August 13, 2018

Are Personal Trainers and Coaches Worth the Money?


We all know the value of regular exercise. The problem for many (that's my face in the mirror) is maintaining any sort of exercise plan. Even if it involves just walking around the neighborhood for 30 minutes three times a week, we are good at finding excuses to skip a day.

Of course, there are plenty of retirees who can't engage in a typical exercise program due to physical limitations or family obligations, like watching a grandchild all day. I understand that occasionally life gets in the way and the best laid plans fly out the window.


For those able to exercise, motivation and commitment are two major hurdles. Certainly, I know folks who thrive on being as physically active as possible. Long bike rides, hiking, kayaking, snow skiing...these people need no extra push to keep their blood pumping.



For the rest of us, with me in the front of the line, maintaining a regular program designed to enhance our fitness and help delay some of the ravages of time, is too easy to abandon. 

I use the excuse that summers in Phoenix are too hot. Of course, that is silly: the gym is 5 minutes away. Or, I get engaged in writing a post and when I come back into focus the time to get physical has passed.


All excuses are very human. So, a reader suggested I ask you about the place a physical trainer or coach might play in the life of someone who needs the extra kick, the kick that comes from paying someone to prod you to do what you know you should. Coaches for improving one's golf game, music lessons, cooking classes...none of those seem unusual.


But, the thought of paying for a session with someone who job is to push you to exercise correctly seems very different. The cost is no more than for any type of lesson or class. If improving physical fitness is a laudable goal, then why not? Is a personal trainer just different somehow? 


My gym offers Silver Sneaker exercise classes that are free with my membership. Someday I may take advantage of what they offer. But, for now, the chair-based sessions or moving at half speed while lifting weights is not what I need. I need to be pushed a bit to achieve some noticeable goals. 


So, I ask you: do you use a trainer? Have you ever paid for someone to help with with an exercise program? Was the cost worth it? Where there any downsides?  Or, should I be able to motivate myself to do what is need to be done?

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35 comments:

  1. I work out at a yoga/pilates studio with a fantastic teacher. I am highly motivated to get to the classes, but no motivation at all to do the same work by myself at home. I think it's a lot more motivating joining classes and have a group teacher and it's much cheaper than having a personal trainer. Find some classes you like or can at least tolerate and it doesn't have to be as easy as silver sneakers...that are plenty that we seniors can participate in.

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    1. Group lessons versus private lessons: good distinction, Lynn. Plus, you are right: doing everything on my own doesn't have the peer pressure to actually complete the program.

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  2. I am sure a trainer would be beneficial but I am too cheap....on my own I am motivated to do yoga, nothing more. I do love yoga, though. Classes, because of the energy in the goup and because there's nothing better IMO than doing yoga with a great teacher. I should also be doing aerobic exercise and have the same problem you do, lack of motivation!

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    1. Another "vote" for the motivation of a group.

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  3. I go with the class, not the trainer, because it's less expensive and more fun.

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  4. When I retired early (52) I made a promise to myself that my new "job" was my emotional and physical health. I highly encourage everyone to take another look at the Silver Sneaker classes at their Rec center!

    Not only are they free/inexpensive, they are a great way to be accountable to fitness goals and have the extra benefit of meeting people. In the SS classes I've attended (stretch and core, water aerobics, yoga, balance...) there has ALWAYS been someone that is better/worse/stronger/weaker/younger/older than me which I have gained insight from.

    (I'm now 59 and have found that the instructors are incredibly knowledgeable and are happy to provide suggestions to those that want to be further challenged and get even more out of a workout. Can't wait until I'm Medicare eligible and my insurance allows me to participate at no cost)

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    1. In a few months I am changing to a much larger gym that offers many more classes than the small one I go to now. I will be sure to check out what they offer for Silver Sneakers. My present gym only has two SS classes a week and both are chair-based.

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  5. I do indeed use a personal trainer and I have used one for about 5 years. I started when I turned 60 and I was still working. While I was using the gym (for cardio work almost exclusively) I thought I should give personal training a try and my knees were starting to bother me. Where I worked had an on-site gym so it was easy to set up the personal training there twice a week. When I retired 3 years ago I continued twice a week personal training at the local community center fitness center.

    I found that having a personal trainer allowed me to focus on overall physical fitness while taking into account my specific issues. It takes time but with special attention from the trainer my knees are no longer a problem and my trainer continues to ensure they stay that way.

    One important but often overlooked benefit of having a personal trainer is that you have made a commitment to training and, on those days when it’s cold or rainy, you have that bit of extra push to get in for your training session. The cost of a personal trainer at our community center is reasonable and I advise everyone to build it into their budget – your health and fitness are important.

