It's just after 5pm on a midwinter's evening and getting dark. The warmth of home, a fresh-cooked meal and the couch beckon but, for many reluctant gym- goers throughout New Zealand, they've got an appointment they can't afford to miss.
It's a date with a personal trainer (PT), one who will put them through their paces, push them, work on setting goals and do what they do best - motivate, inspire and cajole. When you've paid for a PT, you have to turn up or waste your money. They aren't cheap, costing anything from $50 to $80 for an hour session and $32 to $40 for a half- hour session.
This week, we talk to three women who have a personal trainer for entirely different reasons. But don't think it's just for the females; you'll also see men sweating under the watchful eye of a one-on-one motivator.
New Plymouth's Lisa Currie has a personal trainer at Contours in the central city. Every week she meets up with the new owner of the women's gym, 22-year-old Courtney Hucker.
Lisa opted for a PT "because I can't stick to something myself and I wanted to give it a go".
"I wanted someone who would keep pushing me. I would never be sitting here today if I wasn't doing it."
She catches up with Courtney for half an hour once a week and that's enough to inspire Lisa to come other times. "Otherwise I will be told off. Your trainer will ask 'what else have you been doing during the week?' "
Courtney says it's easy to tell if someone hasn't been to the gym for a few weeks. "It tells on the scales." Lisa's goal is to get fit and lose weight. "I realised I can do a lot more than I thought that I could. I do whinge about it occasionally but I do actually enjoy it," she says, laughing.
"I do avoid the gym unless I have my personal trainer, but I do the classes, mostly because Courtney takes most of the classes too."
A personal trainer has to be prepared to push Lisa and not back down when she says she can't do something. "But they have to make it fun as well. It's no fun being barked at."
That's why the tough but humorous Courtney is the perfect fit for the 31-year-old. "She doesn't make it easy, but she does make it fun."
When asked if she has ever sworn at Courtney during the tough times, Lisa says: "I believe I may have" - while doing step- ups, her most-hated activity.
Courtney laughs: "Quite a few times!"
Lisa: "It doesn't mean I get out of it though."
The friendly banter shows a PT can also become a friend.
"With personal training, it's not just coming in for a workout, you get a relationship with your client and get a personal trainer who will understand what's going on in a client's life and know how hard to work them," Courtney says. "The stronger that relationship is, the more the client will trust letting a trainer know what their goals are."
Lisa says: "One of the things Courtney does is set heaps of little goals to reach on the way. There's the big goal at the end - to reach the ideal weight and look and feel good."
These goals have to be achievable and the client needs to be accountable to someone, the gym owner says. "Even me, I need a person trainer. A lot of people can't do it by themselves. They can't be accountable to themselves, that's why they need a trainer." Lisa agrees: "It's easy to lie to yourself." Motivation is the key to personal training and not just for the gym members.
"I have to make sure I'm motivated then I have to make sure my clients are motivated as well. You have to have the motivation to turn up to be a personal trainer."
Lisa: "It's not a miracle cure."
Courtney: "At the end of the day, it's the individual who has to do it for themselves, not anyone else."
Seeing her fitness improve has been a big boost in confidence for Lisa. "It's not just about weights and measurements. I would never ever have run on the treadmill. I would never have done it if she hadn't made me do it. I wouldn't have thought I was capable, to be honest."
Now Lisa pushes herself in classes not taken by her PT, because she knows she has the ability to do so. "You set goals here and it affects other parts of your life as well. I wish I had done it years ago."
Karen Prichard has a PT to help her stay fit for work at Ozone Coffee Roasters.
She is a roaster, so a great deal of her work is physical and she needs to be fit and strong to lift sacks of beans, to squat and scoop. The 43-year-old also wants to be fit for her lifestyle, so she can enjoy outdoor activities, such as paddle boarding.
Her personal trainer is Peter Napanoy from City Fitness in New Plymouth's Richmond Centre. Karen is candid about her need for a PT. "I am naturally a lazy person with zero motivation and I have struggled for years with pain in my hips. I had noticed that it was restricting what I could and couldn't do."
Her husband, Blair, has had a PT for a long time and he urged her to give one a try.
"Our motivation for doing this as a couple is because as we get older we want to travel and be able to do things. It's like you have your 40th birthday and a switch goes off. My goal is to be pain free with increased mobility."
Injury prevention in her work is another aim and so a reluctant Karen heads to the gym twice a week for face-to-face appointments. "I hate exercise with a passion," she says. "First of all, I'm grateful my personal trainer has a sense of humour. I'm a convert now and I like his style of training - he doesn't make you want to throw up. I know it's going to get hard and he puts up with me calling him names."
Karen says Peter's approach to training her is highly technical; it's all about balance, making sure one set of muscles doesn't dominate and strengthening her core. "Rather than doing weights and push-ups, he works on a lot of stretching. He's really specific in the muscle groups he works with."
After three months, Karen is already seeing changes. "As a result, things that were a big deal aren't any more and best of all I'm pain free."
Peter says a personal trainer has to help people who come to the gym find what they are looking for.
"A lot of people are down on themselves and have low self- esteem. Our job is to . . . encourage them and give them a bit of hope by showing how they can improve."
Many people have problems with sore backs, knees, ankles, wrists and necks. "All I'm trying to do is to prevent these, by strengthening all the body, stretching all the muscles and switching on muscles that are not working."
Consistency is the key, he says. "It's as simple as that. Motivation is the hardest thing that someone faces. Karen comes twice a week and she sees results."
He trains every person differently. "It's based on their needs. It's different for a runner and a bodybuilder."
Peter has been a PT off and on since 2004. "It's the most challenging, rewarding job but, at the same time, it's draining. It's not just the physical side but the mental and spiritual of things as well, telling them they can do anything."
The spiritual aspect is more a belief in themselves and not to do with religion, Peter explains. "It's just great hope for people."
Gabrielle Fawkner is another City Fitness member and PT convert.
The 44-year-old has been going to the gym since March to stay active while having treatment for breast cancer. She was diagnosed in January this year.
"When you start at the gym, they give you a discount on a personal trainer. I usually go to the gym and stop; this is to encourage me to go along." She also wanted guidance to make sure she wasn't overdoing things. "Having someone with knowledge was quite important." Her trainer Nanu does a great deal of stretching work with Gabrielle.
"Statistics show that it's better for your health if you are exercising. People who are exercising have less chance of getting breast cancer, so you always think about not getting it back again."
Gabrielle tries to get to the gym twice a week but has to gauge how she feels. "I have had a couple of days on steroids, so I'm not up to much. Through the chemotherapy treatment I have got weaker," she says.
In the beginning she was not only having her PT sessions, but trying to do a 40-minute cardio workout each day. "I'm doing body balance now." Luckily, she has not had too much fatigue or nausea, but she has lost her balance. Nanu sees how Gabrielle is feeling and adjusts the training to suit. "If I've just had treatment, she will get foam and roll out the muscles and do a lot of stretching. It's more about activating the muscles and getting everything moving," she says. "But when I'm a bit more on to it I do lunges and squats."
Going to the gym helps Gabrielle remain proactive about her health. "And you have more self- knowledge about your body."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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