Ask the experts
How would I find the right fitness trainer for me?
Here are some tips on finding the right personal trainer.
- First and foremost, make sure you and the trainer are a good match. You don't need to be best friends, but this is an individual who you're going to spend a couple of hours a week with, so you need to hit it off. You should have a gut feeling that you can trust the trainer and will enjoy spending time with them. If not, then you're going to have a hard time getting motivated to get to the gym, and for many, motivation from the trainer is the reason they signed on in the first place.
- Check the credentials of the trainer. Certifications are a good place to start. The American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), National Strength and Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org), and American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org) each have several different certifications for trainers that are recognized throughout the country. There are many other agencies certifying fitness and aerobics instructors (not all so reputable), but ACSM, NSCA, and ACE are the most highly regarded.
- Ask the trainer about his or her education. A background in physical education or exercise science is a plus.
- Ask the trainer for a resume (verbal or written). It's possible that an individual who recently switched careers from banking to fitness training and completed an online fitness certification (they really do exist!) can do a good job, but you'd probably be better off with someone who has experience. Fitness trainers typically start off for a number of years at a fitness center and then branch out on their own.
- If you have a disability, injury, or other medical problem that affects your ability to exercise, then ask the trainer if he or she has experience with the problem. A trainer with a background in physical education or exercise science is important when you have a medical condition, and a trainer who asks to speak with your doctor about limitations is also a good sign-it suggests a serious and responsible professional.
- Find a trainer who listens carefully. What matters most are your goals and limitations, and not what the trainer wants. It's okay to negotiate goals with the trainer (yours may be unrealistic), but the trainer should be flexible and understand who you are and what you want from the experience.
- Be wary of trainers who give diet advice. Fitness trainers are trained to teach fitness, not prescribe diets. In almost all cases, fitness trainers do not have the education, training, or licensure to prescribe a diet or give diet advice. In fact, in some states, it is illegal for anyone but a dietitian or doctor to give diet advice. If you want diet advice, check with a registered dietitian who is licensed by the state that you live in.
- Ask about scheduling, cost, and cancellation policies.
- Make sure your trainer doesn't have another job or travel schedule that interferes with scheduling.
- As for cost, rates can range from $50 to $150 per hour depending on your part of the country, the experience of the trainer, and whether the trainer comes to your home or you meet at a gym.
- Ask about cancellation policies. A 24-hour cancellation policy is reasonable. Some trainers forego this, or charge just half the fee for missed sessions, but it varies. Make sure to work this out before you get started.
- Finally, be assertive. Ask questions and let the trainer know exactly what you want and expect. If it doesn't seem like it's going to work, or it's not working once you start, then move on. There are lots of trainers out there, and you deserve a positive experience. A trainer is a great investment in your health and fitness, and you should make the best of it.
Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine
"The benefits and risks of exercise"