Personal training is a service provided by fitness professionals to help clients reach their fitness goals. Clients hire trainers for their knowledge and experience, and trainers usually provide one-on-one training on a short-term or long-term basis at locations including the trainer's business, gyms, community centers, and clients' homes.
The purpose of personal training is to help a client achieve goals that are as varied as the people who hire personal trainers. Their clients include pregnant mothers who receive prenatal personal training, children and adults trying to lose weight, people seeking instruction in strength training or muscle toning, and older adults who want to improve their tennis skills.
A trainer at a gym or health club may give a session on instruction in how to use exercise equipment. This helps the client use the equipment correctly and gain the most benefit from it. People may also hire a trainer to provide this service in their homes.
The training service starts when the trainer designs a personalized program for a client or updates an existing program. The trainer develops the program and then supervises the clients' progress toward the goal. In addition to providing fitness knowledge, the trainer evaluates progress, and motivates the client to continue with the fitness plan. The trainer also updates the plan as the client advances toward the goal.
Personal trainers work with people of both genders, with clients ranging from young children to the elderly. Weight loss is often a goal, especially for children. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 17% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese.
Contributing to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity is the lack of physical education programs in schools. Physical activity for children may be limited to those who play sports. As a result, some parents hire personal trainers to help their children lose weight.
Weight loss may also be the goal of adults who use personal trainers. In addition, fitness professionals help children and adults update a workout routine, learn or train for a sport, learn an activity such as weight training, prepare for an event like a triathlon or ski trip.
Furthermore, some trainers help older adults get into shape and stay fit as they age. Services for the aging population include weight-loss programs, weight training, and athletic training. A trainer could also help elderly clients maintain balance and coordination. This training helps to prevent falls and keep clients independent, allowing them to live in their homes.
Trainers may also work with people receiving surgery and those diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis.
Specialized trainers include fitness professionals certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and referred to potential clients through an arrangement with AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons).
Fitness training dates back to ancient times when a civilization's survival depended on the strength of its army. Spartans living in northern Greece began fitness training for boys at the age of six, according to “The History of Fitness,” a 2002 article by Lance C. Dalleck and Len Kravitz.
The authors noted that the boys were turned over to the government and raised to be soldiers when they reached adulthood. The government also required that women were fit so that they produced strong children.
Fitness was also associated with fighting in ancient Greece. However, the Greeks also believed that there was a connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body. According to the article, young boys went to facilities for training in activities such as gymnastics, wrestling, running, and jumping. When boys reached the age of 14, they were trained through adulthood in gymnasiums. Boys and men received training from a gymnastic instructor and a paidotribe, an instructor regarded as the forerunner of the personal trainer and physical education instructor.
The paidotribe also trained males for competitions such as the Olympic games that were first held in Olympia in 776 BC. Some historians believe the games may be several centuries older, but they were not held on such an organized level.
During the twentieth century, the public placed an emphasis on fitness training as a health issue. Among those credited with generating enthusiasm for this concept was Jack Lalanne, a fitness enthusiast described by The New York Times as the “Father of the Modern Fitness Movement.” Born in 1914, Lalanne worked out with weights and opened a business in 1936 with a gym, juice bar, and spa in Oakland, California.
People were skeptical about his claims about the relationship between exercise and health. Lalanne said in an interview that people thought he was “a charlatan and a nut.” Doctors warned that working out with weights would result in heart attacks and the loss of the sex drive.
Lalanne continued to advocate for exercise and a healthy diet. He advocated as a televised personal trainer, on The Jack Lalanne Show, a daytime exercise program. The public attitude changed as the show went from a local offering in San Francisco in 1951 to a national program that aired from 1959 until the mid-1980s.
By that time, personal training had become an important part of the fitness scene. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in 2009 gave Lalanne an honorary Certified Personal Training certification, an honor bestowed at his 95th birthday party. He died a year later.
A personal trainer usually works with a client on a one-on-one basis, with training done in the clients' home or another location. Trainers usually charge from US$20–$100 per hour, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). There may be a discount for long-term packages or prepaid sessions.
Before training begins, the process starts with the client selecting a trainer. This process includes evaluating the trainer's experience and education and establishing a training plan that covers details such as where and when training is held.
The issues to be decided include how often the client and trainer will meet. For some clients, meeting several times a week helps them meet fitness goals. Other clients may want periodic meetings where the trainer evaluates their progress through measures such as fitness testing.
