When you think of getting in shape, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s running on a quiet, tree-covered trail, alone with your thoughts. Maybe it’s a sweaty gym session with loud music blaring and mirrors everywhere — and check out your biceps now that you’ve been lifting!
Whatever your version of getting in shape — and whatever your starting line — you can benefit from some expert help to get you on the right path. A 2013 study comparing a professional health coach, a peer, or a mentor for weight-loss patients found that coaching was a promising and cost-effective weight-loss option.
Coaching may sound expensive, but there are plenty of less pricey ways to seek professional help. Local and chain gyms, like the New York Sports Club, often have no-cost consultations when you first sign up, and places like the YMCA offer training sessions for around $50 per session, less if you buy packages. If that’s still out of range, there are group classes at most gyms that are beginner-friendly, and the instructors are often willing to take an extra few minutes before or after class to help you perfect a move. There are also plenty of training plans available free or at a low cost online that will push your training in the right direction, though the personal touch of a real-life coach is often preferable.
Seeking help early on is the best way to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your body. So, consider seeking out a coach, personal trainer, or class instructor whether you’re just getting started on a fitness journey, or need to change things up. A coach or trainer can kick past plateaus, help you avoid injury, propel you toward goals, and make you a happier, healthier version of you. Of course, don’t forget to seek medical input from your doctor before starting or ramping up a workout regimen.
Coach, Trainer, or Class Instructor: Who’s Right for You?
You Lack Motivation
You may need a trainer or class. If the idea of working out seems incredibly dull to you, you might just be doing the wrong activities. Look at your gym’s offerings: A spirited class like Zumba, spin or even yoga might be the best way to motivate yourself, thanks to the positive group dynamic that it — and the trainer — provide. But you might just need a cheerleader or a drill sergeant to get you going, and in that case, a trainer working with you one on one might be a better choice. Not only will a trainer help motivate you during sessions to push yourself harder, she’ll also hold you accountable for your workouts. That accountability — plus the money spent on the trainer — can keep you motivated to get through your sessions in a way that training solo simply won’t, says Robert Herbst, personal trainer, coach, and 18-time World Champion powerlifter.
You’re New to Working Out and Want to Run, Bike or Try a Tri
You may need a coach. When it comes to endurance sports, like running, riding or triathlon, you can get started on your own, but you’re much better off talking to a coach and developing some sort of plan, even if it’s a very loose one. Too often, people make wild goals, like running a marathon when the longest run they’ve done all year was down the block chasing the bus. Then, after a disastrous five-mile run that culminates in a slow crawl back to the house and sore legs for a week afterward, it’s all over. Running a marathon is an attainable goal for some, but it’s not an overnight process. USA Triathlon coach Sara Dimmick runs Physical Equilibrium in New York City, and she sees all types of new and veteran triathletes make their way through her programs. She works with people to design reasonable and, most important, realistic programs to slowly advance new athletes to their goals, and she says that too often, she has people coming to her injured and constantly sore because of poor training routines. When you’re first getting started, a coach should make a plan that, at first glance, seems almost too easy for you. Trust me, it will get harder, so embrace those ”one-mile walk” days while they last. “I try to avoid too much volume too soon or too much intensity too fast,” she adds. “I see this a lot when people try to make their own plans, or have been doing group training classes. Too much, too soon is just a recipe for a full-body breakdown and a major setback.
You’re New to Working Out and Want to Get Buff
You may need a trainer. The gym is an intimidating place — and it can be overwhelming. So rather than grabbing a random dumbbell and starting biceps curls, seek expert guidance right away. Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP, a sports physical therapist and personal trainer, often sees people come in when they’re already injured — often, because they weren’t doing exercises with proper technique. It’s easy to maneuver a weight above your head or into a squat with terrible technique when the bar is light, but as you start adding more weight to make movements challenging, those bad habits can turn dangerous. See a trainer for just a few sessions and learn how to lift and move properly, Eisenstadt says. “There is not one single person who can’t benefit from feeling what alignment feels like and learn to perform daily tasks in balance,” she adds. There are so many moves, like crunches, where we tend to use muscles we shouldn’t be using (while missing the target muscles) and a good trainer can pinpoint the mistakes you’re making so your workout becomes instantly more effective, without needing bigger weights.
