Are personal trainers worth the price?
Fed up with her gym membership going to waste, Laura Roberts decides it's time to try a personal trainer
While I’m happy to spend money on a good haircut, a bottle of wine or an evening out, a personal trainer has always seemed outrageously self-indulgent. Surely you have to be worth as much as Madonna or Gwyneth Paltrow to afford a one-on-one workout? This is what I thought until I found myself enviously eyeing a university friend’s figure at a wedding last year. “It’s my personal trainer”, she whispered and passed on the details for Sam Warrington, a 24 year-old fitness instructor from Devon.
Although I’m a sofa slacker by nature I did join a gym last New Year - along with an estimated quarter of a million other well-meaning people. By April Fool’s day a third of us had stopped going altogether. Yes, unfortunately, I was one of them. With this history of failed health kicks behind me, I took the plunge and dialled Sam’s number.
The first hour-long training session can be daunting to the uninitiated - oh the tyranny of squats and lunges! - and I had to be taught how to run from scratch. It was a revelation. Almost a year on I am fitter and a dress size or two smaller. Crucially I am still exercising. It has all proved far more worthwhile than my lapsed gym membership which cost hundreds of pounds a year without shedding any.
Warrington trains clients in west London and the City putting fitness freaks and sloths through their paces for about £60 an hour. Admittedly it’s not a small cost but in the context of the £37 million Britons waste each year on unused gym memberships, exercise and slimming classes (£303 per adult, with a further £158 on unused sports equipment) it doesn’t seem so bad.
“If you have one hour of personal training a week and you combine it with jogging round the park and playing tennis you don’t need to fork out for the gym. That makes it much more affordable,” Sam says. “Celebrities make up very few of any trainer’s clientele. My clients are mainly in their twenties and early thirties and can’t afford to have a trainer too regularly. I set them up with a programme and see them every four to six weeks.”
One of Warrington’s clients, Victoria Naylor-Leyland, 28, is evangelical about the benefits. She visited her gym club twice in four years before abandoning it in favour of one-on-one and Davina McCall fitness videos. “After four weeks of personal training I noticed a huge difference and needed a whole new wardrobe within 8 weeks. It’s just the feeling of being toned that gives a different kind of confidence. “I finally cancelled my gym membership when I worked out that those two sessions in the gym had cost me over £400 pounds. These days I actually exercise for an hour rather than giving up after 10 minutes and going to the sauna.”
Matt Roberts, who has trained David Cameron and Naomi Campbell, compares the price of a training session to a “good bottle of wine”. “If cost is an issue then it can be helpful to train intensively with a personal trainer for three or four weeks and then armed with the information and some routines go it alone for a month or two,” he says. “You can always return for another session and renewed motivation.”
According to David Stalker, executive director of the Fitness Industry Association (FIA), personal trainers are key to getting the most out of your workout. “In my experience you work out five or six times harder with a trainer than you would on your own,” he says. “It depends how much you value the service. People are happy to spend hundreds of pounds on their hair or on a restaurant meal.”
In London personal training sessions can cost up to £150 an hour although the average is £50 or £60. Outside London the average price is about £40 to £50.
For many the expense is motivation in itself. You are more likely to drag yourself to the gym or park in between sessions to make it worthwhile as well as to avoid the shame of not improving week on week.
Naylor-Leyland agrees: “I need someone standing over me, making me do it. Who in their right mind wants to go to the gym – before work, after work, at weekends? I always had something better to do but when you’re paying more for it, suddenly you can’t not go. It’s not the invisible transaction, it’s someone waiting for you and a lot of money not to show up.”
After all, it works for Madonna.