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How To Choose a Personal Trainer

Why use a personal trainer?

Hiring a personal trainer can be a great way to help you reach your goals in the safest and most effective manner.  

A personal trainer can design an exercise program specific for you based on your goals, abilities, schedule, and timeline, in order for you to use your time most effectively.  

A personal trainer is a great source of information, and can provide ongoing motivation and encouragement.  

Where to Start?

The best way to start is by asking friends, family, and coworkers if they have had experience working with a personal trainer, and if so, their thoughts on their experience.  

Personal trainers can also be found in your local fitness facility, the yellow pages, or by doing online local searches.  Certain certifying agencies list their personal trainers on their websites, and these links are listed below.  

Once you have located several personal trainers that you are considering hiring, take your time to interview each of them and find one that best fits your personality and needs.  

The following is a list of criteria you should use to assess how to choose a personal trainer:

1. Education

Does the personal trainer have a degree in a health or fitness related field such as kinesiology, exercise physiology, physical therapy, athletic therapy, physical education, chiropractic, sports medicine, etc.?
Personal trainers with an educational background in one of the above-mentioned fields will have a better understanding of the way the different systems within the body work together, and how exercise affects each of these systems.  A personal trainer with a degree in kinesiology is referred to as a kinesiologist, identifying this person as a highly advanced and educated exercise specialist.  

Getting a university education in health sciences demonstrates how serious a trainer is about his profession.  People that are truly interested in the field and want to learn as much as possible will want to educate themselves to this level.

If the trainer recommends a nutritional program, do they have any nutritional education?  If a trainer is giving you in-depth nutritional advice, then they should be specifically educated and certified to do so.  Not all personal trainers may have the required background to give proper nutritional advice, since personal training certifications and education usually only cover nutrition basics.  If you require very specific nutritional advice beyond the basics, a good trainer should refer you to a colleague who will have more experience in that area.

2. Certifications

Is the personal trainer currently certified by a nationally or internationally recognized organization such as the NSCA, ACSM, or ACE (websites below)?  By working with a personal trainer who is certified through one of these top associations, you ensure that you are working with someone who has demonstrated a minimum level of competency in the field.  

Experience alone is not enough to assure you will get the best advice and service.  A veteran exerciser could never pass a credible certification exam unless they have the educational background to go with their years of experience.  A little bit of knowledge regurgitated irresponsibly can do a lot of harm.  Do not let any potential trainer minimize the importance of certifications and the quality of the certifying association.  

What was required in the certification process? What continuing education is required to renew the certification?  These questions may be difficult to get answers to, so by choosing a personal trainer who is affiliated and certified through a nationally or internationally recognized association such as NSCA, ACSM, or ACE, you are assured that these questions are not issues.

3. Experience and References

How long as this person been working as a personal trainer?  What types of clients do they generally work with?  Do they have specialized training to deal with your needs, if necessary?

Can the trainer provide a list of client references?  A trainer does not need to give you a complete list of their clients, but by offering you access to speak to one or more of their clients, particularly ones with similar backgrounds and goals to yours, this gives you an opportunity to speak to someone who has worked with this trainer who can give you great insight into whether they may be a good match for you.  

4. Liability Insurance

Does the trainer have liability insurance? You wouldn't drive without car insurance, and you should not use a personal trainer who does not have liability insurance.  Personal trainer liability insurance is inexpensive, so if a personal trainer does not have it, there is probably a reason (lack of seriousness about their profession, lack of qualifying credentials, past lawsuit, etc).  

5. Fees

What does the personal trainer charge? Do not choose a personal trainer strictly based on their fee.  The least expensive trainer is not necessarily the best value, and the most expensive trainer is not necessarily the best either.  If cost is an issue, then certainly you need to address this, but you may not be getting a qualified, educated personal trainer if you go with the cheapest one, since price dropping is usually a technique used by trainers lacking the proper credentials or clientele.  

Are there package prices? Not all personal trainers offer these, and if they do not, this should not discourage you from hiring that trainer if you like what you see.  If they are a good trainer and help you realize your goals, then the price should not be an issue.  

You can typically expect to pay between $30 and $150 an hour depending on where you live, but personal training fees will also generally depend on the length of the sessions, location, the trainer's availability, and trainer's experience.  

6. Personality

Would you prefer a male or female trainer? This will be an important deciding factor if it matters to you.  

After your initial consultation or your first session you should begin to get an idea of whether your personality will match with this trainer.  If you feel this trainer is not a match, then find another.  All the education and certifications in the world cannot make that trainer the best match for you if you have personality differences.  

You trainer needs to "be on the same wave length" as you.  The trainer needs to communicate well, listen well, push you when you need it but know when to back off when appropriate, motivate you, and be sensitive to your needs.  All these factors are just as important as a trainer's educational background.