To be first, you need a good second: Why a personal trainer is essential!

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It is all too easy to become a Personal Trainer, anyone can call themselves one without having to be qualified. Many PTs will have opted for the shortest courses out there to become qualified; there are far too many courses that allow individuals to be certified as Personal Trainers having completed just six weeks of study. Would you want these people to be responsible for your well-being? This is how clients end up with injuries so instead look for a trainer who’s studied for several years.

You won’t reach your peak with solo work-outs. If you want to get in shape – really in shape – pair with a professional, says GQ’s iron man: Tony Parsons

You can’t get fit alone. Not seriously fit. Not truly fit. Not – and this is the crucial bit – as fit as you could be.

Because it is not natural to push yourself to the limit. It’s hard. And it’s scary. It is simply not normal to endure the kind of training regime that any personal trainer will impose upon you. And everything in human nature tells us that we have done quite enough when we have run round the park, or played five sets of tennis or some five-a-side football. And maybe you have done enough – enough to keep the belly at bay, enough to pump those biceps, enough to be healthy, enough to look good for your age. Enough to look better than other men.

You need a personal trainer if you want serious fitness. You need someone pushing you hard, two or three times a week, year after year after year. Fitness has to be a part of your life. You have to spend more hours in a gym every week than you do in restaurants, bars or cinemas – and do it without thinking about it.

Because you have those dates with your trainer in your diary. And you have him pushing you, encouraging you, urging you to be as good as you can be. Not merely bawling at you like some Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant cliché, but bringing you back from injury, and knowing your body as well as you do – both its limitations and its possibilities. Aiming for your goals: to lose weight, to gain muscle, to make the pain go away.

And why would anyone imagine they can get fit without a trainer? You pay a professional to cut your hair, to service your car, to clean your teeth.
Why wouldn’t you need a professional to get you fit?

A personal trainer costs money. But that’s not really the problem, is it? The problem is time. We are all time poor. We are all time paupers. When it comes to the spare time we have to throw around every week, we are all Third World men suffering another famine. Work. Family. Did I miss anything out?

But having a personal trainer demands you find time for fitness. Having a personal trainer insists you make time for fitness. It’s liberating – because those regular sessions are always in your diary, and if you can’t make it then you have to break it. And breaking it is a big deal.

I go to see Fred, my trainer, twice a week – every Tuesday and Friday. They are meant to be one-hour sessions, but I get there early and stay late. Factor in warming up on the bike or the heavy bag at the start, doing some stretching and maybe working some rehab on any injuries I have, and it’s knocking on for a couple of hours every session.

That’s a lot of time to devote to your fitness. I also do a 90-minute yoga session between my two training sessions at Fred’s because my battle-scarred carcass demands it. But having those dates in the diary every week – and I have been going to the same gym for almost ten years now – concentrates the mind wonderfully. I never have time to waste.

When I sit down to work in the morning, I don’t have time to dick about with Twitter or Thai porn. I begin. I work. Because I have those hours every week that are devoted to fitness. Missing a session happens, but it is not something that is done casually or lightly. I take the time with my personal trainer seriously.

Because I know they are the reason that I will be around to watch my daughter grow up. When you are training alone, you never push yourself to the point of sickness. Why would you? But that kind of exhaustion is not uncommon when you have a personal trainer. Dying crosses your mind.

Because you are, as I say, pushed infinitely harder by a personal trainer than you would ever push yourself. And sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I have wondered if I was pushing myself too hard. Sometimes I think of big, beautiful Douglas Adams, dead from a heart attack in a California gym aged 49. And I think of Andrew Marr, who suffered a stroke at the age of 53 after an intense session on his rowing machine. Overdoing it can kill you.

“I did the terrible thing of believing what I read in the newspapers,” Marr later said. “Because the newspapers were saying what we must all do is take very intensive exercise, in short bursts, and that’s the way to health. Well, I went onto a rowing machine and gave it everything I had and had a strange feeling afterwards – a blinding headache and flashes of light.”

Andrew Marr awoke the next morning unable to move. He had torn his carotid artery, the artery that pumps blood to the brain, and had a stroke.

Sports cardiologist Dr James O’Keefe of the Mid America Heart Institute told the Daily Telegraph, “Thereis this growing movement toward longer and more intense exercise into middle age, and the body simply doesn’t recover as well. Exercise can cause damage to the heart. Exercise is probably one of the best single things that you can do for your health, but if you overdose you start getting other effects that outweigh those benefits and in extreme doses they even have fatal complications.”

