Are personal trainers worth the expense?

Unprintable expletives fall from my exhausted mouth. Seconds later, a 45kg dead-ball hits the floor with a dull but satisfying thud.

Two weeks before, after 10 failed attempts and what can only be described as a hissy fit, I failed to lift a 10kg-lighter dead-ball and declared it impossible.

I credit my personal trainer for this accelerated progress.

How can anyone not love personal training, I pondered, after hoisting the 45kg ball for a sixth time.

I justify the expense ($90 per hour) for three reasons. First, it's an education course and workout in one. Charles Sturt University charges $7104 a year for its Bachelor of Exercise Science course. A PT charging $70 twice a week costs $7280. OK, you wouldn't be quite as clued up, but you'd get more exercise than sedentarily sitting in lectures.

Second, my PT pushes me far beyond my own capability. At the point I'd usually give up, he somehow gets me to push out five more muscle-tearing reps.

Third, my PT is my life coach (the expense means this is the only thing I'm never late for), my nutritionist and my motivational speaker – all in one.

Not everyone agrees. Gutbusters founder Gary Egger recently dismissed public personal training as embarrassingly "middle class”.

“They're a rip-off,” says Yannick Lawry from Sydney of the various personal trainers he's used for six years. “They all give wildly different, confusing advice. When I ask a PT why we're doing a certain exercise, they blind me with jargon. It'd be helpful to have information which made sense - but then they'd never make money.”


Steve Proimos has been a PT in Sydney for the last decade and concedes that PTs aren't always good value: “We bring value through knowledge, variety, motivation and, most importantly, accountability. Nothing's more important than actually turning up. That's half the effort right there. If someone has all the above, what's the point of a trainer?”

Veteran PT Simon Margheritini runs Go And Get Fit, a PT studio in Sydney's Waterloo. He agrees with Steve: “If the client doesn't do the trainer's 'homework' (better nutrition and exercise between sessions), their weight loss and toning-up goals won't be evident. Having time booked to see a trainer makes a statement that exercise is a huge priority in the client's life.”

Lawry suggests a cheaper accountability alternative: “Gyms could offer a more honest, low-cost service encouraging attendance by calling members and nutrition advice leaflets. I'd even accept a 10-15 per cent membership fee increase for that.”

Like all services and industries, the levels of skill, expertise and experience can vary wildly, colouring client perceptions of the profession as a whole. Proimos rails against "inexperienced clowns" who complete three months' training and proclaim themselves "master trainers".

"What a load of crap! What's worse is that big corporations/schools allow it. They should start at the bottom and work up like the rest of us,” he says.

Margheritini, a 13-year industry veteran, agrees: “There's an influx of under-qualified professionals cashing in on the new trend. Always check the trainer's qualifications before commencing a program.”

Adam Stanecki runs a centre in Melbourne's Fitzroy for the increasingly popular CrossFit style of training. He recognises its limits: “Group training like CrossFit reduces costs. But individual attention is reduced. If class sizes are too big, results may be poor and the potential for injury higher.”

Some, like me, remain evangelical, if also slightly skint. Chris Stephenson calculates he has spent $24,640 on personal training in Darlinghurst, NSW since he moved there more than three years ago. “That number did surprise me, but having digested it, a personal trainer for me is worth every cent. The technique, expertise and new programs ensure you don't plateau.”

Finding the right trainer  and avoiding "imposters" is essential, Stephenson says: “You get a partner and co-conspirator in helping you achieve your goals. Goals which make me feel stronger, more confident, less stressed. For me that's worth every dollar and more.”