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A Good Excuse to Stay Home From the Gym

WHEN Laurie Davis wakes up in the morning, she sometimes feels like skipping her workout. But two days a week, hitting the snooze button is not an option: she knows that at 7 a.m., Yvette Rose will ring the buzzer at her Manhattan apartment with hand weights and resistance bands in tow.

“Even when you don’t want to get up and put your workout clothes on, there’s just no excuse,” said Ms. Davis, an account executive at a New York advertising agency.

Many people find that hiring a personal trainer who makes house calls is the only way to ensure they stick to their fitness goals. Although it may sound like a luxury, training at home has grown more affordable since the economy soured because more instructors are willing to strike deals.

There are plusses and minuses to an at-home workout. For the client, training in the living room means giving up commercial-gym amenities — spinning rooms, saunas, the latest elliptical machine — in exchange for privacy, convenience and, most important, an iron-clad appointment.

For the trainer, making house calls means not having to split fees with a gym or invest in a lot of equipment. On the down side, it can mean having to lug heavy weights and operate in spaces that may not be ideal for a vigorous workout.

“Every time you go in, you have to scout around and make sure there isn’t stuff lying around or that the floors aren’t sticky,” Ms. Rose said.

Children and dogs can also be a problem. “I’ve taught yoga classes where the client will be in a plank position, and her son jumps on her back,” she added.

Although the price for at-home training is usually about the same as for meeting a trainer at a gym — in the New York area, it usually costs $75 to $225 an hour — many personal trainers and yoga and Pilates instructors are hungry for work, so it is a buyer’s market.

Liz Neporent, president of Wellness 360, which manages residential gyms in co-ops and condominiums, said that since the downturn she has seen a sharp increase in the number of highly qualified trainers asking to get on Wellness 360’s payroll, which offers steadier work but lower hourly pay than independent contracting.

“It used to be like pulling teeth to get them to come,” she said.

Many private trainers do not want to admit that they will lower their rates, but some clients are quietly passing on the word. Karen Hochman, editorial director of, an online food magazine, said that her Pilates teacher gives her a half-price discount. Without it, she said, she would not be able to afford twice-a-week lessons in her Manhattan apartment.

“I’m grateful the recession has provided me with this opportunity, though I wish I could pay my teacher more,” Ms. Hochman said.

For Andrea Albicocco, meeting a personal trainer at the gym in her condominium in Hoboken, N.J., helped her get in shape for her wedding last fall. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t push myself at the gym,” she said.

Though Mrs. Albicocco had previously worked with trainers at a fitness club, she found the setting too public. “I didn’t like the way people were watching me,” she said. “You feel self-conscious while the trainer is showing you how to do it and pushing you.” At her home gym, she was able to negotiate a rate of $65 an hour — down from $75 — by paying for 25 sessions up front, she said.

Some people are able to afford at-home training by teaming up with a friend to share the cost. “Trainers are realizing that they may not be able to charge their regular fee of $80 an hour for a solo session, but they can charge two people $50 an hour and train them together,” said Neal Pire, a personal trainer from Ridgewood, N.J. “So they are charging less per person, but they are also making more money.”

There are challenges. Safety is an issue, which is why Amber O’Neal, who owns a fitness company in Atlanta called Café Physique, never sends a female trainer to a male client unless his wife is also a client and is home during the session. Ms. O’Neal focuses exclusively on sending trainers to people’s homes — she had owned a workout studio, but the weak economy prompted her to close it — and said she often fields calls from men requesting female instructors.

The more they insist, the more suspicious she becomes. “There are times when you can tell that something is not right,” Ms. O’Neal said. Café Physique also reserves the right to cancel a session at any time, and trainers are told they may abort a session if, for any reason, they feel threatened.

Of course, students and trainees must also be mindful of whom they let into their homes, so Ms. O’Neal also runs background checks for all the trainers she hires.

For those considering individual trainers, Mr. Pire recommends interviewing several candidates and getting referrals from their clients. “Ask them, ‘Did you ever feel uncomfortable having them over?’ ” he said. “They’ll be honest with you. People are surprisingly forthcoming.”

Ms. Neporent says that the trainer should also have liability insurance and certification from a well-known accrediting agency, like the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the Yoga Alliance.

At-home training can undermine an instructor’s authority, some instructors say. Jonathan FitzGordon, a yoga instructor in Brooklyn, said he preferred meeting with clients in a rented studio space than their homes, though it costs him more.

“When you bring me into your home and you’re paying me, I’m more like a servant,” he said. “I don’t play that role when you come to me.”

Ms. O’Neal said that some clients want to watch television while working out. Her personal trainers can usually roll with it, she said, since many of them are high-energy multitaskers themselves. “They’ll say: ‘Oh, you’re watching “The Tyra Banks Show.” O.K., here’s what we did last week,’ ” Ms. O’Neal said.

Of course, the gym has distractions, too. When Mrs. Albicocco was working with a trainer at her local gym, she said that she did not always have his full attention. “I’d be in the middle of a training session, and people would be walking up and talking to him, and I’d think, ‘Hey, I’m paying all this money — talk to me.’ “


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