Finding a Personal Fitness Trainer
They're popular and they get results, but making a good match takes effort.
By R. Morgan Griffin
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
It once was that personal fitness trainers were exclusively for the super rich, sighted by us normal folks only in paparazzi photographs of a celebrity's entourage. But as fitness centers have spread throughout the country and the number of personal fitness trainers has increased, getting your own has become a real possibility for the average person, says Patrick Hagerman, EdD, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Tulsa.
"They're really much more affordable than people would think," says Hagerman, who is also a board member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and owns Quest Personal Training in Oklahoma City.
Nor are personal fitness trainers just for the buff, spandex-sporting crowd, says Fred Klinge, chairman of the Health and Registry Board at the American College of Sports Medicine. Klinge emphasizes that the scope of personal fitness trainers has broadened. "It's not just about weight lifting and cardio work anymore," he tells WebMD. "It's more about assistance in developing a healthy and fit lifestyle."
Although there haven't been too many, some studies have shown that personal trainers can help people stick to their exercise routines more effectively than they would on their own, according to Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). But for someone who hasn't had any experience with personal trainers, figuring out how to get one can be daunting.
Who Needs a Personal Trainer?
You may ask yourself why you would benefit from a personal trainer. After all, why should you pay for somebody to tell you to exercise when you can just go and exercise for free?
But for some, having a person to answer to really helps provide motivation. After all, if we never got scolded by our teachers and parents for not doing our homework when we were kids, a lot of us would still be in the second grade. Knowing that you have someone who will take you to task can make a difference.
Hagerman sees a lot of practical advantages to having a personal fitness trainer. "It saves time and it reduces injuries," he says. "You have someone who can help you figure out what exercises you need to do and how the equipment works rather than wasting time figuring it out on your own.
"A lot of people in the gym learn exercises by watching other people do them," Hagerman continues. "But the person they're watching probably learned by watching someone else, and whoever started the chain probably didn't know what they were doing to begin with."
The expense of hiring a personal trainer can be motivation in itself, according to Klinge, who is also general manager of the North Little Rock Athletic Club in Arkansas. For the same reason that some people will clear their plate at a restaurant so that they get their money's worth, others get fit simply because they hate to see the money they paid for a gym membership and a trainer go to waste.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association conducted a recent survey of prices and found an average of $50 per hour with a range of $15 to $100 per hour. Prices do vary depending on region, according to Hagerman, and naturally, they will be higher in urban areas than in rural ones.
Hagerman and Klinge both agree that getting a trainer at a commercial health club is probably the cheapest way, since a personal fitness trainer in a private studio will inevitably have to charge more. The number of sessions a person needs can vary, but both Hagerman and Klinge recommend at least two a week. Although sessions are typically an hour, Hagerman says that some people opt for half-hour sessions, both to save time and money.
Hagerman emphasizes that money isn't everything when it comes to choosing a personal fitness trainer. "Don't just shop for the lowest price," he tells WebMD. "Cheaper trainers aren't necessarily better trainers. They may not be worse either, but there are other things to consider."
Just about any trainer you find is likely to have an impressive-looking diploma or certificate indicating that he or she has been certified as a personal trainer; in fact, the lobby of your fitness center may be lined with them. But don't be dazzled by just any degree. Instead, it's very important to find out just what organization performed the certification.
According to Hagerman, there are about 400 organizations in the U.S. that purport to certify personal fitness trainers. Of that number, about a handful are considered legitimate by most professionals. Among the most respected are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The better organizations have specific requirements based on tested and practical knowledge, mandatory retesting at renewal periods, and continuing education. The ACSM has recently begun to require that its certified trainers have a formal educational degree in exercise science or a related field.