Do I need to be trained?
May 5, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Weight loss going good, workout not so much. With money tight, do we need a personal trainer?

My wife and I started a diet last August and have lost 150lbs combined, mostly through diet alone. Last month we noticed our weight loss was slowing so we decided to ramp up the activity. However, in addition to weight loss we've noticed that some parts of us are more "flabby" than they should be. At this point our primary focus is weight loss, with toning secondary but still important.

We have a gym membership to a Snap Fitness (which is VERY basic...nautilus weights, a few free-weights, exercise bikes, treadmills, and elliptical machines). We've focused quite a bit on the cardio for building endurance and for weightloss; my wife uses the treadmill mostly as an old knee injury makes the elliptical too difficult; I mostly use the exercise bike as I find the treadmills make my feet and ankles hurt (normal walking does not) and I don't have the endurance for an elliptical.

But with our desire for weight loss + toning, we are at a loss on what else we should do. While we know doing 45-60 minutes on a bike/treadmill is better than our previously sedentary lifestyle, we aren't sure if it's the most efficient way for us to be losing weight, and if we should mix it up with the weight machines. More, if we were to use weight machines, we aren't sure the proper techniques to avoid injury.

The Snap Fitness has a personal trainer, but the rates are very high for two people (they want four hours per week for each of us at $40 per hr per person...and an extra $1,300 per month is an expense we cannot bear). However, if this is what we HAVE to do to keep the weight loss going (she is about 100lbs away from her goal; I'm about 150 away from mine) and best shape our bodies then that's what we have to do, even if it means selling a car or something.

But it just seems so expensive and drastic, I was hoping there were some MeFites who could tell us if that's what we indeed need to do, or if there's something else we should consider.
posted by arniec to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
To learn proper techniques to avoid injury, you wouldn't need a trainer every week or month. You could get a lot of value from one or two sessions, especially if you have never formally learned how to use the machines. Does your gym sell single sessions or do you have to hire them on an ongoing basis?
posted by tantivy at 9:58 AM on May 5, 2010

I gained 12 pounds of muscle and dropped quite a bit of fat (now I'm 6'2", 200lbs) doing the program, both exercise and diet. (I swear I'm not a shill for it LOL, and it isn't a paid program, it's free). Works for both men and women, plus it doesn't require a full gym, just a barbell.

In my fitness past, I did hire a fitness trainer for 2 months, cost me a few $1000. It improved my conditioning and it helped a bit, but truly my current program takes less effort and has gotten me much better results. Basically, lots of compound exercises that focus on strength and flexibility.
posted by teedee2000 at 10:06 AM on May 5, 2010

What do you mean by "flabby"? If you have lost a lot of weight, it can take time for your skin to shrink back down. If you have some looser folds of skin, keep up the good work on the diet and your skin should eventually tighten back up.
posted by procrastination at 10:14 AM on May 5, 2010

I'd recommend hiring a trainer for one hour to show you how to use everything properly, and maybe a follow-up session a month or two later to check your progress and answer any personal questions. If your fitness center's trainer won't let you do single sessions, find a trainer who does, even if you have to go elsewhere. There's probably a gym near you that offers some sort of promotion where you can try out one hour with a trainer with no obligation; you can do that and take what you've learned back to your normal gym.

As for the rest? In all honesty, I'd recommend looking through as many previous fitness-related AskMes as you have time for and look out for things that get recommended repeatedly. There are tons of resources online with helpful workout advice that often come up in threads like this, and they're free! Read up and educate yourself - and better still, doing the research will help you figure out whether your personal trainer is full of BS, because some trainers are.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

That trainer policy at your gym is pretty ridiculous. If you've managed to make such amazing progress on your own, you don't need that. If they won't let you do just a few sessions to get you started, maybe you can shop for a more reasonable gym or train elsewhere? The Y (or if your city has a community fitness center) tends to be pretty bare bones and likely won't have oppressive policies.

