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Personal Trainers Build More Than Just Bodies

Although the level of intimacy between a personal trainer and a client isn't quite on the doctor-patient level, it is almost as important, according to Brian Metzer, a personal trainer who's been in the business for six years. Discussing someone's body, diet and life sometimes takes on the persona of friend-psychologist-motivator-coach.

Metzer's job isn't as easy as punching a time clock, but he has to get to that level for personal training to work, he said.

"I know everything about these women. They tell me everything because I'm not looking to date them. I end up being a life coach for these people. It's like a friend after a while. I know all the people she's talking about," Metzer said.

Although Metzer does have men for clients, too, it seems to be the women that tell all.

Metzer works at Jungle Gym in Kingstowne and the McLean Racquet and Fitness Club. He works a 40-hour week with his clients, which he said is exhausting. Keeping track of their workout and their lives is taxing.

"It wears you down more than just sitting at a desk," he said.

Cecilia Evans, a client of Metzer's, compares their relationship to that of a brother and sister.

"He keeps things realistic. You've got to have total honesty there, that relationship of knowing your limitations," she said.

Lynnda Gendron, fitness director at Burke Racquet & Swim Club, experiences the same thing.

"You get wrapped up in their lives," Gendron said. "They're here not only to exercise, they're here to feel better."

One man Metzer works with wanted to "get in shape." His goals became obvious after Metzer got to know him.

"He told me at first he didn't want to look big, but after a while, I found out he wanted to look like a man's man," he said.

THE PERSONAL TRAINER has become as much a part of health clubs as treadmills. Springfield resident Maria Kosmakos is the manager at Jungle Gym in Kingstowne. They also have branches in Burke and Old Town, Alexandria. She has a policy where there is always a trainer on duty to show newcomers the proper way to use the equipment.

"We have slots of times when trainers are available for questions. So many customers come in with one intention, to get in shape. Some have no idea what to do," she said.

At Burke Health and Racquet Club, many times, people know they want to get in shape, and frequently it's just a matter of someone showing them what to do. Paul Fisher, tennis director, is familiar with the requests.

"A lot of people come in, and they don't know what they want. It's a motivating factor. It keeps them going in a direction," he said.

Fairfax Station resident Katie Nelson mans the front desk in Burke. "A lot of people want to know the basics of the equipment," she said.

Fairfax County Park Authority has also entered the realm of the personal training craze. Spokesperson Judy Pederson noted a poll the county did before embarking on the personal trainer program.

"People in this area were very interested in fitness. Give the people what they want," she said.

Victoria Zazzaro, the Fairfax County fitness and wellness section manager, said there were three to five trainers at each recreation center at various times. The county fitness machines are part of the "FitLinxx" program, which is a computer that monitors the machine. It acts as a trainer's administrative record so the clipboard is not necessary.

"It frees up their time to motivate the client and educate the client," Zazzaro said.

FitLinxx counts the repetitions and weight on each machine and can be accessed through the Internet so trainers and participants can monitor their progress. Although the county recreation centers do not require anyone to join in order to have access to personal trainers and FitLinxx, a participant must get a monthly pass or a punch card for 25 workouts. County residents that pay as they go cannot register on FitLinxx.

DISCUSSING someone's diet and physiology is somewhat intimate. Kosmakos has seen a few situations where the trainer wasn't a good match.

"Many of our women absolutely want to work with another woman. Every once in a while, we run into a personality difference, and we find another trainer," she said.

Metzer knew of cases where trainers ended up dating clients, but he frowned on it. Kosmakos said there was a rule against that as well at Jungle Gym.

Gendron started on the cusp of the personal trainer craze in 1991. She was with one of the first groups to be certified through Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). She worked her way up to be the fitness director at the Burke Racquet & Swim Club. In the training world, she's moved in the medical specialty direction and is certified as a post rehabilitation conditioning specialist.

"We bridge the gap for someone getting out of physical therapy and into a regular exercise program," Gendron said.

METZER FEELS "strength coach" might be a more appropriate trainer label. In sports, a trainer is also the name for someone hired by a team to wrap ankles and offer real medical assistance. Trainers require a four-year degree in exercise health and physiology as the basis for their degree.

"It's not very hard to become a trainer. That's the problem," Metzer said. "There's good trainers and bad trainers, like any other business."

He watches the trainers with more experience to get fitness tips. The best trainer at Jungle Gym is Pat Bazzel, Kosmakos said. The wall in her office space is covered with certifications.

"She's made a lifetime commitment to personal training and motivation," she said.

Metzer has a CSCS, certified strength and conditioning specialist, certificate. There are also certificates available from the NSCA, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and NACSM, National American College of Sports Medicine.

Gendron has taken several courses through the years and received her post rehabilitation conditioning specialist certificate through the American Academy of Health Fitness & Rehabilitation Professionals.

Kosmakos noted the best training course in her opinion, ACE, American Council on Exercise, but few trainers are certified by this. Kosmakos graduated from Robinson Secondary School, where she pursued accounting, so that's her specialty, although she's considering getting personal training certification from one of the sources. At county facilities, Zazzaro said that "all of our trainers must be certified by a nationally recognized certifying agency," and she listed several.

Although Evans does pay on top of the monthly gym fee, she has seen results from the specific help Metzer teaches with concentration on form and routines. For years, she worked out by herself with only direction from exercise books.

"I saw the most improvement since I've been working out with him," she said.