Greg Alexander

Personal training is for everyone

Baltimore Sun, December 2005

We’ve all done it. You flip through the latest issue of People magazine or watch the pre-Oscars “Red Carpet” show and say, “I want to have a body like Brad Pitt, Matthew Fox – or Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel or Reese Witherspoon … even after she’s had two babies. What’s their secret?” Well, besides some clever airbrushing in magazines, many celebrities rely on the expertise and dedication of a personal trainer to stay fit. However, personal trainers are not only for celebrities and professional athletes. Whether you find one in your health club or seek out a personal trainer on your own, the benefits are endless.

The roles of a personal trainer are many – educator, coach, motivator, nutritional consultant and even friend. Experts say one of the most important jobs of a personal trainer is to eliminate the intimidation and fear that many novice exercisers feel. “Many people feel lost in a gym and get discouraged when they are a small fish in a big pond,” says Melvin Royster, president and owner of Body Styles by Mel, a private personal training studio in Fallston. Royster, who began as a personal trainer more than 20 years ago in the U.S. Army Special Fitness Program, says that his facility’s focus on personal training allows people to become comfortable with the equipment and the process. “We take the fear away. Many people come to us because the gym environment is not working for them and they need more personalized training.”

“It’s easy to go to a gym and get distracted and unfocused. A trainer helps keep you on track,” says Mark Dees, personal training director at the Maryland Athletic Club & Wellness Center (MAC) in Timonium, which offers new members a free consultation with one of the health club’s 15 personal trainers. “It’s good to expose new members to the benefits of a personal trainer and help them understand the equipment for safety reasons. For current members, meeting with a personal trainer can add motivation or a new routine to focus on different areas and goals.”

Both Dees and Royster say that those who team up with a personal trainer are more likely to stick with an exercise program.

“You will be more compliant if you have a specific appointment with a trainer,” says Dees. “If you are paying a trainer, you want results, so you will also work harder to achieve those results.” “The people who come to us are very motivated and have specific goals to meet. It’s easy to blow off going to the gym on your own, but if you have an appointment, you are more likely to work out,” adds Royster. Donna Gustafsson of Bel Air, who began training with Royster in January, agrees. “I’ve belonged to many gyms over the years but had never utilized a trainer. I treat my appointment with my trainer like a business appointment. My philosophy is that if you have an appointment, you should always keep it. I would feel guilty if I missed an appointment. The people there start to feel like family, and you never want to let your family down,” says Gustafsson.

It’s easy to see why Gustafsson views this relationship as a familial one. Her husband’s doctor referred him to Royster for health reasons, and he’s been going to Royster now for two years. Pleased by the results, he gave Gustafsson personal training sessions as a Christmas gift last year. Since then, both of her college-age sons have also taken sessions at Body Styles by Mel. “One son is a college freshman and has difficulty gaining weight. He goes now to increase muscle mass and learn how to eat well. My older son has gone for personal training sessions, too, to learn good eating habits, which, at college, can be difficult,” says Gustafsson, who says that she also attended a lecture by a nutritionist at Body Styles by Mel.

“I had never had someone teach me how to eat properly before, but nutrition is a big part of the personal training experience,” she says. “The knowledge I’ve gained I will use for the rest of my life.” Gustafsson says that when she first went to a trainer, she had to keep a detailed diary on everything she ate and drank during the day. “They analyze what you eat and try to determine what causes some of your poor eating habits. Then they explain what these foods are doing to your body.” Royster says that all clients undergo a basic nutritional course and that more intensive nutritional counseling by a certified nutritional counselor also is available. “For so many people, weight loss is the goal. They’ll say, ‘I need to lose five or 10 pounds,’ but we stress that you have to get those numbers out of your head and focus on other areas like body fat index and body composition.”

What to look for in a personal trainer

On your first visit to a personal trainer, you will most likely discuss with him or her your health and fitness history, physical limitations, health issues and what your goals are. “People who come to a trainer want results, and that’s a personal trainer helps you accomplish,” says Dees. “At that first meeting, we make sure that the client is committed. You must have a 100-percent commitment level, and I’ll tell clients that if they are not ready for this level of commitment, they will waste a lot of time and money, so it’s best to come back when you’re ready,” says Royster, who recommends that clients interview three trainers before making a decision and ask for references. He adds that how often you exercise, location of the trainer, budget, as well as the trainer’s educational background and membership in professional associations should be considered. Royster’s Web site,, has a handy list of questions that you should ask a trainer.

How much will personal training cost?

“So many people say that they join a health club and rarely use it, so working with a personal trainer makes sense financially,” says Royster, who offers one-on-one, couples, partner and group training. While one-on-one sessions can cost $75 per session, if you buy 20 sessions, the per session cost drops to $60, he says. Group training sessions reduce the cost, too, since the cost is divided among the group. MAC also offers two-person training, which reduces the one-hour session cost from $65 to $35 per person, and allows small groups of friends, co-workers and family to train together. MAC will also find a group for an individual to join, if desired.

Dees says that MAC’s pre-designed training programs are also popular, including the “3-4-5 Total Body Workout,” a full-body workout in a short amount of time; and “K.Y.A. – Karate. Yoga. Aerobics,” a training program especially popular with women, Dees says. Royster adds that the “8-Week Quick Fix” training program is his most popular one. “This program combines three personal training sessions per week – a half-hour session with a trainer that focuses on muscle conditioning and a half-hour independent cardio session,” he says. He adds that after eight weeks, clients have the option to enroll in a maintenance program – four sessions per month – to help keep them on track. “When you feel good physically, it translates into other parts of your life. You’re more confident and have a more positive attitude. It’s like therapy,” he says.

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