Gear Guide: Personal Trainer in a Box Strength-Training Cards


By Su Reid-St. John
I’m always up for new strength-training routines. I try to get in three sessions a week in my den, using dumbbells and a stability ball, and I love the opportunity to mix things up a bit. So I was excited when the Personal Trainer in a Box came across my desk.

It’s a really good idea: The box contains 124 exercise cards broken into different muscles groups such as chest, back, and glutes (butt), plus cardio and stretching instructions. You choose how many times per week you want to strength-train, then find the corresponding workout card. (I picked out the “Workout B, 3x per week” card, for example.) The card tells you how many exercises to pick from each muscle group for that day, plus how many reps and sets to do for each exercise. Then you go and pick your favorite moves and put them together on the little metal binder clip they thoughtfully include in the box.

Sounds cool, right?

Well, unfortunately, it gets a little less cool when you actually begin to look at the exercises. Unless you have a weight bench and/or access to a gym (I have neither), there aren’t very many to choose from—and even those are really basic. Take biceps, for example. Day 1 of Workout B tells me to pick two biceps cards. Without a bench or gym machine, there are only two exercises I can do: alternating biceps curls and hammer curls. Boring. And where’s the choice? Every time I do biceps, I’m going to have to do these two same moves?

I have better luck with the back moves: There are three I can do—five if I ignore the instructions telling me to use a barbell and dumbbells instead. But another issue crops up here: Of the five moves, four are for my lower back and only one is for my upper back. So when my Workout B schedule tells me, on day 3, to do two back exercises, do I always have to pick the same upper back one?

Admittedly, I’m looking at this from a home exerciser’s point of view—but it’s a valid one, since these cards are supposedly for gym and home workouts. Now if I did belong to a gym (as I used to before my daughter came along and lovingly ate up my free time), I would find these much more compelling, as I’d have a lot more options. The instructions and form tips are clear and thorough, and could easily serve as a good “Hey, what’s that machine for?” guide for newbie gym rats wanting to expand their horizons.

Home exerciser that I am, though, this personal trainer is going back in the box.

Product: Personal Trainer in a Box

Category: Gear

Pros: Clear instructions, with lots of mix-and-match options for gym-goers.

Cons: There are few options—and pretty boring ones, at that—for at-home exercisers.

Cost: $99 at

Extra tip: Skip the “show me the moves” DVD that comes with the box unless you’re totally stumped regarding what to do. The reps are done too quickly, and the form is a little sloppy in places.