You're watching television when a toned celebrity pops up bragging about a personal trainer. But you think, "Yeah, I'd look like that, too, if I could afford a trainer."
Guess what? You probably can. Personal trainers are less expensive today and more flexible than ever. They charge between $25 and $50 an hour, but many will work around what a client can afford. Most trainers will meet weekly or monthly, or even check in by telephone.
More importantly, a certified personal trainer can provide you with an individualized plan that will help keep you motivated and free of injuries.
For six months, Better Homes & Gardens magazine hired Lisa Goodman, a certified personal trainer in Des Moines, Iowa, to help two readers.
Doris Lohrman, 50, recently lost 60 pounds on a medically supervised diet. She wanted to further improve her health by working out at a gym, but didn't know where to begin.
The gym wasn't an option for Kathleen Bock, a 36-year-old mother of three. She needed an exercise program she could do at home. Kathleen also had lost weight (about 30 pounds), but couldn't lose the last few pounds from her third pregnancy.
Let's see how they did.
The word exercise wasn't even in Doris Lohrman's vocabulary before she signed up for six months of personal training.
But the mother of three grown children had just turned 50 and was determined to mark the milestone with a commitment to a healthier life. Her goals were ones many of us share: lose and keep weight off, lower her cholesterol, and walk farther than one block without huffing and puffing. She did that and more.
Her total cholesterol dropped from 281 to 207 (260 is considered high risk for her age) and her body fat-the percentage of body weight due to fat-plummeted from 40 to 28 percent (22 to 28 percent is normal for her age). She lost 19 pounds.
"I can't believe how much more strength I have," she says. "Sometimes I think it's all in my head, but now I work out in the garden like a 30-year-old."
Trainer Lisa Goodman put Doris on a treadmill walking program, and within a month added weight training. She also asked Doris to drink eight glasses of water a day and to keep a food diary. They met once a week to review her progress.
Even after losing weight, Doris was still eating food high in fat and low in nutrition. "I was eating less, but not the right things," she says. "I was eating fried food and hardly eating any fruits and vegetables." The diary forced Doris to examine her eating habits and make smarter choices. She started to swap fries for fruit.
Finding time to exercise was also a challenge. Doris works full time and is an emergency medical technician for a volunteer fire department. But going to the gym at 5:30 a.m. when her husband, Bob, left for his job as a police officer didn't cut into family time in the evenings.
Although she did the work, Doris says she couldn't have done it without a trainer. After two months of hard work, she didn't see much physical change and became discouraged. During their regular meetings, Goodman would remind Doris to stay focused on the big picture. "I really learned how far I could push myself," Doris says. The experience has made her want more out of life. "I never thought 50 could be so exciting and fun."
Doris walked on a treadmill and rode a stationary bike three times a week. She walked for 35 minutes and rode for five minutes.
Trainer Lisa Goodman slowly increased the treadmill speed and incline over six months. At the end, Doris was walking for 50 minutes at 4 mph at varying inclines. (She also did 10 minutes of abdominal exercises every day.)
Every three weeks, Goodman altered the intensity of Doris's walking (called interval training) so she would burn more calories. "Your body gets used to the same routine," she says. "It's good to cross-train every few weeks for best results."
After the first month, Doris began upper- and lower-body work on weight training machines, starting with one set of 10 and working up to three sets of 15.
Before After Body Fat 40% 28% Cholesterol 281 207 Upper arm 11-3/4" 11-1/4" Forearm 10-1/8" Bust 45" 42" Waist 38" 34" Hips 41-1/2" 40" Thigh 21" 21" Calf 12-1/2" 14" Weight 183 lbs. 164 lbs.
The dreaded "last 10 pounds" is why Kathleen Bock wanted a personal trainer. "I had the classic problem hips, thighs, and stomach area from having kids," she says. "Nothing I did seemed to work."
She had been walking regularly for about a year, but was stalled in her weight loss. She also has a strong family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and wanted to do all she could to ward off any future health problems.