We get it – intense exercise is a fire. It can warm you. And it can burn you alive. But that is exactly what a trainer is for. Did Douglas Adams and Andrew Marr have a trainer by their side? They did not.

A trainer tailors your regime to your fitness level. After I return from a holiday, my trainer and I never work at the same pace as we do when we have been training twice a week for months. The job of the personal trainer is to take you to your limit and also bring you back alive. You know if a man trains or not. Increasingly I believe that you know if a man has a personal trainer or not.

I do sometimes think about what happened to Douglas Adams and Andrew Marr. Far more often I think: but how many men died or had a stroke because they didn’t train?

Twentieth-century men and boys were not serious about their fitness. We smoked on planes. We loaded up on carbs. Salt and sugar coursed through our arteries. We dropped acid at Woodstock, snorted amphetamine sulphate at the Roxy, started with an E in Ibiza and honked coke in the toilets of City watering holes. Don Draper never had a personal trainer.

If you were born in the second half of the 20th century then you treated your fitness with the casual regard of a lottery winner blowing their unearned millions – you dissipated the fitness of youth, you mistreated it, you threw it all away. Easy come, easy gone. Fitness – that natural supple fitness of youth – was something that slowly disappeared when we put away the balls and bats and rugby boots and running spikes of our youth.

Fitness – real fitness for life – is a relatively new thing, certainly a 21st-century thing. Because fitness went mainstream. Or, it would be more accurate to say, aspiring to fitness went mainstream. We are the first heterosexual men in history who are fascinated by the abdominal muscles of other men. That’s not a cultural shift. That’s a revolution.

But fitness is not easy. You see all these silly articles. Perfect Abs While Munching Pizza. Five Minutes To The New You. All garbage. Fitness takes hours every week and it takes year after year. There are no short cuts and you only get back what you put in.

The gym is neutral. But a trainer is on your side.

Oh,I have known the wasted years of trying to do it alone. I have had the ski machine at home, the exercise bike and the elliptical trainer, the weights galore. I even used them. And I have had the gym memberships in those fancy gaffs where they have steam rooms and swimming pools. And I even went on a regular basis. Perhaps they did a tiny little bit of good.

But the reason I am fitter now than I was ten years ago is very simple – Fred, and the countless hours that we have spent throwing a medicine ball at each other, doing press-ups and burpees, punching the speed bag, the heavy bag and each other. The sole reason my exact contemporaries look like tired old men to me is because I have a personal trainer and they don’t.

You can’t turn back time. But if you get a personal trainer and you stick with him for years, then you can certainly make time do an emergency stop.

I don’t do anything at home now. A few yoga ­exercises if I have some aches and pains, a little light stretching if I am feeling stiff. But I gave it all away – the exercise bike, the ski machine, the elliptical trainer. No need. Two good sessions a week with my trainer and I’m done. I don’t need to do anything else to keep my weight at 12 stone – exactly where it was when I was 17.

I read about bad personal trainers – the mirror junkies, the bullies, the bread heads. Personally, I have never seen them. There are a few PTs at the gym I go to and they all look like dedicated professionals to me. I like Fred because we share a love of boxing and the Clash, and we can spar full contact without spite or rancour. When you can be friends with a trainer who regularly tries to knock your lights out, you know you are with the right one.

Your trainer needs to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. Above all he needs to be aware of your injuries. Because if you are going to take your fitness seriously then your body will break.

Over the past 20 years I have cracked ribs, strained my back, torn my hamstring, had plantar fasciitis (pain in the sole of the foot), damaged the cartilage in my left knee, torn internal intercostal muscles (the ones that lift your rib cage when you breathe) and suffered mild concussion after being bopped on the head. Right now I have strained medial ligaments in my dodgy left knee.

But a personal trainer is there for when your body breaks, and the way we are dealing with my knee injury is by strengthening my quad muscles. A personal trainer walks that fine line between machismo and mortality. And if you don’t have a trainer who cares as much about your injuries as he does about your glistening biceps, then you are with the wrong trainer.

You will – if your training relationship means anything at all – spend hundreds of hours in each other’s company. You can’t walk into any gym and find the perfect personal trainer for you any more than you can walk into any bar and find the love of your life. So look around. Choose carefully. And when you get home from the gym you should immediately pack your kit bag for the next time. Because it never ends.

Fitness, we see now, has little to do with genetics, natural athleticism or any of that preordained stuff. Serious fitness is a personal choice, an act of will, and the willingness to put in the hours. It’s hard and it is also simple. But it is never easy.

“If it was easy,” says Fred, “then everyone would do it.”

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