WASHINGTON (AP) - A personal trainer will keep an eye on your lunges and squats for $15, or 10 times as much. But experts warn the higher payments don't necessarily get you a better workout.
No matter what the price, personal trainers have the same purpose. They help clients work toward goals, such as weight loss or achievement in sports. Trainers judge where clients need help, tailor exercise programs to meet those needs, and make sure the clients do the workouts with correct form. Trainers also offer encouragement - for instance, driving a dedicated athlete to push for one last lift or telephoning an undedicated newbie with a reminder to show up.
Even at the lowest price, clients should expect a trainer to be certified by a recognized accrediting organization. Certification, which requires a trainer to pass an examination, is insurance against bad training advice that can lead to injury. Among the best regarded certifications are those from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Unlike physical therapists, who design workouts based on doctors' orders for patients, personal trainers rarely interact with doctors because their clients are generally healthy. A therapist might help a patient come back from a knee injury; a trainer would help to keep uninjured knees strong.
"I don't know if I work out harder or just smarter," said Danielle Brown, of Ashburn, Va., who exercises under the guidance of Michael De Luca at a health club in Reston. De Luca made her movements more effective - for instance, relieving her knee pain by making her straighten up on leg exercises.
Brown does not plan to stay with De Luca, however. At $540 for 12 sessions, it's too expensive for a lifetime commitment.
The cost of an hourlong session can range from $15 to $150, said Mike Niederpruem, national director for certification at the American College of Sports Medicine, an organization of specialists in exercise physiology.
With that wide a range, questions of quality and value for money arise.
"You can buy an automobile for $10,000 to $15,000, or $50,000 to $80,000, and both do a great job of getting you from Point A to Point B," Niederpruem said.
At first glance, the higher fee should be hard to justify because the exercisers' legs do the same lunge or squat no matter how much they pay. However, like cars, some trainers may be more reliable - or at least offer clients a wider range of options.
"You don't do one leg lift, you do many things," Niederpruem said. "It can get very sophisticated very quickly." Clients can expect to pay more for an experienced trainer, and should expect the trainer's experience to help them get a better workout, he said.
However, Niederpruem knew of no research to show that consumers who paid more for experienced trainers got better results.
Consumers should expect a higher-priced trainer to show a lot of interest in them, said Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist at MyExercisePlan.com, a Web-based individualized training program. "Possibly, their personality and goals, and their listening skills, are incredible," he said.
Clients who pay more may gain additional motivation to work hard, rather than think they are wasting their money, he said.
Some clients need the motivation, De Luca said. "I help them tap into that place where they didn't realize their own potential. I praise them when they are doing something well but when they are not, I let them know it," he said.
Being a good trainer requires more than "taking a cert course and getting on the gym floor," said Sal Fichera, a trainer from New York City. A skilled trainer should have a menu of exercises for specific muscle groups, he said. When a client gets bored with an exercise or stops showing improvement, a trainer should know more interesting ways to work out that helps the client continue to improve.
Some clients pay more because they already have the motivation - they are after the perfect body.
Trainers for celebrities can command over $1,000 an hour. Music mogul P. Diddy, for instance, reportedly pays $7,000 a week year-round to personal trainer Mark Jenkins, who got him ready for the 2003 New York City marathon.
Cotton doubts any trainer is worth that: "These trainers aren't the Dalai Lama."
Prices are also defined by what the market will bear and location - cities where the cost of living is higher.
Fichera's fees vary because he has some clients grandfathered. His earlier clients pay $80 an hour; his newer ones $130. But he said he does not skimp on the lower-fee clients: "I give the same effort to all my clients."
On the Net:
American College of Sports Medicine training brochures: http://www.acsm.org/health+fitness/brochures.htm
American Council on Exercise: http://www.acefitness.org
National Strength and Conditioning Association: http://www.nsca-lift.org/