Fitness house calls: Personal trainers are hitting the road

  • Jya Plavin is a personal trainer who specializes in training around pregnancy. Contributed Photo

  • Alex Wenger, a Functional Strength Coach who will come to your home, sits by his car with some of the items he travels with. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kettlebells are among the exercise equipment used by Alex Wenger, a functional strength coach who makes house calls. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alex Wenger, a functional strength coach who will come to your home, with some of the exercise equipment he travels with. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2020 6:23:10 PM
Modified: 1/19/2020 6:22:11 PM

Getting in shape is a common New Year’s resolution, and for many people that involves going to the gym. However, some people in the Valley choose to have their workouts come to them, in the form of traveling personal trainers.

One of these people is Shana Anolik, a 35-year-old Amherst resident who tried working out on her own and with a trainer in a gym setting. Neither one worked. Working out by herself was often a lonely experience, and working with a personal trainer sometimes led to injuries because she was advised to do exercises that were too difficult.

That hasn’t been her experience with Jya Plavin, a personal trainer who mostly trains clients in their homes and caters exclusively to clients who are pregnant, were pregnant or are seeking to become pregnant.

“She’s a very special and unique trainer,” Anolik said. “I think that she can really help a lot of women.”

Another Valley resident using in-home personal training is Lee Fahey, 73, of Northampton. Fahey recently moved to the city to be closer to family. Before the move, she took a trip to Slovenia and Venice that involved a lot of hiking and steps, and she returned with hip problems. Her doctor recommended that she work with Alex Wenger, an in-home personal strength trainer.

“It’s been a great match,” Fahey said. “I’m improving tremendously.”

Wenger, 35, and Plavin, 37, are friends whose young children are friends. Although they share a number of similarities in their approaches to their work, they also occupy distinctive niches with their businesses.

Wenger lives in Easthampton with his wife and son. He’s been a certified personal trainer for a little over a year, and has past experience as a strength coach. Wenger’s journey toward becoming a personal trainer began when he became a father.

“Being with a little kid you have to take better care of yourself,” Wenger said. “You don’t know where your child ends and you begin.”

Before fatherhood, Wenger was a powerlifter. However, as a stay-at-home dad, he felt that he couldn’t risk getting injured in the sport. As such, he looked for another way to keep getting stronger.

That’s when he discovered functional strength training.

“Instead of using heavier weights, you use different positions,” Wenger said.

The small amount of equipment required for this approach made Wenger realize that he could fit everything into the trunk of his car.

Wenger said that gyms are not accessible to a number of people, noting both the steps needed to sign up for strength training at a gym and that some people don’t like exercising in front of others.

“The whole gym environment is really not conducive to a lot of people,” he said.

Plavin’s journey to in-home personal training is also connected to becoming a parent. A health educator who lives in Leverett with her husband and son, Plavin said that she saw a lot of bad information geared at women about caring for their bodies during and post-pregnancy.

“To me, I felt like I was responding to a health disparity,” she said.

Plavin said that she doesn’t like the concept of “bouncing back” from pregnancy, and she noted that even if someone looks the same post-pregnancy, there are still internal changes that remain, citing the softening of joints and ligaments.

Plavin launched her business last summer, and currently trains a handful of clients. She also is a part-time public health teacher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She said that almost every person she knows who has given birth says that they feel “weak, fragile and broken” since having a kid.

“They feel like they don’t know what to do,” she said.

Plavin describes what she does as “part work and part activism.” She said that she’s stronger now than she was before she became pregnant, and has a closer connection to her body.

“It fully changes the way you show up in the world,” she said.

Anolik said that when working with Plavin, “we started working very, very micro.”

She also said that Plavin helped her to identify areas of weakness and instability in her body. And she said that the training has helped lessen her sciatic pain.

“I’m definitely getting stronger,” she said. “But in the right ways.”

Anolik had a child three years ago, and is looking to have a second child. Should she get pregnant, she plans on training with Plavin during and after the pregnancy.

“I want to work with her for the whole journey,” she said. “She gets it, she really does.”

Anolik also said she feels comfortable with Plavin being in her home, and that they work out in a space with children’s toys and clothes in it.

“You just need enough room for some yoga mats,” she said.

In their own homes

Wenger said that there are a number of reasons why people choose to work out with an in-home trainer, and he cited injury prevention, overcoming a negative self-image and accountability.

“When they know I’m coming to their home, I’m coming to their home,” he said. “I know where they live literally.”

Fahey said that she finds it, “very convenient to work out,” where she lives.

“You’re more focused in your own house,” she said.

She said that the workouts are very focused, and that she and Wenger keep saying that they should get coffee sometime so they can chat.

“I look forward to our sessions,” she said. “I always feel better afterwards.”

Wenger sees eight to 12 clients a week, and their locations range from Easthampton to Northampton, Greenfield and Conway. He charges a sliding scale, depending on location and frequency, ranging from $65 to $85 a session.

His business also allows him to set his own hours.

“I work from 5 in the morning until noon,” he said. “And then I can usually get my son at school.”

As for the types of people who use his services, Wenger said his clients range from grandparents to triathletes.

Plavin said that it makes sense to train people in their homes for the work that she does, although she advertises it as settings that fit your life.

“I have worked with people where their baby was laying on the blanket right next to us,” she said. “We’ve entertained the baby while we’ve worked together.”

Plavin said that a lot of what she works on with her clients involves breathing and posture. And she also noted the importance of relaxing the pelvic floor.

Plavin takes on only a handful of clients at a time. She charges her clients $60 to $80 a session, depending on travel. For longer sessions, where people don’t want to do regular sessions, she charges $100 to $125 a session.

Wenger first began lifting weights when he was 16 years old, and he said he started because he was a chubby Jewish kid when he was younger.

“I didn’t want to be made fun of anymore,” he said, also noting that he had wanted to feel strong.

Wenger said that he emphathizes with people who decide they want to put themselves out there and get stronger.

“When you can help someone feel good about themselves, that’s an incredibly powerful moment,” he said. “And that’s why I do it. Number one.”

Since she began working out with Wenger, Fahey said that the pain from the arthritis in her hips has improved, and she feels stronger and has better posture. She also said that she wants to continue working with Wenger going forward, and she intends to stay active and keep traveling as she ages, noting that her son and his family live in California and she’s promised to travel to Paris with her daughter.

“I’d rather do this than buy clothes,” she said.

Wenger said he has been getting a lot of interest from other personal trainers, and that he is developing a curriculum to teach other personal trainers to run traveling personal training businesses based on his model.

“A lot of the trainers that train at gyms, they want to be able to have their own small business,” he said.

He is currently doing signups, and plans to launch it in the next few months.

While Plavin does enjoying teaching at the college level, she also said that she’s prepared to dedicate herself to training others full time.

“Clearly I care about it,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@

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