Many people employ personal trainers so that they can exercise in private, but the photographer Edmund Clark persuaded a few to let him watch them work out.
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IN THE Eighties, fitness enthusiasts who were too lazy or shy to go to the gym littered their living rooms with exercise bicycles and Cindy Crawford videos instead. In the Nineties, many of these bikes and videos have been replaced with real live men and women. The National Register of Personal Trainers estimates that at least 20,000 people in Britain work out with a personal trainer, and says that the number of trainers on its books has tripled in the past three years.

"There is the stereotypical view that personal trainers are for the pampered and rich," says the photographer Edmund Clark, who took the pictures on these pages. "I realised it just wasn't the case at all. I felt I could reach a whole slice of British life through their work."

Like all the big fads of the Nineties, personal trainers are best enjoyed in the comfort of one's own home. "I was curious about where these people lived and how different they all were," says Clark. "I liked the idea of the imagery; people getting hot and sweaty next to their Laura Ashley wallpaper or in front of their marble mantelpieces."

The trainers pictured here charge between pounds 20 and pounds 50 an hour. Most see their clients once or twice a week and set up programmes for them to follow on their own. Routines are tailored to individual needs - typically they involve press-ups, aerobics, running, weight-lifting - and they become more gruelling as the client gets fitter.

There are all sorts of reasons for taking on a personal trainer. Tony Sharp is a blind keyboard operator who enlisted a trainer so that he could keep up with his guide dog. "I couldn't afford it every week," he says, "but I've copied my trainer's programme into Braille so I can go through the exercises on my own. I also like running, but it's difficult if you can't see."

Sales manager Jacqueline de Sousa says: "I've got a large house and grounds and it's nice being able to exercise anywhere. In the summer, we'll take the speakers outside and train in the garden." It sounds like fun, but what she's really paying for, she admits, is a check on lethargy. "I'm too lazy to go to classes but [my trainer] Karen always drives me. Sometimes I tell her, `Do you realise how much I dislike you?' She won't stand for any excuses."

Amanda Brandler, who lives in the country, says that sometimes her trainer is the only person she sees for days. "It's a relief when she turns up," she says. "It's mental as well as physical therapy. You do become friends - you talk about mundane problems and confide details you wouldn't tell other friends." Her trainer Sally Wormall agrees. "It's a close relationship and, when it ends, you often miss the clients."

These portraits are strikingly intimate, partly because of the way exercise is integrated into the clutter and informality of everyday life. Cats, dogs and small children are never more than a few feet away from the aerobic activity. In de Sousa's case, neither is her rather disturbing-looking boyfriend, who preferred to pose with a gun (he was trying to shoot some crows that day) than with a set of abdominisers.

"He got intrigued and wouldn't go away," Clark recalls, "so I asked him to be in the picture. It was Jacqueline's idea that he should dress up. He was obviously such a key part of her life and seemed to get on with the trainer as well - I sensed a power struggle there."

Since the photograph was taken, Jacqueline has split up with her boyfriend. Karen, on the other hand, remains an indispensable part of her life.

Far left: Tracey Farmer, 28 (left), housewife, in her hall in Charing, Kent, with her personal trainer, Joanne Roper, 25 Tracey: `I tried a gym but it was like a cattle market. I didn't want to get hassled in the jacuzzi. I had to have a female trainer, though. There's no way James would let another man in the house while he's at work in the City'

Joanne: `I don't think the fitness profession is properly recognised in this country. The attitude is all wrong - we're not brought up to keep fit. Maybe it's the weather. I'm saving up to emigrate to Australia'

Left: Jonathan Feld, 32 (right), a partner in a publishing company, in his sitting room in north London with his personal trainer, former kick-boxing champion Floyd Brown, 35 Jonathan: `It's not about looking big, being virtuous, or indulging my vanity. It's about getting rid of the stress of work, clearing out the dirt that can build up and clog my mind'

Floyd: `We're so uninformed about fitness and diet that even our children are unfit. Now fast food giants are making school food and the Spice Girls promote crisps and sweet drinks. It's such a bad example. It's sad'

Leigh Silcock, 29 (right), computer technician, in his sitting room in Stone, Staffordshire, with his personal trainer, Grant Foster, 35

Leigh: `I needed to train - I'd put on weight after being prescribed steroids. I used to think personal trainers were for upper-class people, not for the bottom end of the scale. But I didn't like the gym I tried. I was inhibited by the slinky women and got fed up queuing for hours while guys with enormous biceps used the equipment'

Grant: `If we looked after our bodies like we do our cars, we'd all be in better shape. If you want your car to last, you service it, fill it with good fuel and give it a regular run'

Jacqueline de Sousa, 31 (left), account manager with a mobile phone company, in her hallway near Bromsgrove in the West Midlands with her personal trainer, Karen Smith, 30. Her partner, Adrian, is in the background Jacqueline: `I wouldn't have felt right bopping about with a male trainer, and Adrian wouldn't have been too keen. Now he encourages me and keeps telling Karen to do something about my arse. I also get to listen to all her problems - in fact, I should be charging her'

Karen: `I hate it when people smirk and make sarcastic comments about dizzy blondes teaching aerobics. They're just ignorant, full of excuses and guilty about being overweight, unhealthy and eating badly'

Amanda Brandler, 38 (right), former theatrical agent, outside her house in Cambridgeshire

with her personal trainer, Sally Wormall, 43, and her

gardener, Mr Bennet Amanda: `I used to be superfit when I lived in London. Stuck out here, I suddenly panicked. I'd just had a child and needed motivation to get back into shape. At our first meeting Sally went straight for the biscuit tin. My kind of trainer, I thought'

Sally: `Convenience and motivation are key for trainers in the countryside. It can be a long way to the gym, so going to your clients is the answer. If I didn't knock on their doors a lot of them wouldn't do any exercise'

Right: Tony Sharp, 45 (right), switchboard operator, in his garage in north London with daughter Sarah, 7, and guide dog Chere, 4, and his personal trainer, Ken Greaves, 30

Tony: `As a guide dog, Chere goes at quite a pace, faster than most people can walk, and sometimes I'd think, "Bugger, I can't keep up". I needed advice and I knew I'd feel a prat in a gym. Personal trainers would be ideal for all blind people'

Ken: `My philosophy is to take fitness to the client. It's better for most people than going to a gym. Try an active lifestyle. Start gradually and build up. It should become habitual'

Trevor Bigg, 51 (left), dentist, outside his home near Burford, Oxfordshire, with his personal trainer, Kate King, 26

Trevor: `I felt very self-conscious at first, doing girly exercises in front of another person. It didn't strike me as a very masculine thing to do, more for the pampered rich or film stars with time and money to spare. There's a social cachet to having a personal trainer and I thought it was frivolous. Then I realised what hard work it is'

Kate: `Personal trainers are still seen as evangelical, puritanical, obsessed and intimidating, with perfect bodies and perfect leotards. But when clients meet us, they realise it's not all pumping iron and Jane Fonda'

Lynn Shaw, 36 (left), resources manager in a financial information company, in her dining room in Cheadle Hulme, with her son Joe, 2, and personal trainer Jill McLaggan, 27

Lynn: `There's a gym at work, but no way could I work out in front of colleagues. It's very male-dominated, so I have to be extra professional. I would feel very compromised, never mind stressed, if they saw me with wet hair in a sweaty leotard'

Jill: `The words "bloody awful" come to mind when I think of the British attitude to fitness. This is the quick-fix culture. I need to know my clients' level of commitment. I'm a personal trainer, not a magician'