I do think a trainer can be super helpful, especially for someone who has knee issues. If your wife were able to strength train and stretch effectively, she might be able to have more cardio options and less discomfort. A generic program you find on the internet might not work so well for someone with a past injury. Another option might be a physical therapist -- if you have insurance that covers it, that might be a less expensive route for your wife.
posted by *s at 10:29 AM on May 5, 2010

When I started working out, I generally followed the Body For Life plan. For the various exercises, you can find guides on proper form online (including videos).
posted by backwards guitar at 10:34 AM on May 5, 2010

In general, training is a good thing for a weight-lifting novice to learn how to do things correctly, but your gym's policies are nuts.
posted by Zed at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2010

A trainer can help you learn proper form and set you on a good path to success. However, I think your place is trying to rip you off. Half hour training sessions one day a week should be enough to get you started. Their price per hour does not seem too high though, although I take it this is for a one on two arrangement. The idea is to have them help you come up with a training routine that fits your goals and abilities and teach you how to perform the exercises safely and for the most benefit. If they cannot do this you might look elsewhere just for the trainer. There exist small gyms that just do training. You buy five or ten sessions at a time, you do not pay extra for gym membership. Since your primary goal is to lose weight not become athletes etc. I would suggest making sure that any program not push you too hard. The last thing you want is some injury which sets you back for weeks or months and over-training is an easy way to get injured. By the way, congratulations on your progress so far. That is awesome.
posted by caddis at 11:15 AM on May 5, 2010

I have heard terrible things about Snap gyms. Secondly, a trainer at a Snap gym is going to be stupid and make you do stupid things. You want to lift free weights.

You will save money and see much, much, much better fat loss while keeping or improving your muscle size if you do Starting Strength or CrossFit. I don't know if there are Starting Strength-specific trainers in Springfield, but there is a CrossFit affiliate with much more reasonable training costs. Cancel your Snap membership because that place is bullshit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2010

No! You're doing a fine job motivating yourselves.
posted by Rash at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2010

Congratulations on your success, 150 pounds is really inspiring! Adding some weight training will help you to build more muscle, which will increase your metabolism. But I agree with everyone above that your gyms trainer series seems like a rip off. One or two sessions to show you the machines, and frankly they should give that to you for free as part of your membership (my gym does)'s in their best interest that you not injure yourself.

Also, if you are always doing the same workout, there's a chance your body has gotten used to it, and it stops being as effective as it was when you started. Mix it up on different machines and add some interval training, I keep reading articles that say that intervals are some of the most effective cardio workouts.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:47 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Crossfit. See if there's a gym in your area. The prices vary wildly... I pay $300/month for unlimited and it includes coaching and any advice I need from the personal trainer there. I've heard of other gyms charging $75/mo. Either way, it's definitely worth the money, and I'm not rich. You want to be doing bodyweight and freeweight exercises and cardio which are the basis for crossfit. Treadmills, weight machines, etc are nothing but a waste of time.

Crossfit is amazing.
posted by bengarland at 11:51 AM on May 5, 2010

Of course you don't need a personal trainer. People teach themselves how to meet their fitness goals all the time. Plenty of the "personal training" going on in commercial gyms today isn't worth a dime anyway. You've just got to spend time researching and educating yourself. You might want to start by thinking about what you mean when you say "toning."
posted by ludwig_van at 11:53 AM on May 5, 2010

What ludwig is saying is that improved "toning" is the result of lower body fat and muscular hypertrophy. There is very little that high-rep low-weight machine training will do for you. Large compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, press, bench press, pull-ups, dips, and weighted crunches are pretty much all you need for quite a while. That plus proper diet will do more for your overall fitness, "toning," fat loss, and looks than hours on a treadmill or elliptical machine.

Congratulations on your lifestyle change so far - now you're ready to take the next step.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2010

I am in your same position. I am a Snap Fitness member and I am not interested in paying for personal training, but I otherwise love the gym. My fave machine is the Cybex Cross-Trainers which allwo you to either "glide" or "climb" depending on the inclination you use. I have been going for three months and my blood pressure is back down to normal.

