Getting personal

First came the turkey and stuffing. Then came pumpkin pie, followed closely by chocolates, cookies and eggnog.

Now comes the New Year’s resolution: Get in shape.

Granted, bracing the frigid temperatures for a jog or finding the time for a round at the gym is hard work. Some of us need a little help.

And that’s where the expert trainers in Penn’s Department of Recreation come in. They’re here to help you get started on toning up or finally taking off those pesky extra pounds. They answer questions, guide you through a personalized workout and motivate you on those days when it would be easier to just curl up on the couch with a bag of potato chips.

Best of all, you’re not alone. Jennifer Hunt, assistant director of personal training and wellness, says that they see the most new clients after the new year and at the beginning of September.

Staying motivated

Getting started is easy. First, you have to be a member of the gym—either Pottruck or Hutchinson. Then, decide if you want one, three, five or 10 sessions with a trainer. Pricing for faculty and staff runs from $55 for one session to $375 for 10 sessions. You’ll first meet with Hunt, who will ask you to identify your health and wellness goals. She’ll assess exactly how healthy you are, and ask questions about your health history. If you have conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, then you’ll need to check with your doctor before you proceed.

There are currently 10 nationally certified, CPR-knowledgeable trainers working at Pottruck (four of whom are students), who guide about 60 clients through personalized exercise regimens. Not only do they assess a client’s needs, but they’ll help you stay motivated to work hard. “You say that you care and want to be there for them,” Hunt says, when asked how she keeps up a client’s spirit. “Everyone is a little bit different. Some may need a little more than others.”

Five steps to fitness

But before the trainers turn you loose on the treadmill, in the pool or in the weight room, you’ll need to first do a five-step physical fitness assessment, which is carried out in the private assessment room, located in the basement of Pottruck.

As it turns out, the assessment is thorough, but easily done—no six-minute-mile run required.

In fact, it’s clear that Hunt puts her clients at ease, since she outlines everything she’s going to test for before she does it. First, she shows how trainers measure body fat percentage on a bioelectrical scale and thankfully, this non-invasive procedure doesn’t involve any pinching of fat. Hunt plugs into the scale her age, height and a numerical figure that corresponds to her level of activity. She then leans on the scale, putting weight on it, and out comes a body fat percentage. Then it’s your turn. Next up is a three-minute cardiovascular test, in which you’ll step on and off a bench (used in step aerobics) for three minutes to a metronome set at 96 beats per minute. Your trainer will take your heart rate for one minute to assess your current cardiovascular condition.

Third is a lower back and hamstring flexibility test, in which you take off your shoes, place your feet against a block and stretch forward, attempting to reach as far as you can while keeping your legs straight. Hunts says that she often advises clients to exhale as they reach forward, as this allows them to stretch further.

The fourth and fifth tests measure muscular strength through sit-ups and push-ups.

This entire meeting takes about 30 to 45 minutes, and from there, the trainer designs your personal health program. When you’re ready to begin working out, the trainer will walk you through your routine, including a tutorial on the machines. If you’ve opted for more sessions, you’ll see your trainer again, but if you’ve signed up for just one session to jump-start your fitness routine, this is where you and your trainer part company, and the hard work begins.

For more information on personal training, and gym membership forms, go to: www.upenn.edu/recreation. While there, you can register for the Jan. 29 PennFit event, “Why should I have a personal trainer?”


Originally published on January 12, 2006