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How to size up a personal trainer

Personal trainers like to say, "It didn't take you four weeks to get this out of shape. So why would you think it can take four weeks to get you back?"

By extension, you might wonder: I created this physique. Why can't I fix it?

Not everybody needs a personal trainer. All of us can count to 10 and most people with average strength can "spot" us during an exercise.

But if you have found yourself making the same get-in-shape resolution year after year, you might need that extra push _ at least in the beginning.

Choose carefully, as you did when you selected a gym. You want to get more than counting and spotting.

A trainer should be one part psychologist, one part physiologist and one part motivational speaker, with a heavy dose of drill instructor.

Trainers aren't cheap. On average they will charge clients $30 to $60 per hour. This fee is usually split with the gym, 50-50 or 60-40.

You might spend less if you find a trainer who pays his or her own rent at a gym. You might pay more for a trainer who comes to your house.

Some trainers will drop their rates if you stay with them long enough, as they are helping you more with maintenance rather than starting from square one each time.

Clients come to me with all types of needs.

Some are completely uninformed about fitness and need education as well as instruction.

Some are looking for variety and routines that are uncommon or challenging to keep them from being bored. In this case, experience in the gym can outweigh classroom study. Current or former body builders or fitness competitors have been around gyms long enough to pick up a variety of routines and tips. As in the business world, there's no substitute for hands-on experience.

On the other hand, I have clients who prefer to stick with what's familiar. The structure of a workout is what they need. They want to know what they are going to do and how many times they are going to do it. Comfort is more important to them than variety.

Motivation is a huge reason people hire trainers. You could have an Adonis with a master's degree in exercise physiology, but if he doesn't inspire you and he doesn't come to work each day with energy, all that muscle and brainpower are going to waste.

I know plenty of men _ and women _ who come to the gym with the mind-set that they want to be broken down. They want a trainer in their face, relentless and demanding. These type of clients get the best results from being pushed.

Now, a good trainer will possess a bit of all of these characteristics and will probably excel in one.

Getting back to price: If it's an issue, or if training falls outside your budget, ask the gym or a trainer about teaming up with someone else.

Also, ask about half-hour sessions. Quality, rather than quantity of time, in the gym is what counts. You can get an excellent workout in 30 minutes and usually at half the price.

Last, look at hiring a personal trainer as a step toward becoming self-sufficient. Some trainers will teach you the basics and then just feed you little by little, hoping you'll need to come back and buy more sessions. Twice a week for a few months should be sufficient to train competently on your own. If you need more sessions later, you can always go back.

Again, some people just need to know that person is there at the gym waiting for them and setting things up. That, and knowing they are paying this person, is enough to keep them showing up.