Want to make super-fast gains in your fitness program? Consider hiring a personal trainer. The right one can educate, cheer-lead, challenge and motivate you toward rapid progress. And if you choose a dud—well, let’s just say you can waste a lot of money in no time.
In my gym adventures over the past 30 years, I’ve seen a lot of trainers, and I’d categorize many of them as duds. They’re doing the same trendy and often pointless exercises with everyone they train. They’re not really pushing their clients. They’re merely going through the motions.
So how can you increase the odds of hiring an effective trainer? These six strategies can help:
1. Make sure she has a worthwhile certification. Having a certification doesn’t guarantee your trainer is good, but it’s a place to start. At minimum, a fitness professional with a current certification ought to be familiar with the latest in exercise science and should be able to train you safely. Keep in mind that some credentialing organizations offer certification to people who have taken a weekend course. Others—including those listed below—are a lot more picky.
These four organizations provide the most rigorous training, in my opinion, and all of their certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
–The American College of Sports Medicine offers a CPT (certified personal trainer) credential—the gold standard for well-rounded personal trainers—and numerous advanced certifications.
–The National Strength and Conditioning Association is the premier organization for trainers who want special expertise in resistance training. Top credential is the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist; the organization also offers a CPT.
–The American Council on Exercise certifies CPTs, health coaches and group fitness instructors.
–The National Academy of Sports Medicine certifies CPTs and offers various specialist credentials.
2. Hire the right kind of experience. Yes, you want someone with a few clients under her belt—but it’s also important to choose a trainer with experience in the areas where you most need help. In your initial interview, ask questions about her areas of expertise to make sure they match your needs. For example, if you’re training for a better triathlon time, you probably don’t want someone whose focus is powerlifting. And if you’re 60-something and have high blood pressure, you want to know that your trainer has worked with older clients.
3. Get a trainer who cares about your goals. During your first conversation, a superior trainer takes the time to learn about you and what you want. She doesn’t make judgments based on your age or appearance. Are you interested in losing 20 pounds, being able to squat twice your body weight, running a marathon, increasing your bone density, eliminating back pain or becoming more flexible? The right trainer helps you get where you want to go.
Depressing true story: Two friends of mine joined a gym a few years ago to lose weight and improve their strength. During their initial meeting with the owner—before they’d even had a chance to discuss their goals—he looked them over and commented to one of his trainers, “They’re interested in mobility.” In other words, because they were in their 50s, he assumed they couldn’t possibly have aspirations beyond being able to get out of a chair. Complete fail!
4. Schedule a “trial marriage.” If you get positive signals from a trainer during the initial consultation, ask to book one or two sessions before you commit to a package. Those sessions may cost more per hour, but a “trial marriage” could help you avoid making a long-term commitment that’s bound to fail. During the initial sessions, assess whether the trainer does a good job of
–demonstrating the safe performance of all exercises
–explaining why she’s programmed specific moves (e.g., to improve strength, cardio endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility and/or balance) and
If she does—and you enjoy working with her—you may have a winner.
5. Insist on the trainer’s full attention. A girlfriend of mine tells me that her trainer often talks on the phone during their sessions, chats with employees or other customers, and frequently checks his watch. That’s not only rude—it’s also dangerous. When your trainer is on the clock, you deserve her full attention. If you don’t get it, fire her.
6. Make sure you’re protected. An intelligent trainer will inquire about your medical history to make sure she knows about any health issues you have and to ensure that you’re fit to undergo strenuous exercise. Along those lines, you may be asked to fill out a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire, or PAR-Q. Answer fully so your trainer has all the details she needs to take good care of you.
If you answer yes to one or more questions (e.g., “Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?”), your trainer should require medical clearance before working with you.
Finally, good independent trainers carry liability insurance to protect themselves and you. Make sure anyone you hire is covered.
Finding a trainer
Personal recommendations are the best way to start looking for a fitness professional. But if no one you know can recommend a good one, check the listings on the IDEA Health & Fitness Association website. Each trainer profile indicates whether the pro is certified and whether the certification is accredited by the NCCA.
What kind of experience—good or bad—have you had with personal trainers? Let me know in the comment box below.