Health Clubs / Personal Trainers
February 19, 2005 8:44 AM   Subscribe

After consulting with my cardiologist, I have the green light to push myself to my limits so long as I use a heartrate monitor and follow a graph. He suggested that I hire a personal trainer. However, except for my 12-week vacation at Parris Island when I was 20, I have no experience whatsoever with health clubs/gyms or hiring such a fitness expert. How do I start? And, what should I watch out for?

I get too much conflicting information from Googling, so links to trustworthy websites would also be helpful.
posted by mischief to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
My short term goals are to increase my stamina (I currently have too little to exercise hard enough to lose weight) and to lose 60 pounds. My long term goal is to find a fitness lifestyle that keeps me interested enough to continue.
posted by mischief at 8:47 AM on February 19, 2005

Try hiking. Living in Vegas, you've got beautiful places around you, and you'll have to carry lots of water on your back, which will make it some real exercise. The risk of injury is lower, you don't have to pay for a trainer, it's something you can do all your life, it'll be good for your heart in a way that gym-based anaerobic training isn't, you can easily start slow and push yourself more progressively, and it feels a lot better to get outside than to go to a gym. It takes more time, but hey, if you've got time to burn here then you've got time to burn heading out of town to explore nature.
posted by fuzz at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2005

The first thing you need to do is *just start*. Just walk in and check out all the gyms. They will all be very glad to give you a free full tour and hook you up with a personal trainer. Most trainers offer one lesson free to see if you like their style.

There is no one right answer, there is just the one that you like the best that gets you to actually work out on a regular basis eg about every other day if you are doing real weights, or nearly every day if you are doing cardio.

take it from an MD - what matters most is that you STOP SMOKING! if you are currently, and get a move on with the exercising. Make it a routine. Find something you like and make it part of your life. Get going!
posted by zwemer at 9:39 AM on February 19, 2005

The gym I'm at included a personal trainer for two meetings. Right now, I picked up the Body For Life books which seem geared towards what you want to do.
posted by drezdn at 9:55 AM on February 19, 2005

The one time I signed up for a gym (for their pool), they asked to swipe my card and get me to sign it as some form of requirement for charging my credit card (no total printed, no date). Stupidly, I signed after asking why I was doing this, and then my cousin, a personal trainer, told me that this line of companies (based in the Toronto area) were shady as hell, and had been known to double and triple-charge customers.

I went to cancel the membership before the five-day cooling-off period was over, and they made it tough as hell, making me wait the entire day because "the manager wasn't in". Eventually I got the cancellation, but then they didn't re-credit my card with the money they had already charged, and my credit card company had to step in and refund it for me. I finally got them to recredit it two months late, with confirmation sent to me in an envelope with no legitimate business address, stamped like personal mail.

Anyhow, I've heard a fair number of stories like this, so be wary of what contracts and terms you're signing when you do sign up for a gym.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 10:14 AM on February 19, 2005

Thanks, BFT, that's the type of info I need.
posted by mischief at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2005

Couple of thoughts.

First, most people join a gym because it's closest to the house or work not because they have any idea what they're doing. That goes for all the "name" gyms as well as franchises.

Second, first take care of the committment end. The idea of using a trainer is great - he/she will be your initial conscience. People are great the first two weeks...and "fall down" around week eight or so.

Goal #1 ought to be regularity, not intensity.

Ok, fast forward six months. Perhaps your walking/hiking an hour a day 4-5 days a week.

Let's add weights. Weight training will improve weight loss for your metabolism and bonus protect your joints from day-to-day stress.

Remember that you join a gym because it's close. And invariably, you'll go there and they'll offer a trainer...based on his/her availabilty. Do not judge them by their physique; judge them based on what they say.

Make sure where you train has some philosophy - some thought behind what they say. This stuff often gets as heated as Mac vs. PC or Red vs. Blue states. Make sure the philosophy makes some sense.

