Guides on the Path to Physical Fitness

Personal trainers deliver results (not miracles), but it takes commitment from both parties

Some of their clients are workout warriors and some are couch potatoes. Some want to bulk up or stretch out and some just want to lose a few pounds so those new pants fit in time for the class reunion. Some know what to expect from the process and some are clueless. And some are willing to put in the work while others expect miracles, and they expect them now.

“All sorts of people come through that door, but all of them have at least one thing in common—they’re looking for help,” says Scott McCarthy, a personal trainer at Balance Fitness on Fourth Street in Wilmington.

That’s where he and other personal trainers come in. According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, there were 279,100 personal trainers in the United States in 2015, a number that’s expected to increase to 338,000 by 2018 because of population growth and the increasing interest in health and fitness. In Delaware in 2015, there were 1,060 personal trainers and fitness instructors, all of them willing and able to help turn soft tissue into firm muscle—assuming their clients are willing to pay the price.

“Training and working out are two different things,” McCarthy says. “We’re not just out there counting reps for people. We’re like guides who help them find their way to personal fitness. Some people already know their way and don’t need a guide, but there are lots of people who need somebody to help and encourage them. And that’s our job—helping people who need help.”

Of course, there are some misconceptions about personal trainers. For one thing, they don’t tape ankles and cut up orange slices at halftime—those are athletic trainers. And not all their clients end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his greased-up, body-building prime.

A personal trainer at the YMCA coaches a client on the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of the YMCA)

A personal trainer at the YMCA coaches a client on the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of the YMCA)

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’ve seen and heard it all,” says Nic DeCaire, who runs Fusion Fitness Center on Main Street in Newark. “A lot of people think we just sit around all day in sweat pants and watch you lift weights or run laps. They don’t realize that we offer a complete regimen for physical and mental well-being and that we’re with them every step of the way. It’s a commitment on both ends, from the trainer and the client.”

One thing all trainers emphasize is that a training regimen is a marathon, not a sprint. Not all clients grasp that basic concept and that’s why it’s one of the first messages a personal trainer delivers —expect results, but not miracles.

“If the commitment from the client isn’t there then there isn’t much we can do to help them,” says Charlotte Maher, a personal trainer at Fit Studio on Rockland Road in Wilmington. “But those cases are pretty rare, because most people we deal with are here for a reason. They want to lose weight or tone up and it’s probably something that’s been in their minds for a while. So, when they finally take the step to hire a personal trainer. they’re serious about it. And we make sure they understand that it takes a commitment and a lot of work to reach their goals, but it’s worth it.”

Those goals vary from person to person, and personal trainers must be willing and able to customize their regimen according to those goals. Most fitness centers deal with clients on a one-on-one basis and in group settings, but no matter the regimen or the setting, it all starts with talk, not action.

“The first step when they walk through the door is a consultation, where we discuss their goals and learn about their medical and fitness history,” says Matt DiStefano of Core Ten Fitness on Orange Street in Wilmington. “A lot of people haven’t been part of a fitness program for a long time and they need to ease into things, and sometimes we have to convince them of that. They want immediate results and it just doesn’t work that way. For those people, patience is a big key, because this is not like ordering something at a restaurant.”

That’s why it’s helpful if prospective clients know what they’re looking for from a personal trainer. If they don’t know for sure, then the trainer must lead them in the right direction. And it doesn’t matter if the client is male or female; the regimen is basically the same, depending on why they hired a personal trainer in the first place, although Maher has noticed that men tend to focus more on their upper bodies.

Clients and members work out at Core 10. (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Clients and members work out at Core 10.
(Photo by Jim Coarse)

“This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of business,” Maher says. “That’s the reason the first thing we do is sit down and talk to them and find out what their goals are. If they have really big goals, then we have to put a time slot to that—it’s not something you can accomplish in six weeks or by just coming to the gym once a week.

“That’s why it’s so important that our clients are honest with us about their medical and workout history, and also the goals they have going forward. We have to decide whether those goals are realistic ones, and if they’re not, we make sure they realize that without discouraging them. Sometimes it can be a real reality check for them. And sometimes they can be stubborn about it, but the majority of our clients understand that we’re professionals who know what we’re doing and they trust us.”

