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The time had come for professional help

Times Staff Writer

Incredibly, I was actually losing ground.

Sure, over the past year I’d been trying out various sports and recreational activities for this column, but my 54-year-old body still wasn’t getting the kind of exercise it needed.

Time that would have been spent on workouts in the old days had gradually given way to hauling my teenagers all over Southern California for baseball tournaments, track meets and band competitions. They were in shape, but my paunch was expanding as the pounds piled on.

When I reached 190, at least 15 pounds heavier than my optimum weight and perilously close to the dreaded 200-pound mark, I knew radical action was needed. I decided to hire a personal trainer and give myself two months to get back in shape.

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Just the thought of having a trainer had an elitist feel to it, as if I were joining the posh crowd of big-time executives and movie stars. But I hoped that being pushed by someone else would produce results -- and the cost alone might prove an impetus to make the time.

As thousands of Angelenos already know, prices were all over the map, but most ranged from $50 to $100 an hour. I found dozens of personal training Web sites for the Los Angeles area, and any number of organizations that certify personal trainers, some of them offering relatively inexpensive quickie courses while others are more expensive and demanding.

I wanted to find someone close to my home in Arcadia, so I narrowed my search to the strip of towns from Monrovia to Pasadena, then started asking around about gyms and trainers.

As it turned out, word of mouth found me my trainer. Very early in the search, I stopped off at a health store in Monrovia to buy some carbohydrate and protein supplements for my son, who has been trying to add some pounds (ironically, given my situation) in anticipation of freshman baseball tryouts.

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I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, who immediately suggested a personal trainer named Eric Coleman. He coached the track team at Monrovia High School, and he’d set up a gym a few blocks over.

I called and made an appointment for the next evening. When I arrived, I introduced myself to Coleman, a heavily muscled man, who told me that he was a member of the 15-year-old National Academy of Sports Medicine and that for two months of training he would charge me $35 an hour. A bargain. We agreed to three hourlong sessions a week, starting on the following Monday morning, when he would give me a fitness evaluation.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. During that first hour, Coleman put me through a series of exercises, starting with the stationary bike and ending with old-fashioned push-ups. Of the latter, I did a grand total of seven. He also took a series of tape measurements, the most demoralizing being the waist, which came in at 40 inches.

But he seemed affable and competent and said he would put me on a program in which we would start with simple exercises and move on to weight training as soon as possible. We would eventually be doing some of our workouts outside, he said, running hills and jumping rope to build stamina and cardio fitness.

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Coleman also asked about my diet, and shook his head in amusement when I told him I always skipped breakfast and ate only two meals a day. He recommended as many as three to five small meals a day, with the emphasis on a low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.

For the rest of the day after that first visit, I felt somewhat queasy from the exertion, and the following day I shifted into the sore mode. But my first real workout was on Wednesday, and little did I know that the aches and pains of the previous two days would be nothing compared with the rest of the week.

Coleman, for all his gentle demeanor, demands hard work. “Tuck in skinny” is one of his favorite sayings he puts clients through their paces. “The last set is the best set” is another favorite. On that first real workout, we didn’t touch a weight. Instead, he had me do a brutal (to me anyway) set of 15 abdominal crunches, followed by knee bends, stretching exercises and leg thrusts. By the time I got to the office, my legs had begun to tighten up. But the following day was worse, when simply climbing stairs was an act of courage.

I limped into Coleman’s gym on Friday and he immediately put me on the stationary bike, keeping me pedaling for almost 15 minutes before beginning upper-body weight training. Then I was back on the bike for the rest of our session to further loosen the muscles.

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By the end of that first weekend, the pain in my legs was gone -- but I’d gained a pound and a half.

“We’ll worry about the scales later,” said Coleman, explaining that the first order of business was to build strength and stamina. We also talked about his recommendation of a colonic cleansing, which he said would result, among other things, in weight loss. I declined on the grounds that I wanted to see how I’d do going the natural route. And, frankly, I had absolutely no knowledge of the product he was recommending, which made me more reluctant. I told him I would have to do more research.

By the end of two weeks, I had begun a regimen of light weight training, as well as continued abdominal, chest and leg exercises. Coleman was beginning to increase the number of repetitions for each exercise as well as add weight. I could tell there was progress because on Wednesday of the second week I did three sets of push-ups, with 12 in each.

“One more, one more,” Coleman kept saying. And it helped.

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Six weeks to go. Stay tuned. And Arnold, watch your back.

*

J. Michael Kennedy can be reached at j.michael.kennedy@latimes.com.


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