DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - You’ve made up your mind that, come fall, you’re going to get in shape. You’ll watch your diet, lose weight, tone up your muscles, get more active and join a gym.But what happens when the gym you choose isn’t what you need? What would you do if you injured yourself? That would sort of defeat the purpose.

Those are questions that some well-intentioned people have had to face. Certified personal trainer Amanda Cosentino has advice for those about to begin an exercise program.

“Set both short- and long-term goals for yourself, and write them down,” she suggests. “When it is in writing, a person is likelier to stick to his or her goals. Also, think about how many times you can realistically get to the gym. If you can only work out twice a week but can commit to those days, you will be successful long term. When you force yourself to go to the gym every day, you risk not only an overuse injury but also a burnout. If you are unsure of how to begin an exercise program, talk to a personal trainer for advice.”

Alternative exercise programs are available depending on your needs. Lindsay Lopez, a professional Pilates instructor, notes that the system created by Joe Pilates to treat injured soldiers during World War I is known for its rehabilitation abilities. There is a variety of gear, including a piece of equipment called the Cadillac.

“Pilates makes you strong and lean while balancing your body, increasing your flexibility and improving your posture,” she says. “The Pilates method and equipment are perfect for all kinds of bodies. It’s a great workout for the very fit and perfect for the out-of-shape and injured client.”

Before joining a new facility, take a tour, ask questions of the managers and learn how to fit the equipment to your size. Ask whether there is a trial or a short-term option available to test it out. Many fitness centers will let you test-drive their services before asking you to make a full commitment.

Also ask about the staff. Are they certified, and how much supervision and guidance are provided?

Frank Nunez, co-owner of The Fitness Lair and a fitness professional for more than two decades, advises listening to the pitch to see what is emphasized. Pay close attention, he says.

“I always tell people that the best places will always focus on your results and not the process of working out,” he says. “Stay away from places that highlight their equipment and locker rooms and TVs at the expense of helping you focus on the goals you both want and the ones you need.”

Getting a feel for the equipment and how it fits you is important. Cosentino notes that people who are taller or shorter than average might not to be able to adjust a machine correctly. Instead, they could use free weights.

“If you cannot fit comfortably into a machine, do not use it,” she instructs. “Instead, pick an alternative way of doing that particular exercise. Most new machines adjust to fit most people.”

She advises that cable towers can be adjusted in height and resistance, and that people can use them whether standing, seated on a bench or placed on a stability ball.

She reminds gym users to speak to the owner if they are not comfortable with the equipment on hand.

“If enough clients suggest the need for a new or different piece of equipment, the owner will usually get it into the facility,” she says.

Be sure to attend orientation sessions at the gym of your choice and follow directions. Orientation sessions often are done in group settings and answer questions people may have about beginning a weight training program. Working with a personal trainer will help customize your workout for your needs and abilities. A personal trainer considers past injuries, fitness level, goals, strength and availability to do the work needed to reach your potential.

Article copyright 2011

©Los Angeles Downtown News 2011