Working with a fitness professional can be a critical tool in reaching your health and fitness goals. Not only do you create a level of accountability when working with a personal trainer, but their knowledge as it pertains to exercise and kinesiology can prevent injuries and allows them to customize a program specifically for your goals.
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, build muscle or simply make activities of daily living easier to tackle, choosing a personal trainer can seem like an insurmountable task. There are so many to choose from, and they each seem to possess a never-ending list of specialties. So how do you choose a personal trainer?
It’s very important to do your homework when it comes to your trainer; after all, if you’re going to invest in your health, you want to work with someone who takes your fitness seriously and is experienced enough to offer a personalized experience. Here are just a few suggestions for what to look for in a trainer:
- Make sure they are certified through a national certifying agency. A legitimate personal trainer has gone through certification, period. Certified trainers must pass an exam through an accredited organization such as ACE, NASM, NSCA or other certifying agencies. This ensures that not only do they have a theoretical knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology and exercise science, but they have met certain standards of professionalism. An exception to the rule here: some trainers have been in the business for decades, and while they likely certified towards the beginning of their career, those with established clientele and a solid training business sometimes don’t renew their certification after a period of years. As long as this is the rule, you can bet these trainers are just, if not more, experienced as certified personal trainers. Do your homework to determine if this is the case.
- Go with a trainer who has some experience. While newbie trainers are usually more affordable, they lack experience that more seasoned trainers can offer. This means they have learned tips and tricks of the trade, such as innovative cues and sequencing or frequent challenges in specific populations, that simply come with hands-on experience. When would a new personal trainer be appropriate? If you’re looking to lose weight without specific goals for toning or building muscle, a trainer with less experience could offer a cheaper training regimen. However, don’t expect the level of customization and meal planning assistance with a newer trainer.
- Make sure you get along. This may seem obvious, but personal trainers have unique coaching styles. It’s important to hit it off with your trainer at your initial consultation. Are they truly listening to you? What does their body language indicate about their openness and receptiveness to you? Is their training too harsh or too soft for your motivational style? Are they offering any friendly advice on ways to incorporate healthier eating into your diet without seeming judgmental? While personal trainers are not nutritionists or dieticians, they often have valuable insight into proper dietary guidelines and macronutrients.
- Find a trainer whose specialties are in line with your fitness goals. For example, if your goal is to prepare for a half-marathon, you don’t necessarily need to hire a trainer who specializes in Olympic lifting. On the flip side, if you’re looking to put on muscle, working with a trainer whose specialty lies in fat-burning training styles such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) or Tabata will most likely not get you to your goal. While it’s not a deal-breaker, trainers who claim they are a jack-of-all-trades can sometimes know a little about a lot, but not a lot about a few key specialties.
- Take a close look at your budget. Hourly rates can vary from trainer to trainer, but most trainers will agree that having a commitment from you is important. Not only are you supporting their livelihoods, but your investment says you mean business. To that end, personal trainers usually set their rates at somewhere around a dollar per minute to start, with more experienced trainers going up from there. It’s a realistic expectation that for a 45-minute training session, you can expect to spend $45-60. When budgeting, consider how many sessions per week you plan to attend and plan accordingly, and be prepared for some trainers to ask for a minimum commitment of a few weeks to a few months.
- Availability and access should meet your needs. Consistency is key when working with a personal trainer, and for a fitness regimen in general. Therefore, picking a time of day that works for you is critical. If Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6am are the only times you can work with your trainer, make sure those days and times are always available for you both so that you aren’t having to constantly reschedule and put your routine at risk of falling apart. If your trainer is always asking to reschedule, have a floating schedule that changes week to week or cancels at the last minute, you might want to keep looking. In addition, your trainer should give you reasonable access to him/her via text or email. This privilege shouldn’t be abused, but a quick weekly check in between your sessions is a great way to make sure you are staying on track with your nutrition and fitness.
- Make sure they have a process to track your progress. Your personal trainer needs to employ a method to track your progress in a measurable, tangible way. During your initial assessments, your trainer should take measurements, including skin fold measurements, weight, BMI (body mass index), girth measurements and other benchmarks prior to your training with him/her. A tangible goal should be set instead of vague goals. For example, instead of setting a goal of running a 5k, set a goal of running a 5k in under 35 minutes. This creates a training program protocol to reduce time, increase speed and cardiovascular endurance and so on. Lastly, milestone measurements should be taken periodically and compared against your benchmark measurements. If you aren’t seeing progress, one of two things might be happening; either your trainer isn’t being effective with their fitness program for you, or your nutrition and outside exercise is setting you back. The proof’s in the pudding, so to speak, and your progress should be measurable!
- Check for testimonials or get a referral from a friend. There’s no better advertising than word of mouth. Ask friends and family if they work with a personal trainer, and if so, if they would recommend him/her to you. Feel free to look online for reviews of a potential trainer. During your initial consultation, ask your trainer if they have any testimonials they can share with you.
Starting the search for a personal trainer can be daunting. While these suggestions aren’t considered hard and fast rules, they should help you set a standard for selecting an experienced, professional trainer. Some personal trainers may not have all of the above criteria, but you may have a strong connection with them and choose to work with them anyway, which is great! The most important thing to keep in mind is to stick with it, work diligently with your trainer and prevent sabotaging your training by following their advice as it pertains to fitness and nutrition (so long as it’s good, evidence-supported advice!). With thousands of individuals claiming to be personal trainers with no more credentials than a gym membership, it’s important to do your research!
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