    Now that I am 5 years in I cut back to once a week with a personal trainer and once a week with a fitness class that covers a lot of the same "muscle group" ground. The class is not as good as a personal trainer but it's included in my community centre membership at no extra cost and makes a good balance between the two.

    I think as we age there are always going to be specific issues where a good personal trainer can use their expertise to address an issue. They may not be able to eliminate it entirely but they can help you make the best of it.

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    1. Within the last few months my knees have begun to act up, too. I hadn't thought of a trainer focusing just on that issue. Thanks, David. When I transition to the new gym in two months I will check it out.

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  6. Back in the '80's I taught aerobic dance classes and had a ball doing it. But, I've never been a good 'student' who could stick to a gym class. After sitting on my behind typing most of this past winter I decided to go on Weight Watchers, which has a really easy program now. Along with that I decided to start walking as often as weather permitted. It's been really hot and humid here this summer. So far I'm down 13 lbs. and not having any issues with the diet at all. It's working for me and that's the most important thing. You have to find what you're comfortable doing.
    b

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    1. I read a story on the NYT this Sunday about the gentleman who captains the ferry from Cape May to Delaware and thought of you./ That has nothing to do with your answer, but I didn't to forget to mention it!

      13 pounds...good job. I dropped 11 with Nutrisystem but put half of it back on, I'm afraid.

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    2. From what I've seen all diets work if you stay on them. Which means pretty much forever so the best thing to do is find a diet that you can happily live with day in and day out for the long haul.

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  7. Well first, I would assure you that silver sneakers is not necessarily chair based. While a chair is accessible and used for balance almost none of the people in my class sit down except for the last fifteen minutes which tends to be core based and cool down. And then they are using weights or an exercise ball.I can easily get four to five thousand steps in ss. They also have a full cardio and a circuit class. Having said that my philosophy is that a trainer is to help you learn a routine or teach you something new. Not a long term solution. Kind of like my physical therapy. I prefer the class model for exercise. I did have someone show me how to use my weights and bands. Now I use them alone in my home. Have you considered Zumba or pilates? I used to walk like Barbara. Now I do it occasionally and jump into the pool.

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    1. The small gym I use has a very limited SS class schedule. I hope the bigger facility will offer much more.

      I hope Betty and I can find some classes we both feel comfortable attending. She qualifies for SS in February.

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  8. Like SMS I am probably too frugal to ever pay somebody for something I can do myself. On the other hand I was in sports all my life, and continue to motivate myself by working out every day, so it is not difficult for me to get going. I run six miles every other day, and the other days work out on my home gym, so no need for a club either. The only time I joined a "club" if you will was when I got my black belt in Kenpo karate almost 20 years ago. Don't participate in that sport anymore, but our local small town library does have free Tai Chi classes that I might avail myself of, as well as free yoga classes. Those are about the farthest I will go to work out, since I like to challenge myself rather than have someone else do it for me.

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    1. I think of you as a self-starter and highly motivated so your response is what I expected. If you continue with that approach a personal trainer is not in your future.

      BTW, I took Tai-Chi for a few months and enjoyed it. The class was too far from my home so I stopped but it was an interesting experience to do something I had never tried before.

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  9. Our Senior Center has a Wellness Center that is staffed by students from our local university. These students are majoring in physical education, athletic training, rehabilitation and cardiac rehab. They are supervised by the director of the Wellness Center who has a Masters in Clinical Exercise Science.

    The students provide free training sessions for any Wellness Center member. They will design a program, work one-on-one with individuals and as you progress, update and change your work-out. All of this is included in the $76.00 per year wellness center cost.

    It might be worth asking your local senior center if they would be willing to set something like this up with local colleges. It has been invaluable for all of us who use it and with students providing most of the labor, very inexpensive.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Figgie, you are so right about checking out your local senior center. I think many early retirees think senior centers are for people with walkers playing cards and knitting cardigans but there is so much more there. I am currently hiking 8-10 miles twice a week with my local senior center hiking group and I've completed about 400 miles of the 600 mile long Bruce trail with them. In my experience there's lots more going on at the senior center than people might think.

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    3. I agree completely! Our senior center has bingo once a month and poker once a week and that is all of the card playing that happens there.

      There is a very active biking group that bikes 40 miles a week on local bike trails, a active hiking group, canoe/kayaking group and multiple physical activity classes including Zumba, Nia, Tai Chi and a variety of different intensity yoga classes.

      The local university has nursing students who do everything from blood pressure checks, to toenail trimming to brain exercise classes. Nothing that the students provide cost anything and none of our exercise classes cost more that $3.50 each.