The training process usually starts with an initial consultation and assessment, according to the ACE. This meeting for someone starting an exercise program could include tests to assess fitness in areas such as body-fat percentage, cardiorespiratory (aerobic) fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, posture, and balance.
The fitness evaluation will serve as the baseline for the program that the trainer creates. The personalized exercise program described by the ACE is based on the assessment and the client goals. The plan is structured around the FITT principle of training: frequency, intensity, type, and time.
FITT. Frequency is the number of times per week that an exercise is done. The ACSM recommends that healthy people do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week. During this aerobic activity, the person exercises enough to sweat but is able to talk to others. The ACSM recommendation for strength training is to do these resistance exercises at least two days per week. The workout should include from 8–12 repetitions of 10 exercises that target all of the major muscle groups.
Intensity refers to the amount of energy that the client exerts while training. Measurements for the amount of cardiorespiratory exercise include the target heart rate. This is the rate that the heart should pump during exercise to achieve the maximum cardiovascular benefit. The rate is based on a percentage of the maximum heart rate, a figure based on factors including age and fitness level.
Intensity of resistance training could be measured by the amount of weight the client lifts or how many repetitions of an exercise that the client does.
The types of aerobic exercise include walking, running, dancing, swimming, and cycling. Types of resistance training include exercising with weights or resistance bands.
Time for aerobic training is based on the client's fitness level. The trainer may advise a client at a lower level to aim to stay within the target heart rate for 20–30 minutes. That amount could increase to up to an hour as the person becomes more fit. For resistance training, the person could exercise for 45 minutes to an hour, unless the training is intense. The trainer will then recommend a shorter exercise session.
During the sessions, the trainer will supervise exercise and provide motivational coaching, according to the ACE. The trainer could also relay information about the fitness topics such as the fundamentals of aerobic training and the safe use of equipment. The trainer will also advise the client about when to proceed to the next level of the fitness plan. At that time, the trainer will give additional instruction as needed.
The individual hiring a trainer should begin by consulting a doctor to discuss what type of personal training is beneficial and whether any health conditions would place limits on this plan. Once the fitness goal is established, the next step is to locate a personal trainer.
Personal training covers many activities and sports. The scope of service depends upon the experience and education of the trainer. Although not all states regulate personal trainers in the United States, certification is available from professional organizations and through continuing education programs.
In addition, some schools offer associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees related to personal training.
A personal trainer should be certified and have at least an undergraduate degree and a strong background in anatomy and kinesiology, according to the ACSM. That background is needed because much of the training has to do with muscular strength and endurance training.
The ACSM is among the nationally recognized organizations that certify personal trainers. Certifying organizations that have been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies include the American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine, and National Strength and Conditioning Association. Certification is based on passing of an exam, and these organizations hold educational workshops to prepare candidates for the test and their careers.
The initial meeting with the trainer is similar to a job interview. In addition to verifying the trainer's expertise, the ACSM advises people to ask many questions before contracting with a trainer. These questions include how long the person has worked as a trainer, if the trainer has liability insurance, and if the person has first aid and CPR training. The client should also ask for references.
The client should also consider the trainer's personality, advises the ACSM. A trainer's overbearing manner could cause a client to end the relationship and stop exercising, while a patient trainer who communicates well may help a client reach his/her fitness goal.
Prescreening measures for clients recommended by the ACSM include asking many questions on topics ranging from the potential risks of certain exercises to how the trainer would handle an emergency situation. An unqualified or underqualified trainer could put the client at risk through actions such as giving instructions that cause injury or urging the client to exercise more than is safe for that person.
A qualified trainer will help a client define and reach fitness goals. The trainer provides knowledge and also motivates the client to implement goals that lead to a healthier life because the client will be aware of the importance of physical fitness.
See also Obesity ; Overtraining .
Dalleck, Lance, and Len Kravitz. “The History of Fitness.” University of New Mexico. UNM.edu . http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Articlefolder/history.html (accessed January 20, 2017).
“Selecting and Effectively Using a Personal Trainer.” American College of Sports Medicine. 2011. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/brochures/selectingand-effectively-using-a-personal-trainer.pdf (accessed September January 20, 2017).
American College of Sports Medicine, 401 W Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 637-9200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, http://www.acsm.org .
American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564, email@example.com, http://www.fitness.gov .