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Exercising their expertise

So you've pegged 2005 as The Year to get fit, stay active, make the U.S. Olympic broomball squad _ or at least climb the stairs without panting. You're not alone: Fueled by New Year's resolve, health clubs nationwide draw about 15 percent of their new business in January, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

But if you want that initiative to last longer than you next paycheck, consider enlisting a personal trainer. A study published in the fall issue of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology suggests that people new to exercise activity perform better with the help of an expert than those who go it alone.

The study, by researchers at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, involved 50 people who completed a grip-strength test. Those who were then advised by a trainer reported more confidence and squeezed more weight than those who went at it solo.

"When a fitness expert conveys goals to an exerciser, his or her vision could instill goal acceptance and confidence by creating the belief that, "If an expert thinks I can do it, then I must be able to do it,' " the study said.

The study was small and limited but the conclusion supports a widely held belief in the fitness field: Having a pro help you design a program and set goals will advance your fitness more successfully than if you try it yourself.

Personal training costs $60 to $100 per hour, but don't view it as a recurring cost. Think of a trainer as a consultant helping you start a project, not an every-session workout buddy. A trainer can help you develop goals, set up a program and make sure you're proceeding safely and effectively. After a month (or three) of regular sessions, you should be able to continue independently. Monthly or quarterly tuneups can refresh your program and provide accountability and feedback.

Select a trainer who is certified, ideally by one of the top trainer-ed groups: the National Strength & Conditioning Association; American College of Sports Medicine; or American Council on Exercise. Make sure you and the trainer are a good match: Try a session before agreeing to a package. Avoid trainers who recommend weight-loss products or supplements.

CONSIDER THESE FACTORS

ASK FOR REFERENCES. Call to see if clients were pleased with their workouts.

KEEP IN MIND that a personal training certification does not qualify a trainer as a nutrition counselor, physical therapist or other specialized health care provider.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you don't believe a trainer will motivate you, keep looking.

A GOOD TRAINER will listen closely to what you say and make sure he understands your goals.

FIND OUT if your trainer has liability insurance; does he have an updated certification in CPR and/or first aid.

Sources: American Council on Exercise: acefitness.org; exercise.about.com; www.healthclubs.com

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