99.9% of gyms have 'salespeople' who are like car salesmen. Be patient and don't join anywhere that's not willing to refund your money for the first two weeks (in writing)
posted by filmgeek at 11:55 AM on February 19, 2005

If you want to avoid the whole gym membership hassle (and I hate the used car dealer approach to gyms as well), try your local YMCA. The joining fee and monthly membership is often less than a commercial gym, and there's usually no long-term commitment (i.e., you pay month to month). They frequently have programs designed especially for people new to fitness (meeting with a personal trainer or nutritionist, setting up a realistic fitness plan, etc.) that are free for members, too.
posted by scody at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2005

Consider cycling. You've the added benefit of a community that will help motivate you. Granted, admittance to that community may take a bit of time, but, commit yourself and the rewards are unlimited (friends, health ...). In addition, it is convenient (you can roll out the front door), relatively inexpensive and your area has great weather.
posted by rotifer at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2005

Hey Mischief.

I just recently started going to a gym, and really only to do weight training, so I can't be of a whole lot of help there.

But I did lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 lbs in the last couple of years, so I think I might be able to offer a little help in that regard.

I was in unbelievably bad shape when I started, and I had never been athletic. The first time I ever ran a mile, I was 29 years old. However, for purposes of weight loss that actually worked in my favor - having a very inneficient cardiovascular system means you have to burn lots of calories to do most anything. At first I could go on a fairly short bike ride and my heart rate monitor said I conusmed over 500 calories. I had a friend who would ride with me and his HRM rarely said he used more than 300 calories on the same ride.

I really started losing weight once I started running, though. For just getting a good cardiovascular workout, cycling really couldn't compare. This also has something to do with living in a city which isn't particulary bike-friendly. It's hard to ride fast without constant interruptions.

When I first started running, I could barely run 1/4 mile at a time - that was a bit less than two years ago. I ran my first 1/2 marathon earlier this month. Not fast - I averaged 10 minutes/mile, but considering where I was two years ago, I was thrilled.

As far as building up endurance, not to sound like a Nike commercial, but just do it. That's a natural consequence of running. I find you can't get stronger without eating well, so resist the urge to really restrict your calories while training. If you want to lose weight by starving, fine, or if you want to lose weight by exercising, that's fine too. But if you try both you'll probably find it unsustainable.

You're probably in better shape than I was, so hopefully it won't be as bad for you, but here were the big problems I ran into:

1. I woke up sore every day. For probably nine months that was my life. For the first couple of months I was sore all day, after that it wore off by afternoon, then the morning, etc.

2. I slept a lot. Ten hours a day, probably. Some days I had to come home on my lunch break to take a nap. This wore off in a month or two as well, but then every time I increased the length of my daily run the cycle would start for a couple of days.

Eventually it becomes easy, though. I love running - some days it's really the highlight of my day. I naturally eat a lot less than I used to. I sleep great, and get up earlier than I ever have before. My blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate are all very low. I'm off antidepressants, hopefully forever. I'm happier now, too - everyone notices.

Good luck!
posted by mragreeable at 7:47 AM on February 20, 2005

Thanks to everyone for the words of encouragement, but from my question, I was specifically looking for tips on joining a gym and hiring a personal trainer.

mragreeable: I know running is the quickest and easiest answer, however I blew out my left knee and my MD recommended against trying it again.
posted by mischief at 1:12 PM on February 20, 2005

If you are thinking of a chain gym, visit all gyms of that chain in your area and see which one offers the best deal. Then go with it - your membership should be transferable to the gym closest to you. (Make sure of this first of course)

A big-huge pet peeve of mine as far a gym shopping goes is going in to look at a gym and having the salesperson give you all the "advantages" of their gym without asking what you want to get out of the gym. Recently I was looking for a gym and the sales person said "our gym is the only gym with two basketball courts in town!" Great. I don't play basketball. My point is that you may have to take the offensive and tell them exactly what you are looking for.

Many gyms, as mentioned above, give you at least one or two personal trainer sessions as part of your membership. Take advantage of it.

As far as personal trainers go, usually they give you a break on price if you purchase multiple sessions at once. HOWEVER, I would not do this until you have given a few trainers a trial run first and settle on one you like. Make sure they are certified. Again, make sure they ask you many questions about what exactly you want to get out of exercise, they ask you about any medical problems, and that they inquire about your diet. Diet is a majority component of health. Just exercise won't usually get you to your goals.
posted by jopreacher at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2005

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