data for comparison to other men or women in their age group. This provides a baseline for where and how to start a client in a workout.

At 24 Hour Fitness, McGillen said physical assessments include: a simple circumference measurement for those who are looking to lose inches and not necessarily weight; body fat assessments, which determine the body’s ratio of fat to lean muscle tissue; and corrective exercise assessments, such as squat assessments, balance drills and more. “Like I said, no two people are the same, so we have find the correct starting point for any individual,” he said. “You never want to start them off too advanced because that safety issue is the major concern.”

Once a trainer establishes a workout routine and schedule, clients should expect regular assessments and check-ins. “When you come in, we do that initial assessment. But a month or two down the line, you may now have different goals and, hopefully, have somewhat of a different body,” Garey said. “The trainer should constantly be assessing you and asking you about your goal. They should know you well enough after a few sessions to know what your goals are and to train you for that.”

Consistency in the workout routine is key, according to McGillen. However, mixing in different exercises to diversify the workout is important to prevent a client from hitting a plateau or endure an overuse injury.

“The muscles in your body are really smart,” Garey said. “They get used to what you are doing fairly quickly, and they realize exactly how much energy they have to use to do that. Unless you are progressing, unless you are being pushed or are changing what you are doing, you’re not going to see the benefits in the least amount of time. You’re basically going to be spinning your wheels.”

The five things trainers tend to focus on, McGillen said, are: calories in, calories out, resistance training, supplementation and proper planning. Caloric intake and nutrition are taken into account, but it’s a good idea to implement changes one step at a time – first with frequency of meals, then with the nutritional value of those meals. “Based on our number one fitness rule, consistency, we look at not necessarily what clients are eating but how often we are eating throughout the day,” McGillen said. “The first thing we want to do is monitor how often they are eating and not necessarily what they are eating. As they get better at eating five or six times a day, which is the healthy amount, then we pay attention to what it is we are putting into our bodies. That way we’re not overwhelmed with paying attention to what we eat.”

Garey agreed. “Someone once said, ‘Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.’ So you can workout and get really in shape, get healthy and increase your metabolic rate, but if you’re not eating appropriately once you walk out that door it’s not going to do anything for you.” In addition to physical nutrition and wellness, reaching an established fitness goal takes mental effort as well. Garey said his business motto is that no matter what kind of day a client or trainer had, everyone walks out the door with a smile on his or her face.

“Sometimes you have to listen to somebody let go of what’s happened in his or her day,” Garey said. “If you are in a good mood you tend to have a great workout. If you are in a bad mood, you have a terrible workout. Now, at some point during that workout, the bad mood turns into a good mood because you start releasing chemicals that make you happy. But it’s important for trainers to not be talking about the mess that’s going on in their life. They are there for the client, to help the client . . . get into a mind-body workout.”