How to Choose a Personal TrainerThings to Consider Before Making the Investment
-- By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
Personal trainers can help people reach their health and fitness goals, or they could be big wastes of money. It's tough to know whether or not you need a trainer's expertise. And if you do, it's even more difficult to pick the right one. Many gyms offer personal training services for their members (at additional fees that can be pretty expensive), and their high-pressure salespeople might try to convince you to buy a package. But before you sign on the dotted line, it's important that you're making the right decision with the right person to help you reach your goals.
Personal trainers are not just for the rich and famous. If you lack the motivation to workout on your own, like variety but don't know how to create your own program, or you have very specific training goals, you might benefit from hiring a trainer. If you're still unsure, take our Do You Need a Personal Trainer? quiz.
If you decide that you need a trainer, how do you get started? Here's a guide that takes you through the process.
Where Do I Find a Trainer?
There are a number of different ways to find a trainer. The most common is through your local gym or fitness center. These facilities typically offer personal training packages for an additional cost (on top of membership fees). The gym you belong to may also allow you to bring in an outside trainer (not affiliated with the gym), but this is the exception to the rule as most gyms have exclusivity contracts with the trainers who work at their location. If you don't belong to a fitness center, you still might be able to train at one. Not every gym will require you to be a member to use their personal training services (although the cost might be higher for non-members). Contact the facility to learn more about their policies.
Word-of-mouth is also a good way to find a trainer, since it helps to get feedback from someone who has already used the trainer's services. Just keep in mind that what works for one person doesn't always work for another. For example, your friend might respond well to their trainer's "tough love" approach, but that might not be for you.
You can also find trainers in your local paper, yellow pages or online. Some trainers will come to your home. If you have your own workout equipment, this could be a convenient and timesaving way to use their services. (As a safety precaution, be sure to conduct a thorough background check on any person you might invite into your home for a private session.)
What Should I Look For?
One of the most important things to ask about is a trainer's credentials. Your trainer should have a reputable certification and preferably, a degree in the exercise/fitness field. Here are a few websites of reputable certification bodies that allow you to search for trainers in your area:
- American Council on Exercise (ACE): www.AceFitness.org
- National Strength & Conditioning Association: www.NSCA-Lift.org
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: www.IdeaFit.com
- Other good certifications (without this search tool) include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Aerobics & Fitness Association of America (AFAA).
Your trainer should have a current CPR and First Aid certification as well. Don't be afraid to ask to see a copy of all of their certification cards to make sure they are current.
How Should I Interview a Potential Trainer?
Remember that you are hiring this person to work for you. Treat your first meeting like a job interview. Don't be afraid to ask them questions about their training philosophy, what specific things they will do to help you reach your goals, and how they think they can be of service to you. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What kind of experience and credentials do you have?
- What kind of motivational techniques do you use to help your clients reach their goals?
- Knowing my specific fitness goals, what kind of workout plan will you develop to help me?
- How often will you change my workout routine?
- Do you have current clients I could contact as references?
Also ask about package details such as:
- What kind of packages do you offer? Typically, the fewer sessions you buy, the more each will cost. Also ask about payment options, whether a full payment is expected up front, per session, or as installments over time.
- Can I buy individual sessions? This refers to single sessions of personal training as opposed to a package of several sessions.
- What is your refund policy? Especially if you are hiring a trainer affiliated with your gym, ask about this one. If your trainer is no longer employed there, for example, will you be able to get a refund for the sessions you paid for or will you be forced to continue with another trainer? If you are unhappy with your trainer, can you get your money back?
- Do you offer multiple-client sessions? Group training usually costs less per person. If you can exercise with a few friends, you'll all save money.
- If I buy a package, do I have a certain period of time to use it? Make sure the package won't expire before you have a chance to use all of the sessions you paid for.
- What hours are you available to train me? If your trainer can't commit to a schedule that works for you, then find another trainer who can.
- What kind of fitness assessments do you perform and how often? Fitness assessments like body fat testing, blood pressure screening, and strength, flexibility and endurance tests will help your trainer gauge your starting fitness level and design a safe exercise program. Typically, she should perform these assessments over time and adjust your training program accordingly.
- What is your cancellation policy? Many trainers will require 24-48 hours notice for you to cancel a session without having to pay for it.
Although there are many reputable trainers out there who know what they are doing, there are also those who don't. Here are two common warning signs to look for that will tell you if this trainer is one to avoid.
The first "red flag" is a trainer who tries to sell you supplements of any kind. Many trainers earn commission for the products they sell, which could be a conflict of interest. Unless your goal is to become a professional bodybuilder, you should be able to get all of the nutrients you need from a healthy diet (and perhaps a daily multi-vitamin). The average person does not need protein powders, energy drinks and other supplements to help them succeed. Find a trainer who isn't going to push these kinds of products.
Just because someone is a personal trainer does not mean they are qualified to give advice about your diet. Many will call themselves "nutritionists," but that does not mean they have a degree or any formal training in this area. In fact, the only person legally qualified to give specific diet advice is a Registered Dietitian. If your trainer is creating meal plans for you that are outside of the guidelines of the Food Guide Pyramid, that is illegal. Be careful when getting nutritional advice from a trainer. If you need help with your diet, consult a Registered Dietitian.
In general, hiring a trainer can be a good way to make your workouts more enjoyable, effective and targeted to your specific needs. It's important to do your homework before hiring someone to make sure you get the expertise you're paying for. Then you're more likely to be satisfied with your investment and will be one step closer to reaching your health and fitness goals!
Find a certified personal trainer or fitness professional in your area using this simple search tool, brought to you by SparkPeople and powered by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association.