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

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.

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?