By Christian Toto
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 4, 2006
District resident Richard Strauss plays in three or four softball leagues
at a time if his balky back permits. That's a significant "if,"
considering that back pain once forced him to convalesce on his couch for
Not this spring.
The 36-year-old is back on a three-league schedule, thanks to workouts
with personal trainer Karim Al-Jabbar, a former Miami Dolphins
running back who works at Sports Club/LA in Northwest.
Personal trainers, once considered a luxury, are being used more often
to help people recover from injuries, provide motivation and clear away
the confusion from too many exercise infomercials.
Mr. Strauss, who began working with Mr. Al-Jabbar nine months
ago, says working with a trainer keeps his motivation high while
preventing future injuries.
"He built up my core before expanding to the key muscle groups," Mr.
Strauss says. "My back is definitely stronger. ... I have to still be
mindful of my limitations, but I have enough core training and
conditioning so that I won't get hurt."
Leah Flickinger, senior editor with Women's Health magazine, says
people seek out personal trainers for a variety of reasons.
"They're looking for someone to help with weight loss, get stronger
and be a motivator," Ms. Flickinger says. "If you're struggling to get to
that last rep, [personal trainers] can say, 'You can do it.' "
Also, as any marathon runner can attest, cheers -- even from a
stranger -- can mean the difference between finishing the race and fading
Personal trainers are not regulated by any one governing body, but
several respected organizations offer credentialing services that should
give customers a measure of comfort.
Trainers may have degrees in exercise physiology or physical
education, but clients should look for certification from any of these
three groups: the American College of Sports Medicine, the National
Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Council on
Ms. Flickinger suggests listening intently during one's first
interactions with a potential trainer to find out if the trainer is right
"Be very wary of a trainer who wants to talk to you about stuff
outside their knowledge base, like nutrition," she says. "A lot of gyms
will be selling their supplements. Take that with a grain of salt."
Cynthia Sass, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and
a personal trainer, says that as a rule, people should avoid accepting
complex nutrition advice from a personal trainer.
"They can give general information, like why saturated fats aren't
good for your heart," Mrs. Sass says. Unless the trainer has a dual
specialty in exercise physiology and nutrition, however, it's best not to
lean on him or her for specific guidelines.
Like nutrition, physical fitness is a topic teeming with complex
information. Mrs. Sass says that's why so many people seek out personal
trainers to make sense of it all.
"A lot of people initially think it's common sense -- walk, lift some
weights," she says. "But when you do that, you don't know as much about it
as you think you do. There are questions you need an expert to help clear
Mrs. Sass says to be skeptical of any trainer who wants to extend the
number of sessions indefinitely.
"If you feel like your trainer is trying to keep you [as a client] and
you feel you don't need them any longer, that's a red flag," she says.
"Breaking up" with a trainer can be as awkward as leaving a longtime
hairdresser, she says.
To avoid any confusion, she recommends being upfront during the first
session, making it clear just how long the process likely will be and what
goals you hope to meet during that time.
"A good trainer is not going to keep you as client forever unless
you've made it clear that's what you need," she says.
Pete McCall, a master trainer with the Washington Sports Club, says a
personal trainer can become a necessity for someone with a busy schedule.
"People only have an hour a day to exercise. A trainer helps them
maximize the efficiency of that hour," Mr. McCall says. "It's like hiring
a mechanic to work on your car. I could spend all day trying to figure out
how to replace the clutch, but it's worth my time to go to a certified
He says some of his clients of late are coming in to prepare for
either an upcoming wedding or an adventure vacation, such as hiking in
Mr. McCall suggests that people ask personal trainers to recommend
other clients to whom they can speak before signing up with them.
"I'm surprised how seldom people do that," he says.
Robyn Weinstein, 24, of the District says she chose Mr. McCall as her
personal trainer after taking one of his group classes at his health club.
"I liked his attitude, the way he encouraged people," Miss Weinstein
She hoped he could shake up her staid workout regimen -- and help her
shave off a couple of pounds in the process.
"I was sick of doing the same thing. ... I would read magazines and
fitness books, but that would get old," she says. "Now, he puts a new
workout together for me every two weeks."
Taking time to choose the right trainer is important, considering that
hiring a personal trainer can be expensive. Mr. Al-Jabbar says a
one-hour session with a personal trainer can run from $60 to $120,
depending on the trainer's background and specialization. Discounts often
can be had for those who buy sessions in bulk.
Before the first barbell is lifted, the trainer should make a thorough
assessment of his or her client.
That means learning the client's medical history, taking his or her
blood pressure and finding out if there are any extenuating health
concerns that could affect the training.
"If your blood pressure is elevated, you shouldn't be training,"
Mr. Al-Jabbar says.
Those initial sessions should involve the trainer examining the
client's form on every repetition.
"They shouldn't take their eyes off you for a second in your first
session," he says.
Though the trainer must listen, give personalized instruction and
consider the client's health history, the client must do his or her part
to make the relationship work.
"Be clear about what you want," Mr. Al-Jabbar says. "Everybody
goes in there modestly and says, 'I just want to get in shape.' A good
trainer will ask what that means."