How effective and safe your workout is depends on the trainer. Fitness experts tell Ingrid Keneally what to look for
Marita Kwan was determined to get into shape for her wedding. 'I hate exercising and I thought a personal trainer would be great motivation - I could be a no-show at the gym but I couldn't stand up a person who had arranged their schedule to meet me,' says the 27-year-old events planner. So she hired a trainer and began a programme of cardio fitness using the gym's treadmills, bikes and steppers. 'Then the trainer said I needed to lift weights and that's when the problems started.'
Kwan was lifting twice her body weight with a leg press machine. 'The trainer kept telling me to keep going but she wasn't watching my technique. She would come over and check me then walk away and do something else. I ended up getting painful sciatica that keeps me awake at night. Sometimes it's so bad I can barely walk.' Kwan is sure the weights were too heavy and not bending her knees properly contributed to the sciatica.
As Kwan's story shows, personal trainers can be a help or a hindrance, so it's important to choose one who suits your fitness level and lifestyle. Working with a personal trainer is one way to lose weight and improve health. But how do you find the right trainer and what qualities should you look for? There are many different levels of trainers, ranging from the basic gym instructor who's good for counting reps on the chest press machine, and chatting with you on the treadmill. Then there are the highly qualified personal trainers, says David Menhennett, fitness operations and training manager at Pure Fitness.
Wellness coach Ross Eathorne recommends meeting a trainer before you start working together to 'interview them about how to train you for your particular time restrictions, ability and condition. The more specialised your circumstance, the more holistic the plan should be. It should pay attention to nutrition, posture, lifestyle, stressors and your mental attitude. A good trainer will also require a thorough assessment of your flexibility, posture and core strength,' he says.
Physiotherapist and personal trainer Michelle Lam Ka-kei says it helps when a trainer is also a physiotherapist 'because you know how to prevent injury. Clients feel safer and if a client has past injuries it will help them avoid further damage.'
But the combination of personal training with physiotherapy can be difficult to find. Kerry Klose, practice manager at Balance Health, says many physiotherapists are qualified to write a fitness programme, especially those specialising in sports injuries. However, 'due to
the work opportunities of a physiotherapist and the nature of personal training work which is largely off site and at times repetitive, many would not choose to combine the two professions'.
If you don't have an existing injury then a qualified personal trainer should meet your needs. A good trainer will encourage clients to progress at their own pace. 'I don't believe in forcing my will too much on my clients as I like to empower them,' Eathorne says. He says if you're healthy, with moderate stress, good posture, and no time restrictions, results should be seen after 30 days of exercise.
Marketing consultant Eddie Chalk started seeing Eathorne to improve his golf. Once a week for an hour they work on increasing his flexibility, strengthening his core back muscles and his balance. Chalk says he saw results in less than 10 weeks. 'It's not just the physical side that I noticed but my approach to life has changed. I want to maintain my body conditioning. I stand differently,' he says.
Training requires consistency, tenacity and progression to achieve results, so one of the main messages a good trainer will send is the power of self-motivation. This can be achieved by setting realistic goals, visualisation techniques, and positive thinking.
But cost is also a factor - a private session with an experienced instructor can cost between HK$300 and HK$1,000 an hour, depending on qualifications.
Physiotherapist and personal trainer Jack Simpson says he would prefer a trainer who has reached university level. 'There is no point in hiring a personal trainer to help you get ready for a triathlon if he or she has never done one,' he says. 'Basically the higher level of qualifications you have, the better a trainer you are going to be.'