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WHEN TO CONSULT A PERSONAL TRAINER

Who wouldn't love to be guided through a personally designed workout program by a professional trainer? "Oh, I couldn't," you say. "I'm just a beginner." Or you may assume the cost is prohibitive. Well, you may be surprised to discover that personal training services can be helpful to novice or veteran exercisers, and that the cost may not be as great as you imagine.

If you're looking for evaluation, advice and direction, a few sessions may be all you need to get under way. Many personal trainers charge between $25 and $50 an hour.

Why seek the help of a personal trainer? Several reasons:

Evaluation of your present condition. Personal trainers can administer tests that assess your cardiovascular fitness, body fat percentage, flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. These measurements then become a benchmark for determining improvement.

To get a personalized workout program. Depending on your goals -- weight loss, improved strength, greater endurance -- a trainer can design a varied program to achieve those ends and provide motivation.

You're training for a specific goal. If you've always wanted to run a 5K, a 1OK or a marathon, but don't know where to begin in terms of training, a personal trainer can design a workout program and schedule.

You're recovering or returning from an injury. Whether you're still injured and need alternate workout ideas, or you've recovered and are ready to get back into a regular program, a personal trainer can help in the rehabilitation and focus on strengthening the area so you're less likely to re-injure yourself.

Look for personal trainers who are certified by a respected industry organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Check the Yellow Pages and local health clubs.

One of the many benefits of working with a personal trainer is having someone to help you with alignment and technique, both of which are critical in obtaining the best results and preventing injury.

The following exercise is an example of how technique effects results. Do it with an exercise partner or in front of a mirror.

Holding light weights in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and take a big step forward. Keep your torso upright as you bend your knees no more than 90 degrees. Your front knee should be over your shoe, and your back knee below your hip.

Pull your abdominal muscles in, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Think of stretching your spine long and standing tall. Now slowly tilt forward from your hips. Your pelvis should move with your upper body (photo at right). Do not allow your spine and shoulders to round (photo at left). This causes an unwelcome strain on the back and prevents your body from getting the full benefits of your lift.

Now you're ready to efficiently work your back muscles. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and exhale as you pull the weights up to hip level. Concentrate on using your back muscles to do the work. Without releasing your blades, slowly lower the weights to the starting position. Do 10 to 15 repetitions. As you build strength, you can add one or two more sets, resting in between. If you need more support for your back, you can place a hand on your forward thigh and work one arm at a time.

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