For those working out, more are seeking help of trainers

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The fast-paced workout personal trainer Sarah McDonough puts clients through at the Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford incorporates at least five of what the American College of Sports Medicine says are the top fitness trends for 2011.

For the past five years, ACSM -- with 20,000 members, the largest organization of sports medicine and exercise science professionals in the world -- has surveyed fitness professionals to identify trends in the industry.

The No. 1 trend for 2011 is for educated and experienced fitness professionals. A higher proportion of people who go to health clubs are seeking professional help in designing their workouts and putting them through their paces, and they're paying more attention to the qualifications of their trainers. This was also the top trend in ACSM's poll last year. Personal training ranked fifth, down from fourth in 2010.

"You have to know where they got their certification," said Vonda Wright, director of PRIMA (Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes) at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "And are these people trained to help people in the middle and best years?"

How to select a trainer

If you are an active older adult, or an older adult who knows you should be more active in order to stay healthy, the International Council on Active Aging has produced a checklist that will help you select a personal trainer who will help you obtain the results you seek with the least risk of injury.

The checklist covers the four areas the ICAA recommends older adults look at when interviewing fitness trainers: experience, education, personality and business practices.

Sample questions are:

• Does the trainer have experience training clients my age?

• Does the trainer have a personal training certification?

• What should I expect from our sessions?

• Can the trainer give me references to past clients?

The ICAA also has produced a companion worksheet that explains how to evaluate the answers a personal trainer gives to the questions on the checklist.

Both the Age-Friendly Personal Trainer Checklist and the ICAA Questions to Ask a Personal Trainer worksheet can be obtained for free at this Web site:

The ICAA Web site also provides a guide to age-friendly fitness facilities.

Ms. McDonough, who has a bachelor's in exercise science from Slippery Rock University and is a certified personal trainer, has the qualifications people seek. Having her clients work out together illustrates another trend, group personal training.

The primary appeal for it is economic. Ms. McDonough charges $65 for a one-on-one session. But the women in her "total body reaction" session pay $20 each.

"I have a lot of women who can't afford one on one, but this is comparable," Ms. McDonough said. "I actually enjoy it better than one on one."

So do her clients.

"I've been working with Sarah for years," said Kellie Kenneweg, 29. "We used to do it one on one, but I like the group better. You get the attention, but you also get the competitive edge. We motivate each other."

"It's more like we're all a team," agreed Kristy Long, 37. "We all push each other."

Group personal training ranked 14th in this year's survey, down from 10th in 2010, when ACSM described it as "the most surprising top 10 of the survey."

But both Jen Thomas, fitness and wellness director at the Oxford Athletic Club, and Chris Labishak, managing partner at Club One in Shadyside, say interest in group personal training is increasing at their facilities.

"We've been doing this for about two years," Ms. Thomas said. "The industry has caught on to the concept."

The second, third and fourth biggest fitness trends for 2011 are fitness programs for older adults, strength training and programs designed to address childhood obesity.

Fitness programs for older adults jumped to second from sixth last year. Strength training slipped from second to third, childhood obesity programs from third to fourth.

Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at UPMC, thinks one of the reasons why more people are using personal trainers is because more older people are exercising.

"The baby boomer group are more active," he said. "When we're young, we can get away with a lot of crazy stuff. But the older that we stay active, the more prone we are to getting injured if we don't do the right things."

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will be offering more special programs for seniors, such as Zumba Gold and Gentle Yoga, said Gretchen North, vice president for healthy living.

"They're the fastest-growing part of our population," she said. "They want programming that will help them look and feel younger."

The Y also will be rolling out a new program called MEND, to address child obesity, Ms. North said. It will be timed to coincide with the beginning of the school year in 2011-12, and will be offered to overweight children ages 7-13.

MEND (it's an acronym for Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do-it, and was pioneered at the YMCA in Austin, Texas) will consist of 16 one-hour sessions that will be offered at schools and churches, as well as at YMCA branches. While the children go off for an hour of supervised "active play," their parents will receive instruction on nutrition and the importance of exercise.

Studies indicate that after six months in two programs similar to MEND overweight youngsters showed a 7.2 percent reduction in their body mass index and a substantial boost in their self-esteem, Ms. North said.

Core training ranked sixth. "Distinct from strength training, core training specifically emphasized conditioning of the middle-body muscles, including the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen -- all of which provide needed support for the spine," according to ACSM.

Ms. McDonough's "total body reaction" workout emphasizes strength and core training, but she does so with little emphasis on barbells, dumbbells or weight machines.

"I'm very big on strength training," she said. "But the way I train, I don't need any machines. It's using your whole body. In one movement, you're working four to five different muscles."

Ranking seventh, eighth and ninth in the ACSM survey were exercise and weight loss programs (up from 12th last year), boot camp, and functional fitness.

Functional fitness is a trend toward using strength training to improve balance and ease of daily living.

"We're getting away from the more targeted exercises to the more functional training and core training," said Dr. Moira Davenport, who practices sports medicine and emergency medicine at Allegheny General Hospital. "That should help every age group, especially with child obesity and for the elderly. It's a very wide range of exercises, and you don't have to be an Olympic-caliber athlete to benefit from these exercises."

"Strength training is very good for the elderly because hopefully, it will limit the number of falls," Dr. Davenport said. "It makes [the elderly] more efficient from a functional standpoint."

Tenth on the ACSM list, up from 17th last year, is physician referrals. More doctors and health insurance companies are recognizing "exercise is medicine," according to ACSM.

The most surprising result in this year's survey to Dr. Walter Thompson, who compiled the survey for ACSM, is that Pilates, ranked ninth last year, fell out of the top 20. Yoga instruction rose to 11th from 14th.

"It appears from this survey that Pilates may not have been a trend at all but may be considered a fad," Dr. Thompson said.

The full list of the top 20 trends can be found in the November-December edition of Health & Fitness Journal at

Jack Kelly: or 412-263-1476.


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