- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

District resident Betsy Agle has dropped two dress sizes since becoming a certified personal trainer.

The personal training field teaches people of all ages how to care for the physical well-being of their clients. It also can leave its practitioners in the best shape of their lives.

Ms. Agle, 60, says her active lifestyle reshaped her physique and polished her posture. She hopes to effect the same changes in her clients.

Becoming a personal trainer can take just a few weeks or much longer, depending upon the certification, which can be sought from any number of governing bodies, and the person’s commitment level.

Budding trainers don’t have to flash washboard abdominals or stingy body-fat counts, but a toned body is a sound advertisement for new clients. A handful of students take personal training classes mainly to whip themselves into shape.

In a poll of 1,000 graduates of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based International Sports Science Association’s (ISSA) certification program, 30 percent said they had enrolled for their own personal benefit.

Ms. Agle, who left a career in the environmental protection field for personal training several years ago, says being in shape doesn’t mean shedding an unhealthy amount of weight.

“You want to be a good role model, but you don’t have to be one particular body type,” Ms. Agle says. “You can sense a role model by how one talks and how they carry themselves.”

To make her career switch, Ms. Agle successfully completed the certification processes for three health groups and “asked a lot of people questions” about what it takes to train others.

She also interned at several area gyms to get a feel for the atmosphere in which she would find herself.

“I got some really good mentors in the process,” she says.

She could have stopped after earning certification from one group, but she wasn’t about to take her new career lightly.

“You’re working with people’s bodies, and I wanted to be sure I was doing a good job,” says Ms. Agle, who is certified by the National Strength Professionals Association, the Senior Fitness Association and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

As a personal trainer, Ms. Agle can create her own hours, work with one or many students at a time and make a respectable living.

Personal trainers who studied with ISSA charge from $35 to $195 an hour for their services.

Health clubs aren’t the only venues where personal trainers can ply their trade. Fitness experts can be found at spas, vacation resorts, cruise ships and country clubs — anywhere people engage in a healthy lifestyle.

Sal Arria, ISSA’s executive director, says personal training has turned into a “full-fledged allied health care profession.”

“They’re the only group of people who address the five key issues of health care, not sick care — weight training, aerobics, flexibility, proper nutrition and a positive mental outlook,” he says, “the key elements to preventing disease.”

The physical training industry is self-regulated, Mr. Arria says, meaning no one body must be consulted before a person becomes a trainer.

ISSA offers 12 programs from which aspiring personal trainers can choose. The programs include study guides, videos, CD-ROMs and hands-on seminars for $595. For the in-person part of the curriculum, the association holds 70 seminars around the country each year.

The training lasts roughly between eight and 12 weeks, he says, although completion times can vary widely. Potential ISSA students need only a high school diploma and current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification to start the programs.

“Years ago, it was only the gym rats, the iron heads who were the personal trainers,” he says. “Now, we have physicians becoming personal trainers.”

Serious training-4>

Trainers can find steady work in health clubs, but they also are needed for hospital-based fitness facilities, retirement centers and corporate gyms. A few trainers operate out of mobile personal training trucks.

Karim Steward, a 29-year-old certified physical trainer and owner of One World Fitness in Northwest, says he grew up in an environment that fostered healthy living.

Making a career from personal training proved an easy transition, but the work itself was by no means a snap.

The memorization portion of the lessons is fierce, he says, with some class sessions running eight hours. His classes focused on anatomy and physiology, basic exercise and strength theory plus safety measures and CPR, themes touched upon in many certification classes.

“It’s no joke. It’s definitely serious,” Mr. Steward says.

That formal education is only the first step toward becoming an effective trainer.

“You take all that information, and it’s not even practical. You get most of your experience on the job,” he says.

Fledgling trainers must be ready to bend the rules to help some clients, he says. Schooling provides cookie-cutter rules on fitness and health, but not every client responds accordingly.

“You have to be creative,” he says. “That isn’t taught by certification companies. What is taught is how to be safe.

“Everyone’s motivation is different,” he continues. “Some people like to be barked at.” Others require a softer touch. Trainers would be wise to get to know their clients — their diets, moods and lifestyle choices — because all those factors play into their health.

Mr. Steward, who is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the National Strength Professionals Association, says insurers typically won’t insure a trainer without at least one fitness body’s stamp of approval. Those working in health centers usually are covered under the gym’s overall policy, he adds.

The Web sites for various fitness groups include information on when upcoming physical-trainer classes will be held and the various requirements. (See sidebar.)

Continuous learning

Getting in shape is the unspoken rule for any personal trainer, he says.

“You should be able to run on a treadmill with your client,” he says.

Another key aspect of any trainer’s certification process is continuing education. The various bodies demand that trainers continually take courses to retain certification, piling up continuing education credits (CECs) to maintain their status. That can mean enrolling in local adult education classes, applying for college courses or attending fitness conferences.

Mr. Steward takes it upon himself to continue his own education.

“I watch videos all the time. I talk to other trainers. I’ll train with other trainers,” he says.

Mr. Steward’s One World Fitness will hold a two-day open house Saturday and Sunday in which guests can ask the club’s trainers questions about fitness and the training field in general.

Jami Appenzeller, manager of the Virginia Learning Institute’s Northeast center, says a number of her physical training students sign on to get in shape “maybe even for the first time in their life … with no intention of being a trainer.”

That often changes somewhere along the way.

“They take that experience on with them into their career and use it as an example,” Ms. Appenzeller says.

Her students can focus on a number of specialties, from training seniors to weight loss and sports-specific work. Graduates walk away as certified nutritional counselors, as well, she says. That means they can counsel their clients, but are not allowed to write specific diets.

“You need to be able to counsel people on their food intake [for training],” she says.

Her institute requires students to obtain a doctor’s note permitting them to work out, but those are the only physical requirements demanded.

Carol Murray, a certified personal trainer with the Fitness Co. in Chevy Chase and Results, the Gym on Capitol Hill, earned her certification with the National Strength Professional Association, based in Timonium, Md. She took two all-day classes, then spent about two months studying for the final examinations.

The test asks students to be well-versed in stretching, muscle groups, body-fat measurement and other health-related topics.

Mrs. Murray, 36, says the job has proved more challenging than she anticipated.

“Everyone deserves a good hour,” she says of her clients. “I put in a lot of time outside of it planning out each session.”

She says the industry is “booming” right now, with many jobs available at area clubs. Trainers often choose to work at more than one fitness center, though, to give themselves enough clients to flesh out their time and make ends meet.

Mr. Steward says he loves his work, but he has a note of caution for those considering the profession.

“Understand your job is really affecting someone’s life. Don’t take it lightly,” he says.


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