I have gotten a lot of benefit from the aerobic exercise, but my fitness consultant (friend who is a pro) says that to lose weight I really need to add weights to increase my muscle mass and thus my metabolism. But basic weight work is the best way to start, nothing fancy. And other than making sure you use proper technique, a personal trainer is not needed. You can do some research into basic weightlifting and use the free weights at Snap on your own.
posted by cross_impact at 12:44 PM on May 5, 2010

Dear arniec, I've tried to organize the answer as best as possible.

Congratulations on the weight loss! That's quite an achievement!

Having reached that achievement once before myself and starting back this time around with a trainer, i have a couple of thoughts that may help you.

Aerobic fitness is absolutely great, cardiovascular health is a huge plus to endurance in general and feeling great amongst other plus points! Since you've been keeping with that so well, which is harder for me, I would strongly advise to keep going with variations on the inclines, speeds etc as long as they don't make you break your leg or sprain your ankle.

Doing the inclination too little at a time with an extremely gradual approach does not help in challenging your body from my understanding.

There's one secret to exercise when working with a trainer, they are out there to challenge your body differently every time (that's what good trainers do in my extremely limited short lived experience).

Have you tried biking maybe? or maybe switching to another machine after a 10minute warm up on the treadmill? Or, how about walking outside and keeping track and trying different terrains? or buying a bike?

Keeping track of your aerobic workouts with intensity varying levels and maybe a heart rate monitor may help in keeping you motivated.

About the weight bit:
It seems that all your eggs are in one basket of weight loss and focused on the number. The question then is how will you feel if you are 5 lbs away from the goal? sad and dejected that you didn't make it? after loosing hundred + pounds?

On a recent fitness assessment over 3 & half weeks of strength training only, I had a 9% change in body fat.
I too had everything put into one basket of weight
BUT, my weight went up,
I feel amazing, pumped, walk with a better posture,
get more attention from my significant other etc.

Plus I got tested on flexibility that went up, resting heart rate that went down, BP was a perfect 120/80!
I love the shape of my arms, my back is hard and admired among other things.

Buy calipers to measure body fat? learn the method.
Electronic ones I'm not too happy with as they had a 15% variation in numbers from the manual reading.

It might be best for you to reconsider the direction towards your health in general, see your loose skin as scars of war as pointed out as one of the reasons by a mefite member. Search for loose skin on askmefi and you'll see the response i'm referring to.

Note about Strength Training:
Yes, it does help to have a trainer to learn proper posture and i wish I could provide you a lot of advice here but youtube videos or google videos for exercises would be a good bet here. Plus, the book "body for life" has some good detail. Anytime you start to feel pain, it's time to reconsider your posture.
There's a book on strength training that if you read you'll ge a more confident air in the free weights section.

The thing with exercise is that all the information is out there repackaged, recycled, and in bits and pieces. Because it's your own individualistic puzzle, prescribed plans don't do very well. Although beginners like me crave for something prescribed so as to feel a sense of stability. That comes best through time.

Note about trainers
They do the smallest changes. For example, they'll work the same exercise with a different machine or different handle. Yes, can you believe it a different handle? Oddly enough it does help provide variety in the routine.

Losing your car is not a great idea because what if that puts undue stress on you wreaking with your current progress? Plus the personal trainer policy is highway robbery in my opinion. Best case scenario, talk to the personal trainer to help you outside of the gym for a cheaper rate if possible?
posted by iNfo.Pump at 2:13 PM on May 5, 2010

Toning is a myth. Visible muscle tone is the result of low body weight percentage. You're almost certainly doing just fine, and do not need a trainer, although you may need to come to terms with the fact that not everyone can get ripped.

