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(Magazine article taken from Kiplinger’s / November 2003 / Sean O’Neill)

At the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory, you won’t hear the clank of free weights or the whine of a treadmill. Instead, the rooms hum with the sound of data-recording devices and smell less like a locker room than a library.  Here lab research director William Kraemer’s grad students biopsy muscle fiber, use x-rays to figure muscle mass and test how hormones affect muscle structure.

The data pouring from this lab and others like benefit more than just pro athletes and Olympians, says Kraemer, who holds a PhD in physiology and biochemistry.  A personal trainer schooled in the techniques that spring from this research can show you the best ways to become stronger faster, and less prone to injury, he says, In fact, given the advances in research, a book-smart trainer trumps over one who is merely buff.  Says Kraemer: “Would you let someone without a degree in accounting do your taxes just because he wears eyeglasses and looks smart?”

Good trainers can be well worth the $40-$95 an hour they typically charge.  Kraemer co-authored a study that found exercisers who used trainers could lift 46% more weight after three months than those who did not, even though both groups had performed the same number of bench presses.


But how do to choose from among the more than 62,000 people who call themselves personal trainers, especially when there are scores of trainer certifications?  Kraemer says the best professionals are those certified as “Health/fitness instructors” by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or “personal trainers” or “Strength and Conditioning Specialists” by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The organizations also provide training towards the certifications.  You can find trainers with these credentials at the ACSM’s website (www.acsm.org/certification) and the NSCA’s website (www.nsca-lift.org/cptreferrals).

To earn certification, trainers must pass a battery of tests, among them demonstrating exercises that train different muscle groups.  They must also prove that they can measure heart rate, blood pressure, body fat, and other data.  And each group requires that  its trainers keep up on the latest advances through continuing education.

A good trainer will develop an exercise program that customizes the intensity, order and frequency of exercises to your age, health, and goals, says Kraemer.  Your trainer should spend time measuring your current fitness levels.  Recording data such as your body fat percentage and how many leg presses you can do with a set weight. The trainer should also tell you how much these numbers should improve by a specific date, so you can measure your progress and the trainers effectiveness.  Be wary of signing up for an endless string of sessions.  Up to 20 sessions should be enough to master a set of conditioning routines and may be all the trainer time you need

Key to the success of such a training regimen, scientists now think, is variation. “Lifting more and more weight by itself doesn’t do enough,” says Kraemer.  You will get stronger faster by varying the number of repetitions, the heaviness of the weight you heft and the muscle groups you target, he says.  Studies show you should pump weights that vary in heaviness but average 60% of the maximal you can hoist with each muscle group.

Kraemer’s lab recently tested such a trainer-led routine in which participants did ten exercises three times a week.  One 32-year-old man increased his weight-lifting capacity from a squat position from 220 to 330 pounds and knocked ten percentage points off his body fat in six months.


Some people hire trainers for motivation, either because of the enthusiasm a trainer brings or because they feel guilty if they miss a session.  But don’t rely on a personal trainer for motivation, says Kraemer.  If you do, you might need a trainer for life, which could get expensive.

If the trip to the gym takes too much time and effort, Kraemer suggests that you ask your trainer to draw up a batch of exercises that you can do at home.  If you’re  exercising properly, you shouldn’t need a two hour session at a well equipped gym every day anyway, although some gym sessions will be necessary.  For example, one day you could do a half hour of dumbbell lifts at home, targeting a set of muscle groups and the next day do cardiovascular exercise, such as take a bike ride.

Don’t expect a personal trainer to be an expert on weight loss, says Kraemer. To scale down your body, find a dietitian (check with the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org/public). Let your trainer know your new diet so it can be coordinated with your workout regimen.

—-Reporter: Katy Marquardt