Perhaps you've been working out on your own for a while, but your results have stalled and you no longer feel like your fitness level is improving. Or you've become totally bored with your current routine and need to shake things up with some fresh ideas. Maybe you're brand-new to exercise and could use some direction to get started safely. No matter your reason, hiring a personal trainer can give you the guidance and instruction you need to help you reach your fitness goals more efficiently. It can be a costly investment, so it's important to do your homework before you just jump in with the first trainer you find at the gym. The reason?
Not all personal trainers are created equal.
There are thousands of trainers out there who are well-educated and well-intentioned. They have the knowledge and experience to create workout plans for a wide variety of clients. But because there are no state or federal regulations on the term "personal trainer," anyone can call themselves one and charge you lots of money for a workout that is either ineffective or, worst case, dangerous.
How do you know what to look for when choosing a trainer? Should you go with the trainer who approaches you at the gym, hoping to sell his or her services? They're friendly and seem to be in great shape, so should that be enough?
The first thing to consider is that not every trainer is certified and if they are, not all certifications are equal. Some involve months of studying and comprehensive exams, while others are just a weekend class online. Some of the most widely-recognized certifications, known for their rigorous training and continuing education requirements include:
If your potential trainer has a certification you've not heard of, check out the organization's website and ask the trainer for details about what they had to do to become certified.
How to Find a Qualified Trainer
- Utilize Online Resources. There are databases available to search for currently-certified trainers in your area based on your goals or their qualifications. Some sites also list the trainer's hourly rate so you have an idea of your investment going in. A few of those sites include:
- Visit Local Gyms. Whether you're currently a member of a gym or looking for one to join, most trainers practice in a gym setting. Ask to speak with the fitness director about your training options. Based on your goals and personality, they should be able to direct you to trainers that would be a good match. Don't be afraid to interview a few of them before committing. It's not always qualifications alone that lead to a good training relationship. If their training style or personality doesn't match yours, the relationship will not be as successful and your sessions will not be as enjoyable.
Try to observe the trainers in action on the fitness floor to get a feel for their style. Do you need a drill sergeant to get you going or would you appreciate a more mild-mannered approach? Do you want lots of structure or moderate guidance? Do you want someone who chats a lot or gets right down to business?
Also, ask to speak with current clients to learn more about the trainer than you might be able to gather by watching them for a few minutes. Be prepared with a few questions, such as "What do you like best about your trainer?" and "How have they been able to meet your needs effectively?"
- Talk to Friends and Family. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good trainer. Even if no one close to you uses a personal trainer, tap into your contacts on social media to ask for their recommendations. Often you'll find someone who knows someone else who has a friend that uses a great trainer and can put you in contact with them. Quality personal trainers know that reputation is everything, so they work hard to make sure that when word spreads about them, it's positive.
I've Found a Good Candidate. What's Next?
Once you've identified someone whose personality and style seem to work well with yours, it's still important to check into their certifications and work history a little more extensively.
While it might sound like a lot of effort to find the right personal trainer, taking the time to do your research could end up saving a lot of time and aggravation in the long run. You want to make the best use of your money, so do your research up front to maximize the value you get from the experience.
- Ask for details of their certifications and work experience. How long have they been certified and through which organization? What kinds of places have they trained individuals?
- Follow-up with the certifying agency to verify their credentials are current.
- Learn about the kinds of clients they have worked with in the past and decide if that experience is in line with your goals. Some trainers are more specialized than others in working with seniors, those who are severely overweight, those with specific medical conditions or those training for specific goals such as running a marathon or participating in strength competitions, for example. Before you meet with a trainer, reflect on what you want to get out of the experience. Are you there for a motivation boost, accountability, to learn more about strength training, to increase your endurance or something else? Knowing what you want will help you decide if their experience and your goals align.
- Request references. Even if you know someone who's trained with this person in the past, it's not a bad idea to ask for names of other clients you can contact. A variety of opinions and experiences can help you make the most informed decision possible.
- Inquire about liability insurance. Every trainer should have it, but not every trainer does. If you get hurt during a training session, the trainer's liability insurance can help cover your medical expenses. If they don't have it, you might end up paying for your own treatment.