The vocation of personal trainer is a relatively recent creation, and a growing field, I might add. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook (2008-2009) describes the job as follows . . . "Personal traners work one-on-one with clients either in a gym or in the client’s home. They help clients assess their level of physical fitness and set and reach fitness goals. Trainers also demonstrate various exercises and help clients improve their exercise techniques. They may keep records of their clients’ exercise sessions to monitor clients’ progress toward physical fitness. They may also advise their clients on how to modify their lifestyle outside of the gym to improve their fitness. They usually must have certification to begin working with clients or with members of a fitness facility."
That’s a pretty accurate job description.
But let's step back in history for a moment. It wasn’t that long ago when people got fitness and weight training information from mail order courses found advertised in the back of popular magazines. Or muscle magazines like Iron Man, Strength & Health, and Your Physique told you how to train. There was a scattering of gyms, usually independently owned, and the owner was also your coach.
On their own, many highly motivated guys and a few gals cobbled together workout routines and learned from each other. Supersets? Hmm. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s try it. There were barbells, dumbbells, and a few devices. There were a few experts. For the most part, it worked. Names like Reeves, LaLanne, Ross, and Efferman emerged. You can’t knock it.
Today, a senior beginner walks into a modern health club and it’s an alien world. Strange cardio machines in neat columns fill a room. All manner of resistance devices fill another. Foreign names are everywhere. What are Cybex, Hammer Strength, and Magnum anyway? Still another big room harbors exercisers working in unison as a leader calls out instructions to the beat of loud music. Somewhere in the back of the club are the old-school free weights — the iron — the barbells and dumbbells.
It’s really fun once you get acclimated. But until you know the equipment and the basics, you may need a guide. You may want a personal trainer to demonstrate the exercises and equipment and take you through a routine. Will you always need a trainer? Not unless you choose to have one. Their services can be expensive. Still, I’ve met people who say they simply won’t exercise without a trainer to nudge them along. Most people get along just fine.
Can you still do it the old way? Sure you can. There are books and videos and web sites like this one to help you along. It doesn’t hurt to read them even if you are working with a trainer. Learning about the how and why of training is part of the fun. And knowledge leads to independence.
Even so, you may still want the services of a personal trainer. If you have a chronic health problem or are recovering from an injury, a competent trainer’s advice can be invaluable. Most health clubs have trainer lists. Ask if any work particularly well with seniors. Some trainers specialize in senior fitness. Meet with more than one trainer if you aren’t sure. Don’t be shy about asking questions and insisting on references. You should have confidence in your personal trainer’s good judgment and professionalism.
A few words of caution: Probably the worst place to look for
beginners’ workout information is in the muscle magazines that feature
gigantic, steroid-built bodybuilders. The workouts they describe are
usually long, heavy, and severe — and made possible by drugs. As
seniors, we are smarter than that.
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