You Don’t Find Exercise Fun
You may need a class or trainer. It might be time to shake things up. A group class can add camaraderie, but try to find a small group with some individualized instruction. For someone new to working out, a big high-intensity boot camp class could do more harm than good, while a five-person yoga class might be what you need to start feeling the fun again. Maybe your exercise isn’t fun because you’re doing the same 10 exercises every single time you’re at the gym. That’s where a trainer can be a huge boost to your workouts. He can help break up your sessions by adding in new moves that hit the same muscle groups, or change up your in-session cardio to make it more fun for you. (Agility ladders are way more fun than stationary bikes, I promise!) Or, you might be lacking in positive feedback, and that’s what’s bringing your sense of fun and accomplishment down. Dimmick says that when she gets a new client, she really tries to discern what he or she is looking for. Some are data-driven and want cold, hard facts. Others are emotionally driven and are looking for a cheerleader as well as a coach. (If you think that’s an issue for you, make sure you let your trainer know: most can adjust as needed, but they can’t do it unless you’ve communicated!)
You Enjoyed Having a Goal, But Now It’s Over
You may need a coach. You did the 5K with the crew from work and had an absolute blast, hugging and high-fiving as you crossed the finish line. All those months of after-work walks and runs totally paid off, but now that everyone has gone back to their separate cubicles, you’re starting to feel sluggish and you’re skipping your after-work run in favor of dining out again. Yep, it’s time to find another goal — and find a coach to help you achieve it. “I focus on current fitness, and progressing clients towards their goals in a realistic manner,” says Dimmick. But before you seek out a coach, look for an event that seems like fun — maybe a 10K this time — and if having a friend to run with was part of the fun in your first goal, enlist your buddy for round 2!
You Think Weight-Training Sounds...Yuck
You may need a trainer. Let’s clear up the misconception that weight lifting is for meatheads: strength training absolutely, positively is for everyone. Whether you want to lose weight, bulk up, or just stay healthy, you’re going to benefit from lifting weights. That doesn’t mean you need to be a powerlifter, or that you’re going to start drinking protein shakes with raw eggs for breakfast. You’re just going to get stronger and healthier. But you do need a trainer to give you some direction and develop the routine that will give you the results you’re looking for. “You want to make sure you’re doing something that accomplishes your fitness goals,” says Herbst. “To get bigger and stronger, that’s a different routine than if you want to run a 10K. But both of those people should lift weights.”
You Work Out…But Feel Plateaued
You may need a trainer or coach. So you’ve been hitting the gym already for the last year and a half. Maybe you dropped some weight initially, but now, it seems like you’re not gaining muscle, and somehow you even seem to be gaining flab! This is arguably the most common problem for people who resolve to get in shape, but don’t have any direction. You do the same five exercises at the same weights, you pedal the same 10 miles on the spin bike twice a week and do a long walk on the weekend. Maybe you hit the same yoga class every other week. Guess what? It’s time for a shake-up. Find a coach or a trainer to help you bust through that plateau you’re stuck at. It might be time to add more weight, run longer or harder miles, or even take a break for a couple weeks to get fully recovered.
You End Up Injured or Sore Every Time
You may need a trainer or coach. Weight training injuries have been skyrocketing in recent years. One study showed that weight training injuries increased by 50 percent between 1990 and 2007. If you’re getting injured on a regular basis, it could be because your technique isn’t dialed in — and trainer and physiotherapist Eisenstadt says she sees this all too frequently. A trainer like her will teach you how to weight train, so even if you don’t see her weekly, you’ll benefit from knowing proper lifting technique and avoid injuries. She equates seeing an expert like her to maintaining your car: a clean body is like a clean car, and to run smoothly, sometimes you need to get it looked at and fixed up. (Or completely overhauled!) Even minor injuries should be addressed: If that twinge in your shoulder happens every time you try to do a pushup, seeking medical attention and checking in with a trainer or therapist rather than waiting for your rotator cuff to go out can stave off more serious injuries.
More sore than actually hurting? It’s a minor distinction, but DOMS — delayed-onset muscle soreness — can happen days after your hard workout, and last for anywhere from a day to a week. You won’t feel as if anything is sprained or broken, just stiff or tender. In that case, you might need a coach’s help to tweak your training schedule and intensity. (And, of course, seek medical attention if you’re unsure if you’re truly injured.) Not only can a coach help get you on a regular training schedule, he or she can look at your routine and see if you’re actually working out too much, going too hard, or even moving wrong. For example, pain while cycling can be from your seat’s being too high, not from tired legs. “A bad bike fit is super common,” Dimmick says, and a good coach will be able to spot that and offer suggestions to get you exercising comfortably again.
You’ve Tried the Gym Before…And Quit
You may need a trainer. Plenty of people start a workout routine (especially right after January 1!) and quit after just a couple of weeks. Part of the dropoff rate is probably a result of a lack of belonging. The gym can be a scary place for someone who’s new to strength training or spin class, but every single person in there once was in your position as a newbie. Herbst has seen plenty of people come in to the gym and leave immediately because they didn’t feel they fit in — and that shouldn’t be what’s holding you back. Having someone like a trainer in there with you not only gives you the accountability to keep coming back, but it can make you feel that you belong.