Here's how to choose the right personal trainer
Working out at the gym, training, toning, firming, cardio—which should you do? How should you do it? When? Where? Don't be too hard on yourself if you find the science of working out to be challenging to understand. After all, it's a science and people that understand it have gone to school for it and have spent many years cultivating their understanding and knowledge of exercise.
Training for sustainable results includes understanding how the body moves and functions internally. It requires you to stress the body in a way that will solicit a response. It is planned, systemized—and I’ll repeat it—scientific.
It is no surprise that people have incredibly successful careers getting others in shape. Personal trainers have become a staple of the gym, but as we all know, not all services are created equal. When it comes to investing your energy, time, money, and body, you want to make sure to make the right decision and pick the right person for your personal goals.
Keys to Finding the Perfect Trainer
Follow these eight tips to locate the perfect trainer for your specific needs and goals:
1. Education—check those credentials!
When you choose a doctor, you would never just follow medical advice from a person without an MD or who isn't a specialist in that field. You would seek out a professional with the right credentials, education, and experience. Personal trainers are no different.
When you go to work out, you are actually dealing with your body as it relates to the muscular, skeletal, circulatory, nervous, respiratory, and endocrine systems (yes, endocrine, as your training triggers a ton of hormonal responses). This requires a person to have gone through the proper education to prescribe exercise and structure your program in a way that is both safe and effective for your goals.
Working out isn’t just about doing a series of moves like lunges and squats. It is about understanding what exercises, sets, reps, sequences, time intervals, rest periods, and progressions are required for a person’s specific goal within a particular workout.
The most common governing bodies in fitness in the US are NASM and ACE, although there are many others, and a standard basic credential is a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). There are also other much more difficult specialty credentials like Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) and National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement Specialists (NASM-PES). Other more in-depth credentials are an MS (master’s degree in exercise science) and off-course physical therapists, who are often very educated in training individuals. Don’t be afraid to google the credentials of your trainer candidates and read about the organization they received them from, making sure it is a real and credible academy.
You should feel very confident asking prospective trainers for their credentials and experience. What's more, you should make sure to ask if they are current on all of their credentials and CEUs (continuing education, which is a way a trainer keeps their credentials and education current).
As in every other field, you will pay more for experience. An investment in personal training is a big commitment for anyone, not only financially but with your energy, time, and effort.
When choosing a trainer, you should not be surprised that some trainers are pricier than others. Years of experience should yield a higher return. It is up to you to decide on the price and experience level that fits you best. I will advise that if you have had any health issues, are recovering from a significant injury, or are training for a competition like a marathon, definitely pay for experience!
3. Beware of fake "experts"
Beware of people that use the terms ‘celebrity trainer’ or ‘expert’ in their titles without the education, references, and experience to back it up. You should also be wary of picking a trainer because they have over 100k followers on their Instagram account, or because you like the way they look. Yes, a trainer must practice what they preach and stay fit, but never underestimate the power of genetics and tight-fitting lycra.
Celebrity trainers and Instagram stars tend to charge the most and are sadly very often misrepresenting themselves. Training a celebrity should not carry more substantial clout than anyone else. Be aware of these misconceptions and know that education and experience are worth more than Instagram followers.
4. Your goals, not theirs
A trainer, no matter how knowledgeable, should never push their goals on you. If you want to run faster, swing more, look a certain way, or lift heavier, they need to respect what you want, and then they need to help you get there. Of course, your trainer can and should help guide you in the right direction and let you know when your goals are not measurable or practical. It is also essential that your trainer be able to scale your goals and help you identify new ones in the process.
5. No pain, no gain—NOT
Sure, training is difficult and often uncomfortable (when compared to light massages and spa dates), but it should not be downright painful. Your trainer should never (ever) have you train through muscle pain, dizziness, nausea, joint instability, injury, or sickness.
Your trainer's approach is obviously important, but so is their vibe — do they vibe with you? When you get a trainer, the two of you need to have fun, develop trust, and build a real relationship.
Your trainer must be in tune with you and have an approach that works with you. No matter how good they are, if the communication is off, or you two don’t get along, both of you will be left feeling frustrated after the session.
Trainers tend to derive their own routines and methods, but make no mistake about it—none of us have reinvented the wheel. We use and follow the science. If anyone starts using faux-scientific terms to tell you how they discovered something new in fitness, run. Trademarked methodology and routines are fine, but saying you discovered new fat-burning pathways or created a whole new way to build muscle is, well, a flat-out lie.
Working out is not a sport, so be very aware that your trainer is there to use various strength and conditioning tools to make you stronger and better for life and movement—including running, tennis matches, martial arts classes—whatever it is you want to do. But they should never use a sport to work you out!
Fitness is personal, and your certified personal trainer should match your goals and your personality. They should lead by example and science, but be able to listen and still learn. The right personal trainer can have a huge positive impact on your health, your self-confidence and your overall wellbeing—so choose wisely, and good luck!
Dasha L. Anderson is a celebrated trainer and fitness expert in New York City, with a master's degree in exercise science and sports nutrition and a specialty in performance enhancement and injury prevention. She is also the founder and head certifying instructor of Kettlebell Kickboxing and has contributed to Self, Shape, Fitness Rx, and Epoch Times.