Personal Fitness Trainer: How to Find One for You (cont.)

The requirements for other organizations may not be so strict. Some award certification after an Internet correspondence course or as little as a weekend retreat, according to Hagerman.

"Unfortunately, all you need to become a certifying organization is an acronym, advertising, and employees," Bryant tells WebMD.

And be sure to read those acronyms closely, since many dubious organizations have chosen names and initials that are very close to the well-known and legitimate groups. If you're not sure about them, Klinge recommends writing down the names of the organizations that certified your trainer and looking up their requirements on the Internet.

"A lot of these organizations like to throw in words like 'national' or 'international' in their names even though it doesn't mean anything," says Hagerman. "There's a 'national' one in Oklahoma City that nobody outside of the city recognizes. In fact, I'm in Oklahoma City and even I don't recognize it."

Hagerman also suggests that you make sure your personal fitness trainer's certification hasn't expired by phoning the certifying organization.

Other Qualifications

Certification isn't the only thing you need to check on. According to Klinge and Hagerman, you should ask your trainer about his or her educational background. The more formal education he or she has in an appropriate field, the better; one recent study has shown that the most knowledgeable personal trainers are typically better educated. In addition, Hagerman and Klinge say that you should make sure that your trainer is trained in CPR.


"Don't just shop for the lowest price. Cheaper trainers aren't necessarily better trainers."

It is also crucial that your personal fitness trainer have liability insurance. While many trainers are actual employees of gyms and get coverage through their employers, others are independent contractors who are responsible for getting their own insurance. According to Hagerman, Klinge, and Bryant, you should not work with a personal fitness trainer who does not have liability insurance.

There are other things to consider. One qualification that many of us tend to look for in a personal trainer is objectively superficial: do they look fit themselves? But is that a legitimate way of evaluating anybody?

Hagerman thinks so, up to a point. "I have no respect for a trainer who's out of shape," he says. "But that doesn't mean that a male trainer has to be big and muscular or a female has to wear a size zero. Good trainers come in all shapes and sizes. They just have to practice what they preach."

He also suggests that you don't get seduced by the appearance of personal fitness trainers who dress in muscle shirts and spandex. After all, why should they be dressed in work out clothes when they're just instructing you? "It's one of my pet peeves, but a trainer should really dress professionally," he says.

Knowing the Limits

A great personal fitness trainer should offer more than just recommendations about how many reps to do on a weight machine or how to press buttons on the treadmill -- he or she will give you a general picture of how to live a healthy life, according to Klinge.

But it's important to resist the temptation to treat a session with your trainer as one-stop shopping for all of your exercise, nutritional, psychological, and medical needs. Bryant, Hagerman, and Klinge say that overly relying on personal fitness trainers is pretty common and that it is the trainer's job to establish the correct boundaries of the relationship.

"A properly trained personal trainer will know how to deal with that and how to establish the scope of their practice," Klinge tells WebMD. "They'll know when to hand off a client to a registered dietitian, physician, or physical therapist."

By the same token, be careful if you feel your personal fitness trainer is offering suggestions on topics that he or she isn't trained in.

"If a trainer starts giving specific diet prescriptions or a lot of advice on ways of treating medical conditions, that's a problem," says Klinge. "That sort of information should only come from a medical professional."

Exercising With Special Conditions

"For people with special needs, exercise can be tremendously beneficial," says Bryant. "We're finding that exercise has a positive role in helping many medical conditions. But it has to be given in the proper doses, if you will. A trainer has to make modifications to a typical exercise program to make sure that he or she is not putting someone at risk."

According to all three experts, the number of people with special medical conditions who are getting personal fitness trainers is increasing. One reason is that as insurance companies have decreased the number of physical rehabilitation sessions they cover, people who have recently had a heart attack or a stroke are coming to the gym sooner, says Hagerman.

The trend also has to do with demographics, says Klinge, as baby boomers get older and start developing medical problems.

Klinge, Hagerman, and Bryant report seeing clients with all sorts of medical conditions: cardiovascular problems, arthritis, hypertension, fibromyalgia, and obesity. Klinge has even treated two clients with recent heart transplants. For any of these conditions, finding a personal fitness trainer with expertise in treating people with the specific condition is crucial, and getting someone with formal education is highly recommended.

Clients with medical conditions should always check with their doctor before starting a program, and your personal fitness trainer may collaborate with him or her to develop a workout routine.

It's not only people with medical conditions who require expertise. Klinge reports seeing an increase in the number of adolescents and children he sees in the gym, some of whom are brought by parents who are concerned for their health. "We try to help kids stay active as a way of replacing the physical education that has been cut in a lot of school systems," says Klinge.

Similarly, both Klinge and Hagerman see an increasing number of seniors who are seeking out personal fitness trainers in order to stay agile and limber and as a way of staying active and preventing falls. Again, you should seek out a trainer with expertise in treating those with your particular needs.