A closed mouth
gathers no
foot

Firm Believers

Personal trainers can push, push, push you to get fit and even ease your aches
AARP The Magazine May 2006

There’s no gentle way to put it: Bea D’Angelo was flabby. The owner of The Red Parrot, a popular beach restaurant in Hull, Massachusetts, Bea was so weak “she looked like a strong wind would knock her over,” recalls personal trainer Skip Tull. In 2003 Bea, then 55, hired Tull to develop a just-for-her-strength program. Today, the five-foot-two Bea not only moves banquet tables more easily than her six-foot tall husband can, she has run five half-marathons — and she’s training for the Boston Marathon.

If you think trainers are just for body-builders and Hollywood glamour queens, guess again. Older exercisers are an increasingly eager market for personalized fitness: roughly 1.5 million Americans 55 and older are now using trainers, whether prepping for a triathlon or easing aches. “Close to 90 percent of my clients are over 50,” says Maryland trainer Tim Proctor.

Older fitness fiends and workout wannabes alike prefer the one-on-one approach and exercising at their own pace. “A club may give you some free sessions to learn the machines,” says Illinois trainer Lisa Carlson, “but the level of expertise isn’t close to that of a certified trainer.”

That expertise comes with a price: around $35 to $100 per session. Most trainers, however, will take your medical history, help you set goals — climbing stairs without being winded, cutting your cholesterol — and design a program just for you. You may also get more oomph from your workout: in a 2004 study, exercisers showed greater strength gains through supervised versus unsupervised training.

“My trainer pushes me beyond where I’d push myself,” says Blair Kling, 77, an Illinois runner turned speed walker who hired a trainer to strengthen a bothersome back. “She helps me maximize benefits while minimizing injury, and she varies my routine so it doesn’t get boring.”

Some hiring tips: look for a trainer with certification from a group such as the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org). Also look for a somewhat older trainer; they often know more about aging issues. Most trainers are affiliated with a health club, but many make house calls (add a few friends and you can split the costs). Once you’re comfortable with your workout, you can stop using the trainer or cut back the sessions.

That’s what Jeff Mellander, 56 — an admitted “walking heart attack” — did with his trainer, Lisa Carlson. She started him off slowly: drink more water and walk 15 minutes a day, she said. Soon his blood pressure dropped and he lost 25 pounds. Now he does cardio workouts on his own three or four times a week, plus two strength sessions with Carlson. “I have more energy and a better attitude,” he says. “I never could have done this alone.”

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