Once those goals are identified, the training process can begin, and all personal trainers agree that it’s important to start slowly and build the training regimen from there. That means basic stretching and cardio-vascular exercises to begin with, then more extensive weight and conditioning training after that. But it always depends on the conditioning and health of the clients when they begin the program.

“We’re really about general well-being, and everybody has different goals and needs,” says Mark Myers, who oversees the personal training program at the Central YMCA in Wilmington. “And one thing we all emphasize is the need for balance. If you want to build up your biceps, that means building up your triceps as well. You never focus solely on one muscle group or one activity. Even if your main goal is to bulk up and add muscle, we also emphasize flexibility, which helps you avoid injuries. It’s really a total package and sometimes people have to be convinced about that because they’re focused on one particular thing.”

You Are What You Eat

Diet is a big part of a fitness program and that’s something trainers constantly preach to their clients, even the ones whose primary goal isn’t to lose weight. Trainers stress the old you-are-what-eat philosophy as part of a balanced approach to fitness.

“We’re not nutritionists and we don’t pretend to be experts in that area,” Maher says. “But we do refer clients to a dietician if they have a serious weight problem that can’t be fixed just by working out. We’ll set up a consultation with [the dietician] and that will become part of the overall fitness program, especially if losing weight is one of their main goals.”

But, DiStefano says, that doesn’t mean his clients can’t have a slice of pizza or a couple of cold beers on occasion.

“It’s like anything in life—moderation is the key,” he says. “If you work hard and eat right five days a week you can enjoy yourself on the weekend and that’s something I tell my people all the time. You don’t want to deprive yourself of the little pleasures of life just because you’re in a training program. It’s all about that balance.”

There is one group of clients who come to personal trainers with specific goals in mind—competitive athletes who are looking for an edge, including teen-agers who hope to excel in their sports enough to earn a roster spot and maybe even a college scholarship.

“It’s different than it was when I was growing up and we played all the sports, depending on the season,” says Stephen LeViere of LeViere’s Fitness, which operates the training program at Kirkwood Fitness on Naamans Road. “Most kids nowadays really specialize in a specific sport and that’s their only focus. If you’re a baseball player or basketball player, that’s what you do, all year round. It’s either your [high school] season or you’re playing in an AAU tournament or getting ready to play in an AAU tournament.

So, their training is geared toward something very specific, something that will give them an advantage and make them better than the guy next to them. If they don’t, they know they might not get that scholarship or even make the team.

“For example, I get a lot of football players in my May program before training camp opens in August, so they can be in better shape than anybody else in camp and they can stand out right away, instead of having to play themselves into shape or, worse, having to battle injuries.”

LeViere says he sits down with these eager athletes and determines exactly what he or she is hoping to achieve, just like he does with all his clients. Of course, the kind of sport, the position they play, and the size of the athletes help determine that, as does their present health and conditioning.

Weight training is an essential part of most fitness regimens. (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Weight training is an essential part of most fitness regimens. (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Gauging the Body’s Response

“But no matter who it is or what sport it is, you have to start with the foundation, and that is how well they can handle the stress and rigors of the game they play,” LeViere says. “You can’t play and you certainly can’t dominate if you’re injured. So, we start with simple presses and compound movements and simple squats with not much weight. And we don’t do jumping or running until we see how their body responds.

“Once we determine that, then we can start ramping up and focusing on the specific muscles they need for their sport, whether it’s speed or agility or strength or power.”

Another challenge for personal trainers is convincing clients to stay with their training regimen after they reach their goals. Many clients get what they want (the pants fit!) and then slip back into the unhealthy lifestyles that made them seek out a personal trainer in the first place.
“It happens frequently and you hate to see that,” DeCaire says. “But most of our clients stick with it because they feel so good about themselves because they’re physically and mentally fit, maybe for the first time in 20 years. That doesn’t mean they have to stay at the same level or maintain the same training schedule. If you’re training to run a marathon you can scale back some after you run your race. But most of them love their new selves and they want to keep those endorphins coming and they make this a life-time commitment.”

“That’s what makes this job so rewarding, when you see that total transformation in a person,” he adds. “When they start their training program they usually do it because they’re not happy with themselves, they’re not happy with the way they look or the way they feel. We help them regain the self-esteem they’ve lost and it’s a great feeling to know that you helped somebody turn their life around in a positive and healthy way.”

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