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The Exercist

One man’s quest to chase his workout demons



SMART TRAINER: The Exercist takes instructions from his personal trainer—uhh, computer—at Koko FitClub.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against exercise. After a good workout, I feel great. I’m more productive at work. I can summon deep reserves of patience with my kids. I look people in the eye. 

Despite knowing all of this—that regular exercise could quite possibly hold the key to my happiness and success—I regularly expend valuable energy avoiding it. I will even choose work over working out. And I hate work. 

So when the editor of this fine publication suggested I work with a personal trainer, I was intrigued. Could a meeting on my calendar with another human being overcome my aversion to exertion? 

To test this theory, I signed up for four sessions at PTP on Danbury Road. PTP’s tagline is “It’s Personal,” and after a few sessions, I was beginning to believe it. I had two different trainers during my time there, and each warmed me up briefly with some elliptical, and got right into the workout. The philosophy PTP embraces is functional, total body workouts. That means moving briskly from set to set, working all muscle groups with light weights in high repetition. And squats. Tons of squats. Squats with one leg. Squats with my hands on my hips. Squats with a heavy, yellow ball in my arms.  

The first sets of each exercise were so easy I thought I would breeze through the workout. But the cumulative effect of the sets left me winded, muscles burning, glancing at the clock. Each workout involves a little bit of everything, including TRX, kettle bells, and, yes, squats. 

But it’s really the personal part of personal training that holds the key to its success. Once you meet your trainer, you form a bond. You don’t want to disappoint him. So you show up, and you work hard. Plus, you’re paying for the time, so you want a return on the investment. “It’s a relationship,” says Chris Carlson, who founded the franchise. “Like all relationships, it’s about trust and communication.” 

Just up the road is an entirely new kind of personal-training service called Koko FitClub. Koko is a unique exercise experience that combines physiology with technology. It’s like exercise in the future. The facility is clean and modern and stark: just a handful of ellipticals, treadmills, and brand-new SmartTrainers, which are like universal trainers with a computer.

Members walk around plugging their Koko Keys—a thumb drive on a lanyard—into the machines to record every statistic of every workout. The workout begins by taking your fitness reading on a souped-up scale that measures your body mass index (BMI) and records other vital stats. You then move on to a brief (15 to 20 minutes) cardio warm up, during which you listen to an MP3 recording of a Koko trainer from Boston, imploring you to work hard and eat right— “Sahlt and sugah ah wicked bad for ya.”

The real meat of the Koko workout happens on the SmartTrainers. The touchscreen swivels around the machine, always in your view, directing your every move—“attach the curl bar, set the weight to 25 pounds.” And the workout itself is not unlike a video game, where you’re strongly encouraged to maintain the proper pace in exchange for earning Koko Points. Perfect workouts—those earning 1,000 Koko Points—are highly prized.

Koko is for the true exercise quant, and the program capitalizes on the growing trend around measuring and analyzing data, like the Nike+ FuelBand program. Each membership comes with a customized web page, full of charts and graphs, tracking your progress toward specific health goals. And to offer total flexibility in terms of when you want to work out, the owner will give you a key to use the facility after hours. 

PTP will run you between $70 and $90 per session, depending on how many sessions you do. Koko costs around $100 a month, after the $149 enrollment fee. Each facility offers a distinct path to personal training. I found that the workouts at PTP were harder, and harder to blow off. And though the accountability at Koko was only to myself, the goals and incentives kept me coming back.

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