The Actual Cost of My Discount Personal Trainer

by Laurie Woolever

I was somewhat overweight for many years, but mostly felt OK about it, and was able to at least maintain a steady size for a long time. My “fitness routine” (eating and drinking whatever I wanted, all the time, and exercising almost never) stopped working for me a few years after I turned 30, but it took a little tough talk from my gynecologist, a microscopic former ballerina with a chilly bedside manner, to get me to do something about it. “You have gained 12 pounds since last year,” she said, her voice dripping with disgust. “You must lose some weight.”

Shame and vanity are powerful motivators. I joined a cheap neighborhood gym (about $250 for a year’s membership) and signed up for a year’s worth of personal training sessions ($60 per session). I couldn’t really afford it, but I put it on a recently-paid-down credit card anyway, reasoning weakly that maybe I’d write a book or screenplay about the experience and make a lot of money. (Because, really, what’s more interesting than a woman in her 30s trying to sensibly lose some weight on the advice of her doctor?)

A week after I signed the personal training contract, I found out I was pregnant and stopped drinking, which caused me to lose weight without even thinking about it (although I thought about drinking, and how much I missed it, all the time). I continued a modified form of personal training for a few months, then got released from the contract with a doctor’s letter and proof that I was moving to a new neighborhood, far away from the gym.

I moved to Queens, had the kid, and thinned out for a while, thanks to the unbelievable calorie furnace that is breastfeeding. I think this is the unspoken reason why some mothers keep at it for so long, but my kid made it clear to me at about 1 year of age that he was done, and would you please stop trying to jam that thing in my mouth, Mary Kay Letourneau?

I hadn’t made any meaningful changes in my pasta-and-sweets-intensive diet, and I didn’t exercise apart from pushing a stroller around, so as soon as the breastfeeding stopped, the weight piled back on. I sent a text to Robert, the trainer I’d worked with at the gym. He lived in Queens, too, and agreed to start making housecalls, for a ridiculously cheap $25 per session, with every eighth session free.

When it comes to services like personal training, I now realize that you get what you pay for. Further, if you’re charging rock-bottom prices for your services, you tend to deliver on that value. At least, this was the case with Robert, who had been blandly professional as a gym employee making $60 per 45-minute session, but as a private trainer making $25 for 60 minutes, would always show up a few minutes late and, using my apparent fatigue as an excuse, end a few minutes early. He used a bizarre, demoralizing method of “you can’t do it” motivation, and had a super-intense, long-lingering personal scent that he made no effort to mitigate. He didn’t incorporate cardio into our sessions. He’d say things like, “I mean, everyone can believe in whatever god they want, as long as they accept Christ as their personal savior.” He was an active member of several men’s rights forums, and shared his predictably gross opinions about feminists, lesbians, Hillary Clinton, Jillian Michaels and Jackie Warner.

I was willing to put up with this less-than-ideal situation for about a year because being trained at home enabled my inherent laziness, and while I wasn’t necessarily losing weight, I wasn’t gaining any, either, and I was getting stronger, and Robert taught me a few basic boxing punches and blocks, which was fun. He never charged me for my last-minute cancellations, of which there were many, because I’d be trying to make a deadline or my kid would be sick or I just couldn’t bear to have/smell him in my home on a particular day.

But while the cost per training session was quite low, I was paying Robert $175 a month, over twice the cost of a family membership at the YMCA. And I still wasn’t really satisfied with my weight and the way clothes looked on me. To paraphrase Liz Phair, I did it, I was still unhappy, I knew that the problem was me.

Fortunately, private personal training wasn’t really working for Robert, either, so he got a full-time job in a warehouse. I enrolled the whole family at the Y for $85 per month, and joined Weight Watchers online for about $20 a month. I lost some weight and bought some new clothes. After a year and a half my routines were cemented to the point that I didn’t need to keep paying Weight Watchers to tell me that a slice of bread has 2 points, etc., so I cancelled my membership and have been able to maintain on my own.

Soon it will be January, resolution time. Here’s my free advice: eat less and exercise more. Avoid sugar. Drink a lot of water. Get a lot of sleep. You’re welcome.

Laurie Woolever is a writer, editor and part-time assistant. She lives and works in New York.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.