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How to Choose a Personal Trainer

Things 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: Sites like these are helpful because they also give information about the trainer's qualifications, which are important when making a decision about who to hire.

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: This first meeting should be free, and if it's not, find a different trainer who will answer these questions before you have to commit to buying anything. There are lots of trainers out there with a variety of personalities and styles, so don't be afraid to interview a few before you decide which one is the best match for you.

Also ask about package details such as: What Should I Avoid?
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.