James Wylie first started exercising with a personal trainer at the Huntington YMCA two years ago. He wanted to lose weight, learn how to lift weights correctly and not feel so fatigued when he exerted himself.
“I feel much better now — physically and mentally,” Wylie, 58, said Thursday before a one-hour personal training workout. “I’m stronger and I know I’m making progress.”
Experts say good personal trainers can motivate their clients to exercise more often and teach them how to do so properly, leading to improved health. Yet they warn that a less-skilled one — including those with dubious online training “certifications” — may teach incorrect techniques that cause injuries.
A qualified personal trainer knows how to improve physical fitness and endurance without pushing someone too hard, too fast, said Adam Gonzalez, an assistant professor of health professions at Hofstra University and associate editor of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Some clients may only need a personal trainer for several months, to learn proper techniques and exercise routines, while others keep them for years, Gonzalez said.
“Half the battle is having somebody to motivate you and to be at the gym waiting for you, and you have a time slot to be there,” he said. “If you didn’t have a personal trainer, you might say, ‘You know, I’ll do that workout tomorrow,’ and tomorrow comes and then you don’t do it.”
When Joshua Lafazan hired personal trainer Ernie Altamirano in 2017, after he was discouraged he wasn’t seeing the results he wanted from exercising on his own, it initially was for twice-weekly workouts.
“He would consistently challenge me to push myself,” said Lafazan, 25, a Nassau County legislator from Woodbury. “I would amaze myself in terms of how much progress I would make just by pushing my own boundaries. I wasn’t able to push those boundaries far enough on my own. I needed someone to help me, which is what a trainer does.”
Now he only needs individualized instruction from Altamirano every three or four weeks.
A good personal trainer individualizes an exercise program, Gonzalez said. Posture, technique and form are important to prevent back, neck and other injuries and to make the exercise most effective, he said.
Personal trainers are not cheap. On Long Island, they typically cost between $40 and $100 for a session that typically lasts 45 to 60 minutes, experts said. Many trainers and gyms offer discounts for sessions bought in packages.
For Wylie, the money is worth it. He already had been weightlifting before he began training with Wayne Ruben at the Y. But, he said, “I was doing it wrong. I wasn’t concentrating on the right muscle groups.”
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to lift,” Ruben said. “A lot of people focus on the number — the amount of weight — instead of doing it right.”
Ruben taught Wylie the importance of sufficiently resting between weightlifting sets, to allow the muscles to revitalize themselves. Injuries are more common among people who don’t rest because “instead of that smooth lift, it’s that jerky lift and you can injure your shoulder,” Ruben said.
On the treadmill, Ruben has clients do interval training, alternating between more and less intense exertion, to increase aerobic capacity.
Some trainers and gyms cater to people with medical issues or physical disabilities. At the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview, trainers work with pregnant women, people just out of physical therapy and those with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and multiple sclerosis, said George Loft, the center’s director of fitness.
Lisa Stapleton, 65, of Oyster Bay, hired a personal trainer at the Huntington Y because she needed to learn how to exercise properly with a colostomy bag in her body, screws in her ankle from an injury and back problems.
Situps, for example, had been painful because of the colostomy bag. So, trainer Jane McGoldrick taught her how to do “planking,” which also strengthens the abdominal core.
“I see a difference in my body,” Stapleton said. “And I feel really good.”
The number of “fitness trainers and aerobics instructors” in the United States has more than doubled since 1999, to more than 308,000 in May 2018, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which does not count self-employed trainers.
That increase could in part reflect the increasing number of employers and insurance companies that help pay for physical-fitness expenses, said Dr. James Penna, an associate professor of orthopedics at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. That’s because people who exercise regularly tend to be healthier and more productive and miss work less often, he said.
Yet consumers are on their own in vetting personal trainers, because no state, including New York, licenses them, said Walter Thompson, a professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University in Atlanta and former president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
“This industry is totally unregulated,” he said.
Several months ago, Thompson counted more than 250 websites or groups that offer personal training “certificates.” Some only require a name, a credit card number and an email address.
Thompson and others recommend looking for a certificate from a training program accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies.
“The personal trainer who’s not qualified, doesn’t have experience, is not educated, will simply take you over to a dumbbell rack and say, ‘Pick up 20 pounds and give me 10,' ’’ he said.
TIPS ON FINDING A QUALIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER
Just because someone advertises as a “personal trainer” and has a “certificate” doesn’t mean that person is qualified or trained — or knows what to do in case of an emergency. Some certificates are “garbage,” said Dr. James Penna, an associate professor of orthopedics at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.
- Penna recommends looking for a trainer from a program accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies. To find out which programs are accredited, go to credentialingexcellence.org/nccadirectory and select “fitness and wellness” from the drop-down menu. “Just because someone is from one of those bodies doesn’t make them great, but at least it’s a place to start," Penna said.
- Gyms at places including the Mid Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview have a preference for trainers with a bachelor’s degree in a field like sports medicine, because they are more likely to “know the human body and how it works,” said George Loft, the center’s fitness director.
- Make sure you click with your trainer, said Adam Gonzalez, an assistant professor of health professions at Hofstra University. “You want to look for somebody who is going to be uplifting and motivating,” he said.