Lack of knowledge about exercise techniques on top of lagging motivation can make it hard to start an exercise program. It’s little wonder over 6.4 million personal trainers are in high demand in the United States today, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
While personal training rates vary widely (typically from $25 to $100+ an hour), the average person often can’t afford the price tag of hiring a trainer on a regular basis. But the advantages can’t be beat: Qualified trainers provide motivation, accountability and other benefits to help you reach your fitness and weight loss goals. Here are six benefits of trainers followed by the DIY alternatives so you can get the same results without the price tag:
(MORE: Best Ways to Improve 5 Favorite Workouts)
Trainer Benefit No. 1: Accountability
Making an appointment with a trainer is often enough to motivate you to make it to the gym, especially if you’ve paid in advance. “My clients know that I’m going to ask them about their diet and their additional workouts (outside of our sessions) during our session,” says Franklin Antoian, ACE-certified trainer and founder of iBodyFit.com.
The DIY Alternative: To do the same on your own, Antoian recommends finding a workout buddy to keep you in check. Make sure your friend has similar workout goals so one of you doesn’t always have to motivate the other. “Work out together and make a pact to keep each other on track,” says Antoian. “When you’re ready to give up, chances are your friend will be there to push you and vice versa.”
Trainer Benefit No. 2: Helps You Eat Healthy
It’s easy to get off track with healthy eating habits when no one’s around to guide you or ask questions about your diet. A trainer helps you keep tabs on what you’re eating and often asks you to record snacks and meals.
The DIY Alternative: Keeping a food journal helps you track what you eat and how often, says Antoian.
“A lot of times we do not remember exactly what (or how much) we ate, so seeing it in front of you in black and white or in an online journal makes it real,” he says. The key: Record what you eat when you eat it, not at the end of the day when you’re less likely to remember little bites and nibbles. Track where, what and how much you ate to help you find unhealthy patterns you need to change (e.g. mindlessly eating in front of the TV at night).
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Trainer Benefit No.3: Ensures Proper Exercise Form
Learning a new exercise, whether it’s a yoga pose or free weight move, requires the appropriate form to reduce injury risk and maximize results. A trainer ensures you’re doing it right.
The DIY Alternative: Proper form is critical for avoiding injury. If you're not sure, ask a trainer at your gym for a free demo. You can also check your form in a few other ways, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. “Rent or buy a DVD or video from a qualified fitness professional,” he suggests. Check for credentials such as ACE, ACSM, NSCA or a degree in exercise physiology. “Once you learn the proper form, work out in front of a mirror," says Holland, or have a friend help you assess if you’re doing the exercise properly.
Trainer Benefit No. 4: Adds Variety to Your Program
Doing the same workout for weeks and months on end gets boring and makes it easy to quit. In addition, the same routine ensures you’ll reach a plateau where you stop seeing results. A trainer knows ways to vary your program so you keep making progress.
The DIY Alternative: Using DVDs not only helps you keep good form but can also be a source for new ideas, says Holland. “Or go online onto sites like YouTube for ideas from qualified professionals,” he adds. In addition, sites like ACE Fitness from the American Council on Exercise offer workout libraries grouped by muscle group or body part. So if you’re tired of push-ups for your chest workout you’ll find alternative exercises along with detailed instructions on how to do it. Or check out “Monthly Fitness Challenges” on sites such as Pinterest.
(MORE: 4 Types of Exercise Every Adult Needs)
Trainer Benefit No. 5: Tracks Your Progress
A trainer typically keeps a chart of your progress, recording your weights and reps, and making relevant notes regarding strength gains, etc.
The DIY Alternative: Technology makes this a no-brainer, says Holland. “You can use a GPS watch that tracks your runs, for example, or a body fat scale that sends progress information wirelessly to your phone or computer.” In addition, dumbbells by Nautilus, coming out later this year, will feature new technology that records your reps and even the time you spend resting between sets.
“This type of tracking technology is replacing apps, which people often don’t use more than once or twice,” says Holland, referring to phone apps that require you to manually upload information.
Trainer Benefit No.6: Keeps You Motivated and Having Fun
On days when you feel you’re not making progress fast enough or are otherwise discouraged, a trainer keeps you going with words of encouragement.
The DIY Alternative: Create your own reward system. Says Antoian: “Track your results on your own and promise yourself an exercise-related reward when you achieve it.” For example, after making it through a week of workouts, or losing X number of pounds, buy yourself a bunch of motivating songs on iTunes or indulge in a new workout outfit or pair of lifting gloves. “Then reset your goals and do it again,” says Antoian.
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