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Why it matters to invest in a personal trainer

Eugene is chock-full of gyms, and as of tomorrow, according to new guidelines from Governor Kate Brown, more of those gyms will be chock-full of folks. Which is a good thing, for many of us are chock-full of whatever we've eaten too much of under quarantine, which means that we've added pounds that can be painful when we start pounding the pavement again. If you haven't already started.

Whether or not you've gained weight isn't as important as whether or not you got the message, that however old you are, or feel, being restricted might have convinced you that your body is worth caring for responsibly. I've noticed a rapid uptick in folks returning to my local Planet Fitness. There's both good news and bad news about that.

Get a trainer if you're new to this

I've been part of the fitness "craze," although that's oxymoron if there ever was one, nearly fifty years. Before that I was a farm girl, which meant I grew up strong, and fond of physical labor. Since I still move most of my own furniture at 68, I have to keep that up, as well as a dedicated workout program so that I can return to my beloved adventure travel. That means hiring a trainer. Why bother? Why invest?

Here are the obvious reasons, which may not be so obvious.

  • If you're new to weight lifting or gym work, it may seem that all you have to do is pick up a weight or two and start, you know, throwing it around. Fast track to back injuries.
  • Just do what the guy next to you is doing, right? Wrong. Because the guy next to you may and often does have poor form, may be rehabbing from an injury, may have a specialized program for just their body, not yours, I could go on. Another fast track to injuries or frustration or both.
  • Way too many people are getting creative on machines in ways that those machines were not designed to be used. People stand on machines designed for sitting. Not only is this inherently dangerous, these silly showoff moves might jettison someone across the room, hurting that person as well as others. It's just dumb, but newbies don't know better.
  • Your particular body, age, weight, athletic ability and injury history are unique to you. That means what works for Studly Do-Right over the in the far corner doing squats may not be the right thing for your quaking knees. May look impressive. Then again, so will the bill for your double knee replacement surgery.

After nearly fifty years in the gym, you'd think I had it down. Sort of, but not really. I know a great many exercise routines. However, as with any aging athlete, my body has changed over the years. I have not experienced a loss of strength or power (that's an old wive's tale; depending on your consistency, the opposite could be true).

While this article strictly addresses men (of course it does) the same is true for women. When you and I work out we maintain our strength, muscle mass and our energy. The importance is to do it right, and also to adapt to the changes that age may cause in our joints.

Gym Life
Photo by Filip Mroz / Unsplash

Doing it right is the whole point

Last Monday I was in the warmup area at Planet Fitness and a trainer came in with an elderly gentleman. I watched the man go through his paces. What was impressive was how focused he was. Clearly past seventy, and a bit wobbly on the bosu ball as are we all, the gentleman worked through an entire hour under the careful guidance of his trainer. All I could think was well done. His form was perfect.

That investment in perfect form is the investment in long-health, and a body that keeps performing at a high level.

How on earth do you start?

When I first arrived in Eugene last year, I had already researched local trainers. You can find plenty of them on Thumbtack, but I chose Genuine Fitness for several reasons. First, the facility is only open for trainers working with their personal clients, and the owner, Aaron, does a great job of interviewing you and assigning you to a trainer with whom you are likely to have a good style and goals fit. His business model is that he rents gym space out to personal trainers, and those trainers' clients only come in when they have sessions. Otherwise they can use the cardio equipment only. The primary focus, though, is on the training.

'Why is that important?

Having worked with plenty of trainers over the course of my long lifting career, I've had bad matches: both in experience and in personality style. Those mismatches can be expensive not only in time wasted but if the person doesn't listen, doesn't have the ability to adapt to you, then you may be setting yourself up for disaster.

You might find yourself avoiding your sessions without realizing it's because you don't like or trust your trainer.

Aaron heard me out and set me up with Ryan, who like me is all-natural, and he's got a solid PT background. I had told Aaron I wanted to focus not only on strength but also injury prevention which is increasingly important as I age. Ryan and I were a perfect personality match as well. His detailed instructions and focused feedback on my form on brand-new-to-me exercises were what I wanted.

This article provides you with a guideline on how to pick a trainer, particularly if

I particularly like the suggestion to ask for references who are like you in age, body type and goals. That way you can identify someone who has a speciality, and who won't find your challenges and needs ridiculous. While this might seem obvious, if you're just starting out you probably don't want to hire someone who focuses on OIympic disc throwers.

What about cost?

While personal trainers will be all over the board in terms of pricing, pricing is NOT your first consideration. It matters, sure. I invest about $50 an hour with Ryan. We have an agreement that when I master new exercises, I am going to train on my own for a while until I plateau. Then we regroup for a few weeks and get me to another level.  That way I control the cost, but I also take responsibility for the work.

If a trainer is connected to a facility, understand how they are incentivized. If they only make commissions on expensive training packages, I would rethink my options. While I can only speak for myself I would prefer to work with someone who makes money based on our results. That carrot increases the chances of success for both parties.

The other thing to watch out for is if your trainer hawks their personal products. I am wary of this, albeit some may well be legitimate. I prefer to focus ONLY on the training. That way I don't get sucked into  some weight loss side show or worse, have someone try to push chemicals that I neither want nor need.

Specific for your sport.

You wouldn't hire a speciality Italian chef to teach you how to make sushi. Same with your body. You can find coaches of all kinds for the sports you want to do. While there are some folks who can train across multiple sports, here in TrackTown USA, if you want to run, you can find a coach to help you get started. For example, the right clothing, shoes, running programs, workout routines, whether or not you need orthotics, what kind of running you want to do and how to train for it. There's a lot to consider.

Does it matter?

Well, yes. It does. Because early-on injuries, especially as we age, especially if we've put on some extra weight, can discourage us from sticking with it. The right trainer for the right sport for us can encourage us past our doubts, help us focus on fit vs. fat, and better ensure our long term (and life-long) success. If we choose the right match, that match becomes part of the inner circle that helps us succeed.

Is that worth $200 a month?

My 6:30 am  Friday meetings with Ryan are a gas. He's funny and intense, and he is very good at pointing out where my body is cheating. Even better, I can celebrate where I've made progress, after which he slaps me with something harder. That's why I hired him. I want to grow, evolve and improve. But that's what works for me.

As for whether $2400 a year or thereabouts is worth it, let me ask you this: if you're willing to spend a lot more than than on a car, or a boat, or any one of a thousand other toys, how on earth is your body not worth such an investment? Because when you and I put this kind of penny into our long-term health, we stave off lifestyle-related diseases, we are far better equipped to manage later-in-life health issues. That small investment is, to my mind, worth in when I consider the health bills that burden women my age and even younger. I have none of those bills. Sure, I have arthritis in my hands, comes with the territory.

Eugene is an active town, with tons of ways to stay in shape. Even better, there are plenty of competent trainers to choose from. As we edge out from beneath quarantine, it makes a lot of sense to consider using the services of a capable trainer to help you stay in the game of life, for life.