I’m not sure how I became the kind of person who has a personal trainer. I am not an exercise fanatic. I am not a celebrity A-lister who needs to get in shape for a film role. I do not have millions of pounds at my disposal. My idea of luxury is measuring out a cap of Radox Muscle Soak when I run a bath. So, really: who do I think I am?
I had a fairly relaxed attitude to exercise throughout my early 20s (and by ‘relaxed’ I mean ‘doing none whatsoever’). As I grew older, I worried more. I bought a bicycle at about the same time as I started paying into a pension plan, because I thought I should do something to stave off impecunious, disease-addled old age.
Then, aged 31 and engaged, I found myself succumbing to the absurd bridal-industry pressure to lose weight. I joined a gym and signed up for some classes. My favourite instructor was a woman called Delle. She was always smiley and good-natured, and made me feel better about myself.
I got married. The gym closed and Delle set herself up as a personal trainer. I didn’t want to stop seeing her, so I became one of her first clients. You could say that I got a PT simply because I was paying Delle to carry on being my friend. Luckily, it has worked out well.
I now see her for an hour each Tuesday morning, when she takes me through a full-body workout incorporating a range of cardio and toning. We do a lot of boxing, which I love, and a fair amount of abdominal crunches, which I loathe. It all evens out in the end.
Every week, Delle will arrive with a slightly different plan, which means I never get bored. She is incredibly good at listening and has an intuitive way of assessing what I need. For instance, I once mentioned that I had never been able to get toned abs. Delle nodded quietly. The next week, she had devised a whole new section of crunches and side-planks to tackle my problem area.
She is also brilliant at motivating me to work harder and can tell when I’m slacking. Although not an aggressive, bootcamp-type shouter, Delle will raise her voice and say: ‘Come on, Elizabeth! Faster!’ So I’ll redouble my efforts and achieve more than I originally thought possible. Compliments are never easy to earn, but I know she means them when she gives them.
But, for me, it’s not just about the exercise. Yes, I’ve got fitter – and that has come with its own sense of satisfaction. I have a new-found respect for my body and for what it can do. On the days that I see Delle, I always leave pumped full of energy. And yet, my sessions are so much more than that.
The relationship with a PT is peculiar in its combination of intimacy and professionalism. Delle and I talk about what’s going on in our lives, and, because I’m physically engaged in the completion of a task, I am more honest than I might otherwise be. For some reason, it is easier to talk about tricky emotional baggage when you are sweating through your 20th burpee.
The exercise takes your mind off what you have been obsessing over, so you are able to think a bit more clearly and work through your problems. As with a doctor, there is an unspoken sense of client confidentiality. Delle doesn’t know my friends or family, so it is safe to talk openly.
In the time that I have been training with her, Delle has seen me through some of the most important events of my life: marriage and divorce, infertility issues and a miscarriage, job changes and house moves. At my lowest points I’ve cried, and she has always given me hugs and advice. There is a closeness that comes from someone who gets to know your strengths and weaknesses.
Delle has made me physically and mentally stronger. I have found that even when something seems like an insurmountable challenge, often you can draw on resources you never knew existed. I have a more positive mindset and my default now is to believe that I can do things, rather than to imagine that I can’t.
I am not alone. In fact, the market for PTs has risen by 50 per cent in the UK since 2005, and there are now more than 22,000 registered trainers across the country.
In many ways, this reflects a broader change in our daily lives: there is a growing trend for a pick-and-choose freelance economy, where people like to be flexible in terms of their commitments. They don’t want the anonymity of a gym or the rigid timetable of weekly classes. A PT enables them to work out on their own terms, when and where they can fit it in.
There is also the rise of apps such as TruBe, effectively an Uber for PTs, where you can book in for a last-minute workout at a location of your choice. All of this means personal training is no longer a luxury reserved for Hollywood starlets and Russian oligarchs – it has been democratised.
Today, the industry is worth nearly £548 million in the UK alone. It is not cheap. I pay Delle £50 per session – and I am pretty sure she gives me mates’ rates. But I see it as a long-term investment in my physical and mental health. I get more out of one hour with Delle a week than I would from three gym sessions, where I’d never really push myself.
I don’t know what I would do without her now. I like to think it hasn’t all been one way. I have also seen Delle through her fair share of ups and downs. She’s spoken to me about affairs of the heart and personal difficulties. She is also hilariously honest about the odd occasion when, despite her innate fitness, she goes out and gets drunk with her friends.
I love that about Delle: her attitude is never smug or superior. She is open about her own weaknesses and she has a balanced, sensible approach to fitness that is never fanatical, always attainable. A little over a year ago, Delle told me she had started a new relationship.
His name was Dickie and he had been a friend for a long time. Her eyes lit up when she talked about him. I met him quite early on when, after one of our sessions, he was patiently waiting to give her a bunch of flowers.
Each week, amid the squats and tricep dips, I would hear updates of how their romance was progressing. And when they got married last July, Delle asked me to officiate at their wedding. It was a beautiful day. After everything she has done for me, it was a small thing I could do in return.