A personal trainer used to be a luxury reserved for the rich and famous -- like a yacht. These days, however, almost anyone can hire a fitness coach, and you sometimes even get free training sessions as part of a membership package when you join a gym. In fact, as of 2012 there were 267,000 personal trainers in the U.S., according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a lot of one-on-one sweat time!
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But just because you can hire a personal trainer, does that mean you should? It seems as though the fitness industry wants you to believe you cannot achieve your fitness goals without one: Gyms are always offering them up, touting their benefits, and promoting deals to entice members into private sessions.
So, to help you decide whether you're capable of shaping up solo, or if you should consider signing up for personal training sessions, we consulted certified personal trainer Kris Wolff and our resident sports physician Jordan Metzl, MD, author of The Exercise Cure. Here, the pros weigh in on 3 of the biggest benefits of hiring a personal trainer:
#1 Trainer Benefit: Goal Setting
Outside opinion: "The biggest mistake I see with patients is not properly setting goals," says Metzl. "This is something a trainer can help with initially, and then, when you can maintain a routine of committing to fitness, you can do it alone."
Trainer opinion: "The reason people hire CPTs in the first place is because they aren’t sure where they should start, or how to set goals that are achievable. A trainer can help you every step of the way, and make sure you’re being safe through out the process,” says CPT Kris Wolff, who has been helping clients achieve their goals for over a decade.
Bottom line: If you’re new to exercising or need help with reasonable goal setting, it’s probably a good idea to hire a trainer, at least for a few sessions. Check with your gym or local studio first, as most offer at least one free session.
#2 Trainer Benefit: Adding Variety
Outside opinion: "Anyone can add variety these days," says Metzl. "All you need to do is watch YouTube videos or surf the web for the latest in fitness routines. A lot of them don’t even require equipment but are solely based on body weight." (Proof: You can do these killer 27 bodyweight moves anywhere).
Trainer opinion: "Most people do the same things over and over because they like them and are creatures of habit," says Wolff. "Unless you have a trainer either guiding you to do something new and different or just changing your routine for you, you’re probably not going to do it yourself and then you’ll be frustrated when you hit a plateau."
Bottom line: A trainer can encourage you to mix things up, but if you’re not going to hire one, you need to seek out different ways to move your body if you want to see continuous health and fitness improvements -- if you do the same exercises over and over again, your body will get used to them, and you may stop seeing improvements in your fitness.
#3 Trainer Benefit: Avoiding Injury
Outside opinion: "One of the biggest issues I see in my office each week is people getting injured because of not using proper technique at the gym," says Metzl.
Trainer opinion: "Proper form and technique is one of the biggest benefits of hiring a trainer," says Wolff. "It’s been my experience that this is where people need the most help. And you can’t attain any goals if you’re injured!"
Bottom line: If you're going to be participating in strength training at the gym, having a trainer help with your form and technique is worth your time (and money) -- even if you just hire one for a few sessions. What's NOT worth it is having to visit a sports medicine doctor because of an injury that was easily avoidable.
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OK, so what if you've decided that hiring a personal trainer is a smart move, but you're concerned about shelling out the cash? While training sessions are more affordable than ever, they still ain't cheap. The good news: The experts agree that there's no need to make more dates with your trainer than you do with your best friend. "Seeing a trainer multiple times a week is a luxury," says Metzl. "My advice is to hire one once a month, just to learn proper form -- you may even get the same benefits from attending group fitness classes, if the instructor has excellent cuing on form and is always challenging the participants."
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Wolff agrees that daily sessions aren't necessary to meet your goals: “More than twice a week -- unless you have a very challenging, specific goal -- is too much," she says. "Trainers are there to guide you, but you should be doing a lot of the work on your own.”
So, if money is an issue, and your goal won’t suffer because of it, hire a trainer once or twice a month as a check-in for your mind and body, or consider attending group fitness classes with attentive instructors who can give you many of the benefits of a personal trainer, without the price tag.