Two years ago, Barton went to the YMCA in Auburn, where she began working out with a personal trainer, and she hasn’t looked back.

These days, the public is bombarded with statistics and statements about poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and an overall poor health consciousness that can lead to major health problems – and even death.

“Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the nation and could soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking,” asserts U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher.

So why are people who realize they need to change some lifestyle habits unable to adopt new ones and stick to them?

The downfall of many is not a lack of motivation, but rather a sense that a certain plan is not for them. Without an individual connection to a new lifestyle, there is little incentive to continue and old habits come back quickly.

Simply put: Where is the “personal” aspect of addressing personal health issues?

Filter tips

For an increasing number of people, like Barton, that “personal” factor is being provided by personal trainers. Once thought of as a luxury only for celebrities or those who live in metropolitan areas, personal trainers are quickly becoming the health consultant for the common man or woman.

Skilled at identifying a person’s unique health challenges and goals, personal trainers can also help people weed through the volumes of claims and data available today.

“We act as a filter for all of the information that is out there,” says Perian Moore, personal training coordinator for the YMCA in Auburn. “We take all of that information, define and explain it to our clients, so they see how it applies to them.”

“You do need to go beyond what you think you can do but you need someone who knows how it’s supposed to be there with you. A trainer makes sure that your workout is balanced – a good mix of weights and cardiovascular work,” says Barton, who now works with Moore at the YMCA.

But just how do you find the right personal trainer?

“Do your homework,” stresses YMCA Fitness Director Doug McFarland. “Treat a potential personal trainer as someone you would hire or a doctor you would want taking care of you.”

Finding out about a trainer’s credentials is essential so you get the best care and guidance when it comes to physical fitness. There is a wide range of certifications available for personal trainers from online training, to a weekend course, all the way up to college-degree programs. Of course, experience will vary greatly depending upon a trainer’s educational level.

“You want someone who is aware of all the potential restrictions or problems,” Moore explains. “You really can’t get that from one weekend or online.” Moore holds a bachelor of science in leadership and organizational studies with a focus in human sciences, along with certification from both the Lifeline program and from the University of Southern Maine. In addition, Moore has personal training certification from the national YMCA.

Do the math

There are some misconceptions about personal trainers that those in the field find necessary to dispel.

“First of all, this is not a new trend,” declares Barbara Fogarty, owner and master personal trainer at Women’s Fitness and Personal Training in Auburn. “People may be hearing more about different programs and trainers, but this isn’t a recent concept.” She holds a bachelor of science in sports medicine and is quick to point out another common myth about working out.

“Many people are afraid that trainers want to just bulk them up. That is not the case at all. The body is like a complex mathematical equation. Personal trainers help balance everything out.”

Trainers accomplish this through a simple, but detailed process. This introduction to a health program may vary slightly from facility to facility, but essentially they are the same. The bottom line for each trainer is to assess the individual and that person’s needs and possible limitations. Of course, anyone interested in starting a workout program should consult with his or her physician first.

“No one is perfect,” says Jodi Richard Cornelio of Family Wellness and Fitness Center in Livermore Falls. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in nutrition and has been a certified personal trainer since 1998. “The majority of people have some sort of issues, whether it’s a previously broken bone, high blood pressure or some other health restriction.”

No quick fixes

A personal trainer will typically go through the following process before starting a workout plan with a client:

• A medical/lifestyle screening: lient is asked about health history and details such as current activity levels and eating habits.

• Physical assessments: Factors such as endurance, flexibility and strength are tested to determine a person’s current fitness level.

• Schedule evaluation: Time tends to be one of the most challenging issues a person must deal with when starting and maintaining a fitness plan. A trainer can help find time in a busy person’s schedule.

• Equipment overview: Proper use and form on all exercise machines are a must. If a person doesn’t use the equipment correctly, progress can be minimal and injury is possible.

• Personal goals: All assessments lead to the creation of personal goals. Realistic goals are vital for success, area trainers say.

Moore tells her clients at the YMCA that if they expect quick results, they will be disappointed.

“This is a change in lifestyle, for the long term,” she says. “It is my job to challenge my clients so that they stay interested in maintaining this new lifestyle permanently. I am thrilled when I see people meet and exceed physical challenges.”

Keeping challenged isn’t easy, though. “It is not our intention to push you until you drop,” emphasizes Barb Fogarty. “However, we do monitor and notice a person’s potential. People are not always aware of what they can really handle. We keep track of someone’s progress; it is well documented. We know when it’s time to strive for that extra push.”

That extra push often is what keeps people coming back for more. “They are inspired and motivated. It really is a win-win situation,” Fogarty says.

Of course, a personal trainer comes at a price. Besides the normal membership costs for most facilities, personal trainer fees range from $10 to $45 per hour, depending on training and experience. The big question is: Is it worth the extra expense?

Linda Lavoie started working with Fogarty at Women’s Fitness at the end of last year. “I needed something different. Now, I’m being pushed beyond what I used to do on my own. I feel like I have really accomplished something at the end of that hour.”

Kelly Barrett was a member of Women’s Fitness and Personal Training for almost seven years before taking the next step and finding a personal trainer. “I quit smoking in October 2003. I needed help with that transition,” Barrett says. “I have noticed an increase in my energy level and my confidence. It is totally worth the expense.”

Trainer helped her

step up exercising,

confidence level

It is easy for a person to give advice. It’s always harder to take it, whether it is from others or from ourselves. The more I got into this story, the more I felt as though I was precisely the type of person the trainers and their clients were talking about.

I started on an eating and fitness plan last year and have been mildly successful, losing about 30 pounds so far. But, by the first of the year, I’d fallen into a rut. I was bored with my exercise routine and predictably one skipped workout became two, then three.

One day as I was working on the article, my best friend dropped by and gave me a one-month free pass to one of the area facilities where she was a member. I figured it was the perfect time to check it out.

Now, realizing that I’m not the most physically fit person in the world, I was skeptical at what I’d be able to accomplish. Also, quite honestly, I was a bit embarrassed walking into a place where I thought there would be a lot of people who were in much better shape. I discovered quickly that there are all types of people out there trying to improve themselves physically. Ages range from teens to senior citizens, and body types from thin to full-figured.

On my first day, I was greeted by one of the master personal trainers and given an orientation to the gym and the cardio equipment. On each machine, I was given specific instructions and told to listen to my body, which was giving pretty clear signals that first day. But I was surprised that it wasn’t screaming, “I can’t!” Rather, it was telling me, “Maybe, just maybe, you can do this.”

Over the next few days, I returned to the gym regularly. Each day, I was greeted warmly, and by name. I had built up some confidence and decided to try some of the weight machines. However, it became quickly evident that I needed some assistance on the proper form.

My one-on-one, hourlong session with a trainer on a strength training program was just the kick-start I needed to see what I was capable of doing. My expectations about my limits and what the trainer showed me I could do were vastly different. The hour went by in a flash and I had not only gained a new strength training program, but some great tips about how to maximize my time on the cardio machines.

Since then, I’ve tried things I never thought I could handle: spinning classes, aerobic classes and even Pilates. I have stepped a bit out of my comfort zone, but only because I have the support and encouragement of the people at the gym. And, yes, I do feel hot, tired and a bit sore when I finish. However, by the time I head home, I feel as though I have done something worthwhile.

– Marie Rossiter

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