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How to Choose a Personal Trainer
Finding the Right Trainer for You

There are many misconceptions about personal trainers - they're so expensive that only the rich and famous can afford them, they're all drill sergeants, they're just hardbodied lunkheads who are bossy and don't have a lot of smarts. The truth is that a good personal trainer knows quite a bit about anatomy and the workings of the human body, tailors his or her approach to the needs of the client, and is able to work out an affordable plan for any budget (within reason). Of course, not all personal trainers are good - there really are bossy lunkheads and people who think that personal training is a mindless way to supplement their income. How do you choose a personal trainer who's qualified and can give you what you need? The following guidelines will help you find the trainer who's right for you:

(Article continued below.)

  • Know what your needs are.
    You say you want to lose fat and tone up - well, doesn't everyone? The more specific you can be about what you want to get out of your training, the better. How many pounds do you want to lose? How quickly do you want to lose? Are you interested in training for a marathon or other competitive event? Keep in mind that you may not be realistic about your goals (a personal trainer is not a miracle worker). What are your limitations? Do you have a bad back, shoulder or knee? You will need to tell a prospective trainer about any physical problems are so that he or she can build a program that works with them. Do you need someone who can give you nutritional direction? Not every personal trainer does this. Has your doctor given you any restrictions regarding physical activity? Are you recovering from an illness or injury? In that case you will need a trainer who specializes in rehabilitation. When do you want to schedule your workouts? A trainer must be available when you are, not the other way around. Make a list of your needs so that when you interview prospective trainers, you will remember to ask about them.
  • Ask about education and certification.
    While it's not absolutely necessary that a personal trainer have a college degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or another appropriate area, it's certainly preferable. A trainer without a degree had better have a solid background in other areas to make up for it - loads of experience, continuing education so that he or she stays on top of the latest research and exercise trends and, most importantly, a certification from a respected organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the International Sports Sciences Association. These are the most well known organizations, and most worthwhile trainers will be certified with one of more of them. In addition, affiliation with an organization such as IDEA is good - IDEA offers continuing education for fitness professionals. In addition, all trainers should have insurance and be certified in cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) - make sure you ask. Trainers without these are not real professionals, and you should give them a pass.

  • What kind of program does the trainer offer?
    Does the trainer have a one-size-fits-all approach? Or does he or she create an exercise regime that's adapted to your needs and which changes as your level of fitness changes? You want one that does the latter, obviously. While it's true that both huge body builders and 90-year-old great-grannies should do biceps curls, they require radically different approaches. Ask what kind of program the trainer will set up for you. Which leads us to the next point:

  • Expect the trainer to ask you certain questions.
    Good trainers will have lots of questions for you - they will want to know your medical history, if you already do any sort of exercise, how active you are on an average day, what type of work you do (a desk jobs does different things to your body than a job where you're on your feet all day), what your hobbies are (if you garden or water ski, yes, that's important to know), any physical complaints you may have, your eating habits, and more. A trainer you'll want to use will need to know all of this so that he or she can tailor a program that will work for you. Be very suspicious of any trainer who asks very little.

  • Check out the trainer's attitude.
    Does the trainer seem condescending because you're middle-aged and out of shape and not a college athlete? If so, this is not someone you want training you. You want someone who is sympathetic to your needs, and supportive of your efforts. This does not necessarily mean you want someone who will go easy on you - maybe you like having the drill sergeant approach. Even so, you want encouragement - "You know you can do those last two push-ups, so get to it!" You want a trainer with a positive attitude. What you don't want is to get beaten up psychologically every time you go for a workout - that will make you dread exercising. Qualifications are facts, but for attitude, trust your gut - would you welcome spending an hour working out with this person? That's the bottom line.

  • Ask for references.
    Get names of clients who are in your approximate age and fitness range - that way you can best gauge how the trainer may work with you.

  • Ask about pricing.
    That hourly fee may sound exorbitant, but chances are the trainer will work with you in several different ways - you may get a discount if you buy a certain number of sessions in advance. If you have a friend or two who wants to be trained at the same time as you, perhaps the trainer can work out a group discount. Are you motivated and a bit independent? Maybe you can set it up so that once you know what you are doing, you can work out on your own and you'll only have to see your trainer once every couple of weeks to make adjustments to your workout. Unless you're going through rehabilitation or you need someone to push you, you really don't need to see your trainer every time you hit the gym. One note here: even if you want to set up a series of training sessions for a discounted price, have a session or two with the trainer first before you spring for a package. Make sure you work well with him or her, and that they explain proper exercise form in a clear manner before you commit yourself to multiple work outs.

So now that you know how to choose a trainer, where do you find them? Of course your local gym will have a number of trainers on staff, but that doesn't mean you have to go with one of them. Most of the certification organizations listed above have a trainer search function on their sites so that you can look for one in your area. This is the most reliable way to find a trainer. Recommendations are good - but still make sure you ask the above questions.

Good luck on your search!

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