Fitness Articles

How to Choose a Personal Trainer

Things to Consider Before Making the Investment

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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:
  • 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?
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 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.
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!

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Member Comments

  • MARIANAKOT
    I feel like when people hear "personal trainer" they imagine a buffed up, 6'4" guy in his twenties who will will make them do super heavy squats and eat a horse-load of protein powder. I might've been close to truth back in 80's but now with more studies, competitive fitness market and growing number of baby-boomers who want to lead a healthy life style things have drastically changed. Of course those huge body-builders trainers did not disappear but a new type of a Personal Trainer has appeared on the market. I am talking about really knowledgeable people with a degree in Kinesiology (science about body movement), Nutrition or Biology or people with a lot of experience who became personal trainers because of their own successful fitness story. I know it because I work a Fitness Director in one of the fitness facilities where trainers work with clients with serious conditions and health issues. Do you know that besides losing weight and toning up, a knowledgeable trainer can help his/her clients manage diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, relieve a back/neck pain and recover from an injury like broken ankle, displaced hip or pulled/torn ligament? They can even work in a heart attack/stroke recovery center. Of course, they must undergo special type of training to be able to do all those things. How can you find those trainers? Ask you doctor, surgeon or physical therapist. Very often those trainers work closely with medical professionals.
  • INHOMEFITNESS
    I'm a personal trainer and I specialize in women who are 50 and over and unfortunately for most women post menopause looking for a personal trainer is going to end in a nightmare.
    You'd get so much more benefit from a good one then trying to do it yourself but finding a good one. Wow what a journey it is going to be. And good does not mean, certification from this agency or that one. http://www.ladies
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  • Every now and then I think about getting a personal trainer, and then common sense kicks in. I have back problems, and the last thing I need is a trainer who is part Marine drill instructor and part Torquemada. I wonder how many personal trainers can relate to someone who not 20 years old, doesn't wear a size 2 and has health problems. I want to get in shape, not end up in the hospital and months of physical therapy.
  • EOAKLEY5
    I find that personal trainers often push people to achieve what they couldn't/wouldn't on their own. For instance, many people will put down the bar or weight when they get too tired. Thus, never really pushing into that maximum benefit range. A trainer will not only provide the right regime to reach your goals but they will be the outside motivation you need to hit them.

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  • FRANKMISTA
    I feel like a good personal trainer is someone that will listen to you and will also be really straight forward about your goal and how to realize it. With internet these days, you can find a good personal trainer online that fits your needs. If I can recommand one that helped me a lot with my goals its ForeverFitCanada.
    ca but you can't have a program unless you talk to someone about your goals before.
  • DENVERTRAINER
    If you can't afford one on one personal training, look into group fitness stuff. Lots of places do circuit style stuff where you do you own workout and don't have to keep with anyone's pace. www.trainerscott.
    net
  • I was wondering are there personal trainer the are especially qualified for specific problems. You See I have spurs in my feet, knees, hips, and spine. I also have carbo tunnel in my hands, I have 2 deteriorating disks in my back, and a twisted spine. I also have sciatic nerve problems, and neuropathy, and no I am not a diabetic, and arthritis. I do suffer from a lot of pain and stiffness. I don't mean this as complaining, but are there personnel trainer that can help you loose weight but understand what is the best program for Someone like me. I was okayed by my doctor for low or no impact exercising? Also are there personal trainer who are physical therapists, and dietitons also?
  • KARIM0102
    Training has a large amount of physical benefits besides the actual psychological types. A few of these advantages range from the subsequent:

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  • After joining the gym I belong to I found out I had breast cancer and they where nice enough to put my membership on hold until after my treatments were over. But then I realized that it was different then any gym I had belonged to before, machines I had never used before for one thing. So as I had gained weight while going through the treatments the first thing I did was take a "biggest looser" class with a trainer at the gym, it not only helped me with my weight loss but during the class duration she showed us how to use the machines. I have since taken not only several more classes of one type or another from her but a few one on one sessions to make sure I was doing the moves right and using the machines right so I wasn't going to hurt myself. It wasn't money I wanted to spend but as I wanted to get the most out of my work outs I believe its money well spent. I'm 67 years old and want to be in the best shape I can be in FOR ME.
  • DARRENKHALAF
    This article gives anyone considering personal training excellent advice about personal trainer.Choosing the right one is SO important. They have a variety at my gym.Thanks for posting
  • FITNESSGURU65
    This was a good article, buts its missing the certification organization IFPA. I am a 65 year old personal trainer and have been certified with IFPA for many years. Every IFPA trainer I have come across is very knowledgeable and successful. I have taken not just their personal trainer but Senior Fitness Certification and Special Populations Trainer Certification. Its a great company. If your looking for a trainer, I would highly recommend and IFPA trainer anyday. www.ifpa-fitness.
    com
  • LYLABURNS123
    I've been looking into a personal training nyc program for my husband and I. http://www.sculpt
    -newyork.com We typically just work out together when we can, but I think it would be good for us to get a trainer together. Thanks for sharing!
  • JAYKOS
    This article gives anyone considering personal training excellent advice, however please consider that this is a USA site and in the Uk personal trainers are usually found through the National Register of Personal Trainers or Register of exercise Professionals, but please check Qualifications having a sports science degree does not mean that individuals are vocationally qualified as Personal trainers. For qualifications you can check with awarding bodies such as CYQ or Active IQ,
  • ALEXANDRA64
    Personal trainers are out of my financial range but if you are determined enough, they will work things out for you. They did for me and though I would like to work with mine twice a week, once a week is what we worked out for what I can afford. Choosing the right one is SO important. They have a variety at my gym. The conventional way of working out was not working for me and I was fortunate to meet someone who was an expert in functional training. Not only did he help me completely restructure my fitness ideas but also helped me do a complete overhaul of what I eat. He also is a massage therapist... *bonus*!!! I know nearly everything about lifting weights since I used to body build so needed someone who thinks outside the box. I found the perfect trainer by recommendation from the gym owner AFTER I asked a zillion questions. So don't be afraid to ask everything, even the stupidest question. It will all lead to getting you matched up with the right person. Personal training has changed my life. I can't imagine not having it anymore!!
  • Thanks for the guidance. I use the trainer my gym recommended, and it has worked out well. I was lucky. Next time I'll know what to look for.

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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