Trainer Lisa Goodman designed a workout that fit around Kathleen's busy life as a stay-at-home mom of three boys, ages 6, 4, and 2. She walked for one hour a day and then did weight training in her basement using four basic pieces of equipment.
After two initial meetings, Kathleen agreed to meet with Goodman for an hour once every three weeks. Kathleen's schedule was too hectic to make regular appointments, and she didn't so much need a push as she needed direction. "I wanted someone to show me what to do," Kathleen says. "I had never really worked out with weights and was afraid of injuring myself if I didn't do it right."
The results were more than noticeable. Kathleen's body fat decreased from 27 percent to 22 percent (21 to 27 percent is the normal range for her age), and she lost 14 pounds. Although already well within the healthy range, her total cholesterol level dipped from 154 to 145.
"I remember seeing my legs in a mirror one day out shopping and I couldn't believe they were mine," she says. "They were so toned and muscular that I didn't recognize them."
To help her stay motivated, Kathleen enlisted her sister, Molly, as a workout partner. The two live near each other and walked at 6 o'clock every morning, then lifted weights while watching the morning news.
A low point came after three months, when Kathleen hadn't lost a single pound. "I was crushed," she says.
After meeting with Goodman, Kathleen discovered she wasn't getting her heart rate up high enough while walking, and she wasn't walking long enough to get the results she wanted.
But Kathleen couldn't commit to walking longer than an hour in the morning. So Goodman added 30 minutes of stationary bicycling to Kathleen's workout two or three days a week. Since she didn't have a stationary bike, Kathleen bought a bicycle trainer from a bike store for $100 and converted her mountain bike into a stationary one. She pedaled it on the side porch while her youngest son took his nap.
She also started using a heart-rate monitor while walking. The computerized monitor, worn around the chest, told her when her heart rate was within the target zone for weight loss. The weight began to come off.
Kathleen felt so good she ran in a 5K road race. Even after parting company with Goodman, Kathleen still does the exercise program. "It feels too good to stop."
Kathleen's exercise program centered around what she liked to do -- be outside.
And since Kathleen already was walking regularly but not getting the results she wanted, the trainer started her with interval training. For 40 minutes, five days a week, Kathleen walked at a very brisk pace for three minutes and then a slower pace for two minutes. A warm up and cool down were included. Eventually, she worked up to running because she strengthened her cardiovascular endurance.
To avoid injuries, Kathleen alternated her weight training. Upper body work was on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and lower body work on Tuesday and Thursday.
Goodman had Kathleen do three sets of 15 repetitions of each exercise, using a 12- and 15-pound body bar. She also used free weights.
She also did 10 minutes of abdominal exercises a day.
Before After Body fat 27% 22% Cholesterol 154 145 Upper arm 12" 11" Forearm 9" 9" Bust 37-3/4" 35" Waist 30-1/2" 28-1/2" Hips 37-1/4" 35" Thigh 22-1/2" 23" Calf 14-1/2" 14-1/4" Weight 154 140
Weight training played a big role in both women's workouts. Kathleen used these four pieces in her program, and you can find them at most sporting goods stores. Best of all, they don't take up a lot of space. Everything you see here can be stashed in a closet.
1. Resistance tube. Used to tone arms and upper body. Sold with example exercises. Cost: $14.
2. Handheld weights. Start with 3- or 5-pound weights. Cost: $5 to $10.
3. Body bar. This weighted bar is great for beginners because it helps with form. The bars come in four sizes (12, 15, 18, and 22 pounds) and can be used for upper- and lower-body work. Cost: $40.
4. Step aerobic bench. Great for toning legs, and it doubles as a weight bench. Cost: $80.
The most important thing to look for in a personal trainer is certification from a reputable organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This ensures that the trainer has studied exercise science and passed a written or practical exam.
Here are other things to find out before hiring a trainer, according to Sheryl Marks Brown, ACE executive director:
Ann Partlow, director of certification for ACSM, has another tip: "Find a trainer who isn't obsessed about their own appearance -- especially during your workouts. The total focus should be on you."