Congratulations on your amazing weight loss.
posted by OmieWise at 2:40 PM on May 5, 2010

I don't think you need a trainer to learn to use the weight machines. The machine performs some of the functions of a spotter and while you may not get as great a benefit from using machines as from free weights, you will be less likely to hurt yourself. Watch what other people do -- some might have an odd routine, but at least you will see how to sit in the thing. There is probably also a poster somewhere in the gym, or a diagram attached to each machine, showing how to use it. Some nautilus machines have a red dot that shows where you should place the joint that will be the axis of rotation, like your elbow for a bicep curl. Generally with rotation put your joint in line with the rotating joint of the machine. Control the weight, don't drop it with a crash. There are many opinions on what makes a good program, but you could start with 8 - 12 repetitions in 2 sets, every second day. You could start by lifting for a count of 2 and lowering for a count of 4. Exhale on the exertion and inhale as you lower. Don't do things with your back twisted or overly arched. Start with less weight than you think you should be able to lift so you are less likely to injure yourself, and then increase later when you understand the movement.
posted by SandiBeech at 3:10 PM on May 5, 2010

I've worked out off and on for extended periods for the past ten years. I'm in the best shape of my life today (about 12% body fat). My short answer is that you don't need a trainer, you can learn to lift weights on your own, and that gaining muscle will help you lose fat.

Here's what I've learned:

1. Cardio will take your fat loss only so far; weight training is essential for body recomposition (toning).

2. You don't need a trainer to lift weights. Nor do you actually need machines. I occasionally do a full body workout at home with dumbbells and resistance bands. My workout usually consists of pushups, crunches, planks, bridges, flys, shoulder presses, hip raises, lunges, squats, rows, and a bunch of other stuff.

3. In terms of form, yes, a personal trainer can help here, but you can also learn by watching videos or looking at pictures in a book. I like the Men's Health Big Book of Exercises. Also, form is most important in terms of injury prevention. If you have bad form but aren't lifting something too heavy & hurting yourself, it's not ALL bad... after all, if you're moving, you're moving.

4. Start with lifting twice a week a so, and work on a few core movements with low injury risk - body squats (if you're in doubt, start without weights), lunges, planks, bicep curls, rows, and push-ups (knee pushups are fine if you can't do full push-ups). Take it easy the first few times. You'll have sore muscles afterward.

5. Continue with a few days of cardio inbetween workouts. If you can, try mixing up the steady pace cardio with internal training - periods of intensity followed by periods of cool down (for example, 10 30- second sprints with 1 minute of jogging inbetween). This will help stoke your metabolism.

6. Plan pre- and post-workout snacks of 25 or so grams of protein. This will help build muscle.

7. Don't let muscle growth scare you. You won't build enough to be all super muscle bound (I'm certainly not); you have to take in HUGE amounts of calories to get to that point. But gaining muscle WILL increase metabolism and melt fat away. It's totally worth it.

Good luck!
posted by kables at 6:07 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, you (and your wife) don't need a personal trainer. The biggest thing a good personal trainer provides (for non-athletes) is motivation, and it sounds like you two already have it in spades. It really doesn't take that much effort or knowledge to get some good basic exercises down. You can find pretty much everything you need to know on the internet for free. Heck, you could probably spend a few hours daily on the internet and after a couple of months be a pretty knowledgeable trainer yourself.
The big part, I suppose, you are curious about is how to do the exercises correctly without hurting yourself?
Here's my suggestion. Take a huge bag of salt. Go over to where the free weights are and ask someone to help you out. A couple of caveats about this though. Obviously you should take everything someone else says with a grain of salt, and some people may give just plain bad advice. Look up some basic exercises first and then ask for pointers from people in the gym. Most everybody in a gym should have no problem with spotting you. It's the polite thing to do. Most people don't mind don't mind giving some friendly advice or having a short conversation what you should do. Some people want nothing to do with other people at all and find conversations in the gym anathema. They'll usually have headphones on, or be quite curt. Nothing to worry about, you didn't join to make friends right?

Besides, those are ridiculous prices.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:08 PM on May 6, 2010

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