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How to Find a Trainer Who Is Right for You

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Beware. The Gym Rat is snooping around Southern California, looking at the best and worst in health clubs. Today, however, he looks at how to pick a personal trainer. He’s been teaching more than five years at various clubs in the area. He is a member of International Dance Exercise Assn.

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It’s been eight months since you proclaimed you were going to get fit so you could party like it’s 1999--or it’s four months until you set your new resolutions for Y2K.

So how are you doing?

Are you running, lifting, stretching, boxing, aerobicizing or doing some mind-body exercises?

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No? That’s OK, because it’s never too late to get started. If you still want to get going on your fitness goals and you think a personal trainer would be a good idea, where do you find one? How often should you be training with him or her? And how much money are you going to have to fork out?

According to Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, or ACE, your trainer should be certified by the most reputable national organizations: the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Assn., the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America or ACE.

But all the certification means is that the trainer has passed a written and/or practical test, meaning that he or she has shown the certifying organization safe, effective ways to exercise specific muscle groups. But there is a lot more that goes into being a good trainer.

“Personality fit is so important, and [so is] the sensitivity to someone’s needs,” Cotton said during the recent IDEA World Convention in Las Vegas. The International Dance Exercise Assn. holds its yearly convention so that group-exercise instructors and personal trainers can be brought up-to-date with the latest fitness trends and research.

“All trainers, whether they know it or not, have a philosophy. There are body-sculpting-type trainers, some who are better working with beginners, some who work with older adults and some who work with athletes. A 55-year-old person who just wants to feel better wouldn’t want to team up with a trainer who emphasizes body sculpting.”

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Keli Roberts, a trainer and spokeswoman for ACE, helped Cher with her fitness video, and she conducts workouts at Johnny G’s studio in Culver City. (For those not familiar with Johnny G, he created Spinning classes, known generically as indoor cycling.) Roberts advises word-of-mouth recommendations when looking for a trainer, and if that doesn’t work, the national organizations mentioned earlier have toll-free numbers you can call.

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“Talk with the trainer and see if you are compatible with [him or her],” Roberts said. “I am personally very demanding, so if you come train with me, you’re going to work very hard. I am your friend, but to a point, and I want you to be able to confide in me. But you’re going to work.”

Roberts and Cotton stress that the trainer should give the prospective client a thorough screening before the client lifts even one weight.

“There should definitely be some kind of pre-assessment,” Cotton said. “You don’t have to take a treadmill test or a bike test. A good trainer can also get a sense of what the program should be composed of by just asking the right questions. But the value of fitness testing is that you get some objective numbers to compare to for later.”

So, how many sessions do you need with a personal trainer? What sort of commitment do you need to make?

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Cotton and Roberts agree that everyone needs at least three days a week of some physical activity, and ideally you should exercise three to five days a week. But you don’t need a trainer every day.

“Packages are available, and the packages are very different,” Cotton said. “It depends on your income. A lot of personal trainers are offering more limited packages to moderate-income people.

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“A goal of the trainer is to help the client become independent,” Cotton said. “And since there are very few people who can afford every exercise session with a trainer, fostering independence is an important thing.”

Roberts said she often will train two friends at a time, and that helps to cut down the cost.

“Just make sure the two of you have the same goals,” she said.

And if lifting weights isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are trainers who will coach you to run or kayak, do in-line skating or water-resistance exercises.

Mary E. Sanders, adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, is IDEA’s head of aqua training and she sees strength training in the pool starting to gain in popularity.

“In the water, you don’t have to hop machines and you don’t have to change settings,” she said. All you have to do is go a little faster, or work with paddles or webbed gloves.” Sanders recommends going to your local YMCA to see if there are any personal trainers who can also supervise workouts in the water.

And, finally, gulp, how much should you have to pay?

According to the latest IDEA survey, the average cost for a trainer is $41 per session, which usually is an hour. But Cotton and Roberts, who are both based in Southern California, said to expect to pay more in these parts. You can expect to pay $35 for a half-hour, but that the range for in-club training is $25 to $80 per session and in-home training will set you back a minimum of $50 to $100.

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* If you know of a gym or health club you think the Gym Rat should scope out, fax to (213) 237-4712 or e-mail: gary.metzker@latimes.com.

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