      It is a huge community resource and the number of people who say they would never go and be with those old people is enormous. Their loss is what all of us who take advantage of the Senior Center say. :)

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    4. That is a tremendous deal. THere is a very active Senior Center next to the library. I will ask them.

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  10. I worked with a Pilates trainer for private sessions for years before we moved. It started as a way to exercise safely while recovering from surgery but I continued because the trainer was able to work with whatever what challenging my body at the moment. I miss it but haven't found a replacement. I just finished private swim lessons to brush up on my technique and am going to try to make lap swimming a practice on my own. I do like yoga class as well as doing stretching program with a DVD at home. For all the right instructor is so important.

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    1. How do you know if the fitness instructor really knows what he or she is doing? I see some of the 20 year old trainers at my gym who can't possibly have the experience to deal with older bodies and our particular problems. That is probably one of the key reasons I have avoided taking that step.

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    2. I meant to add that this can be a problem.i had a fitness trainer who said she knew how to weight train folks with severe arthritis but I ended up.grabbing the walls in order to move around my home and my doctor almost had an aneurysm. Legs press machines and hyperextensions? Very bad for crippled needs. Now I do my research on due diligence first.

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  11. I want to put in a plug for a personal trainer focusing purely on strength. It's not cheap, but I think it's an investment that pays off in many ways over the long term (at 68, I have no prescribed meds, for example). The advantage of a trainer -- in addition to the financial motivation to show up for something I've already paid for -- is that he can maintain precise performance (time and resistance) records and tweak things by tiny increments to keep me constantly challenged, something I wouldn't be nearly so scientific about on my own. There are only five basic strength movements -- pushing out (chest press), pulling in (row), pushing up, pulling down, and squatting (leg press) -- each of which is done at a slow cadence so there's no risk to joints. It's transformed my body, but at a half-hour *total* once a week, I'm not a gym rat! I'm not putting down cardio or yoga workouts, but seniors often think that strength training is only for the young and buff. In fact, as your muscles get stronger, so do your bones, so osteoporosis is prevented or postponed. I highly recommend "Body by Science" by Doug McGuff MD, who tells how this protocol was first tested on frail 80-something women in a nursing home. One of my trainer's clients is a 90-year-old woman who wants to be able to keep genuflecting at Mass...

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    1. Thanks for the insight and I will definitely look for that book. As I noted in one of the comments above, a trainer has to be experienced and trained well enough to know how to get the most out of a 69 year old body without making the aching parts worse.

      The comments so far are pushing me in the direction of a personal trainer unless my new gym has some good Silver Sneakers classes.

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    2. Do it for six months, Bob. Quit you aren't sleeping better, digesting better, getting out of chairs effortlessly. Even though you're not explicitly doing cardio, you should find your overall endurance improves. You may or may not lose weight, but you should look better (naked) in the mirror!

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    3. Actually, I had all the mirrors removed in our house.

      Just kidding.

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  12. I guess Silver Sneakers works differently for some people in Medicare. My Advantage plan pays for my membership at the YMCA as well as a local gym so I joined both. I can take any class I want--doesn't have to be labeled Silver Sneakers. Those classes don't interest me (yet), so I take "regular" classes for people if any age. Sounds like other plans only pay for classes that are labeled Silver Sneakers.

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    1. My Medicare supplemental policy pays for my gym membership and allows me to attend any class. At the small gym I belong to at the moment there are very limited silver sneakers classes. I could attend any class they offer but most are designed for younger, very active women...not what I need.

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  13. The only time I used a personal fitness trainer was when I was training for my black belt test which involved a fitness component that I felt unprepared for. I worked very hard for the months leading up to the test with a personal trainer, using a friend's guest pass at her gym. It was hard on my body, especially my knees, and didn't really feel good for me in the long run, although by standard measures I was in excellent shape. After passing my test, I gave up the trainer gladly and eased back on pushing myself so hard.

    These days, besides my martial arts, I go once a week for an hour session with a Pilates trainer at her home. This feels very good for my body, and she has a lot of experience working with a wide range of clients, including seniors.

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    1. Several people have mentioned Pilates. I know the name but have no idea what it is. I guess I should rectify that.

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  14. Like you, Bob, I struggle to maintain my motivation to consistently exercise. I do walk almost every day, and I do attend yoga twice a week (and love it). However, most of the other forms of exercise that I like (Nordic and alpine skiing, hiking, cycling), I do just occasionally, not enough to keep me fit. Now that we live in a very hilly area, we do far less cycling that we used to, and our cycling and walking/hiking have been reduced this month because of smoke from wildfires. Perhaps I should join a gym. I have never worked with a personal trainer, and maybe I should consider trying that. I do know that I have always been unsuccessful in persisting with a home workout program.

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    1. The best intentions, right? I know the feeling.

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