SI Vault
Leigh Montville
November 04, 1996
The Material Mom, His Airness and the author all have one thing in common: personal trainers
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November 04, 1996

Madonna, Michael & Me

The Material Mom, His Airness and the author all have one thing in common: personal trainers

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The workouts, it should be noted, seem to have worked. I ask how much Jordan pays. Grover says that is confidential. I ask how much I would have to pay. Grover smiles and says he probably is "one of the most expensive trainers you're going to find."

"You should work on a percentage basis with your clients," I say. "Don't you think?"


Tom Clear doesn't want the high-priced athlete as a client. He wouldn't mind the rock-and-roll diva, but he doesn't think he will see someone like that, either. He specializes in ordinary folks. The more ordinary the better. This is good. He is my personal trainer.

"Do you know what my biggest satisfaction is?" he says one afternoon at the Cambridge (Mass.) Nautilus gym. "Helping someone relieve pain. Physical pain. Emotional pain. I don't care about some guy who just wants bigger biceps or bigger pecs. I want to help with bigger problems."

He had a woman client who felt pains in her left side all the time. He solved her problem with his opening questionnaire. What did she do for a living? She was a flight attendant. What were her duties as a flight attendant? She served people on the left side of the airplane. The left side. She was turning left all the time, creating an imbalance. He gave her exercises to strengthen her right side. End of imbalance. End of pain. "Things like that," Clear says.

He is 44, a bachelor, and most days he rides one of his three bicycles from client to client. He is a former taekwondo teacher, a former student of modern dance. His training business is booming. He says the personal-trainer industry is like the auto industry at the end of World War II. There is as much work as a man can handle. Most days he works eight hours. On Saturdays he works 12. His clients are mostly middle-aged people, mostly successful in stress-tilled jobs and able to pay the $40 to $60 an hour he charges.

"I like to work with the middle-aged woman who never has had a sports experience in her life, who grew up when that wasn't a part of a woman's life," Clear says. "I like to work with the guy who had a bad experience as a kid with a coach or a gym instructor, who turned away from athletics because of that. I want to get them back to using their bodies, to sweating. I like to take them to a high school track on a nice day, when there's all that activity—dogs barking and kids throwing Frisbees, people running around.

"I had one middle-aged woman. I took her to the track at Newton North High in Newtonville, and she said, 'I never knew all this existed." She runs 10K races now. She's an absolute jock. That's satisfaction to me. Another woman, she said she always had been afraid of gyms because all she saw was "a sea of steel.' Isn't that a threatening picture? She lifts now. I had a guy whose goal was, 'I want to look good.' What was he really telling me? I want to be loved.' I worked on making him look good physically to fulfill his needs emotionally."

The workout is different for each client. How can one set of exercises work for everyone when everyone's body is different? Clear stresses integrated workouts, getting all of the muscles to work together, especially the muscles in the torso. He goes against the buns-of-steel and abdominal isolation workouts and machines. He wants to spit at his television whenever the ab-roller advertisements begin. How can you work the abs but not the neck? This creates an imbalance.

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