We Tried It: Getting an In-Home Personal Trainer Like a Celebrity, Using the Internet. So Do I Look Like a Supermodel Yet?

What it is: Trying an at-home trainer like a celebrity, with a little help from the Internet (in this case, Thumbtack)

Who tried it: Alex Apatoff, Lifestyle Director

Level of difficulty: Depends on how much effort I was putting in, but since it required me to wake up at 5:45, I’d say at a baseline, a 3 out of 10.

Here’s the thing about exercise: I hate it. I know how to do it. I am aware that it is important to counteract the hours and hours I spend hunched over my phone. But when it comes to actually setting an alarm, lacing up sneakers and hitting the gym, I would rather do pretty much anything else.

And I have no excuse! There’s a gym in the basement of my apartment building, my child (mercifully) sleeps until 8:00 a.m. and I’ve long been cleared to work out on my broken wrist. So the last barrier between me and looking like a Victoria’s Secret Angel is … someone to come to my house to force me to do it. It works for celebrities, who have trainers to pop by whenever it’s convenient, even traveling with them to ensure they don’t skip a day.

Since I’m a celebrity in my own mind, I decided to try finding a trainer using a pro-matching tool. Since I rely on Zocdoc to find me dentists and TaskRabbit to put my Ikea furniture together, why not use Thumbtack (which matches you to pros in all service fields, from event planners to contractors) to find me a personal trainer to show up at my home and force me to do tricep dips?

Well, my first attempt illustrated “why not” pretty vividly. I felt a little overwhelmed by navigating the number of people, particularly once I’d declared interest and found my inbox flooded with “pitches.” Many of the trainers reaching out to me suggested we take our conversation outside of Thumbtack, which made me anxious; I wanted to be within the app’s confines so I had recourse in case something went wrong. And when I finally picked someone who had good reviews, I found the experience seriously underwhelming; I felt I was paying someone $80/week to read to me from Shape magazine, and she didn’t have the rigor I’d expect from a professional. Still better than if it were up to me alone, but not the Kate Upton-level experience I was hoping for.

However, I decided to give it one more shot – raising my budget in hopes of getting someone a bit more experienced, and reaching out to Thumbtack for their tips on finding the right fit for something so individualized. And I was happy I did! Henry, my new trainer, was extremely professional – he came prepared every week, was realistic about my abilities but still pushed me to try harder, and made getting downstairs at the crack of dawn something I almost looked forward to. Though his prices were higher, they were very comparable to gyms in my area, with the priceless bonus of not having to put a coat on to get to my workout. By the end of our time together, I’d lost a few pounds and more importantly, felt stronger and compelled to keep the health kick going.

The Verdict: So what did I learn? First, that you have to remember that you’re the client. It can feel very personal because the trainers are making a trip to you and are in your home, but as long as you’re paying, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what you want. I felt much more confident being very clear with Henry about what I was looking to get out of our time together after talking to Thumbtack. (As they said, “A good, open line of communication will ensure you are on the same page. Don’t be vague in what you are looking for, stay specific in your desires and track progress throughout the process to ensure you’re hitting your timeline; if you aren’t, adjust accordingly!”)

Second, that you may have to increase your budget a bit depending on what level of background you’re looking for. Thumbtack says average prices range from $60/session in Seattle, Chicago and L.A. to $80/session in N.Y.C and San Francisco. In my case, Henry was above the $100 mark. But I felt much more like I was getting my money’s worth than I did for a lower price point but “greener” trainer.

And finally, as with anything in this brave new world of bringing service professionals, from makeup artists to massage therapists, into your home, if you get a weird feeling about something, let the pros step in. If I’d reached out to Customer Service sooner, I would have had a much better initial experience and understood the process sooner, and fast-forwarded to the positive experience I eventually had.

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