CITY SMART: How to thrive in the urban environment of Southern California. : Affording Fitness : Secretaries as well as stars now work out with personal trainers. They prefer the individual guidance and motivation.


Madonna has one.

So does Sylvester Stallone.

But they’re not just for stars anymore.

These days, even gofers on the set are employing their own personal exercise trainers. And, increasingly, so are secretaries, salesmen, schoolteachers and hairdressers.

The middle class is embracing the same one-on-one guidance through exercise that in the past only the rich could afford.

Whether they are serious athletes or beginners, an estimated 6 million to 8 million Americans who feel they need a little extra motivation, education or regimentation in their exercise are seeking out personal trainers. They say they get more out of their workout when they have a partner who can help them set health and fitness goals, design a program and then work side by side to achieve them.


In the past several years, the cost of hiring a trainer has dropped dramatically, the number of trainers has exploded and the idea of investing in your own health and well-being is one whose time has apparently arrived.

“It’s easier when you have a partner,” said Carol McGrath, 39, a San Fernando Valley hairdresser who has been working out with a trainer four days a week since May. “And when you are paying for it, you’ll go.”

McGrath, like many people using personal trainers, said she sought professional help after working out on her own for years without achieving all the results she wanted. “I knew I needed a better diet, and I knew that working with weights would help,” McGrath said.

“Sure, it’s expensive,” McGrath said, “but I afford it because I don’t do other things. I don’t go out to eat as much. I’ve made it a priority.”

Craig Rodgers, 36, a television commercial producer, only started using a personal trainer when convinced of the benefits by “one of our runners, who makes $350 a week.”

“People are changing their priorities,” said Lance Fessler, owner of Independent Fitness Consultants in Sherman Oaks. “In the 1970s, people went to nightclubs or dinner two or three times a week. Now they are choosing to spend that money on their health.”


Jennifer Berry, 22, an office manager from Westwood, said, “It’s kind of on the high end for most people, but it’s a priority for me now. . . . It was something I saved for.”

Rosanne Malogolowkin, director of health and fitness enhancement at the Downtown Los Angeles YMCA, said many members see it as an investment or a special gift to themselves. The YMCA, which employs five full-time personal trainers, began offering these services several years ago in response to requests from members, Malogolowkin said.

A decade ago, the number of people calling themselves “personal trainers” numbered in the hundreds. Today, there are tens of thousands and the growth shows few signs of abating, said Peg Jordon, editor of American Fitness Magazine, the publication of the Aerobics & Fitness Assn. of America.

Personal trainers burst into public view in the 1970s and ‘80s when a few celebrated jocks transformed actors such as John Travolta and Stallone into hulks seemingly overnight--and for upward of $200 an hour.

“They found [that with a trainer] they could do in a few months what would take a year of just wandering around the gym by themselves,” said Rick Hughes of International Sports Sciences Assn. of Santa Barbara, an organization that offers certification courses.

As demand grew, so did the number of people offering their services. And as the number of trainers grew, their rates dropped precipitously, bringing them into range for the middle class.


Today most personal trainers charge between $30 and $60 an hour and can usually be found through health clubs. Some trainers work from their homes while others will travel to the client’s home or health club. Some have their own gyms where only trainers and clients work out.

As trainers become more common, questions are being raised about their education, training and effectiveness.

Dozens of organizations have begun offering certification programs, seeking to bring some order to the field. Some are little more than diploma mills, while others have exacting exams and require hours of class study.

“In the old days, if you looked good in a leotard, you were hired,” Jordon said. But now there is a professionalization of the industry under way, Jordon said.

Increasingly, trainers seek out certification or have college educations in a fitness-related field such as physical therapy, physical education, exercise physiology, kinesiology, health and fitness management.

Those hiring trainers say they can achieve better results faster and more safely with help than they can on their own.


Others say the trainers can help them develop a comprehensive program, including a diet regimen, that they would not be able to do on their own.

“It’s changed my whole way of life,” said Duwayne Seeger, 52, who works in the wholesale pharmaceuticals business. “For what I’m getting out of it--feeling better, looking better--any cost is negligible.”

Still, cost is an issue.

“The wealthy can still afford to have trainers every day for forever,” Malogolowkin said. But for the middle class, she said, the approach is more of a one-time investment of $500, $1,000 or $2,000 for a package of 10, 20 or more sessions.

To get the most out of the investment, professionals say, check out the background of the trainer and see if he or she is certified or has a formal education in a related field. Ask if they carry liability insurance. Interview them to see if this is a person you are comfortable with and listens to your needs and concerns. Pay attention to what questions they ask. If they don’t ask about your medical history, look elsewhere.

After a few months of working with a trainer, most people should be able to go off on their own, checking back in with the trainers for a review or to help set new goals or develop a new program when the first set of goals is attained.