Because of the New Year, novice exercisers everywhere will be dusting off their tennies to begin an exercise program. This is the first step, and one to be applauded, but most don’t know where to go after that. There is no shame in that- you can’t know something you have never been taught. Hiring a professional, like a personal trainer, to create a routine for you and show how to effectively exercise and eat right is a great plan of attack. However, hiring the wrong trainer, despite your best intentions, can leave you broke, discouraged and possibly injured.
Most people don’t know this, but there is no regulation on the personal training industry. Just because someone calls themselves a trainer doesn’t mean they have any direct education or training in the field. Often, I have found that the title personal trainer in many box, chain gyms is just a small promotion above membership sales; a title that has more to do with an employee’s ability to get you to open your wallet than get you into shape. There are a lot of “bad” trainers flooding the market these days with the fitness industry exploding at the same rate as the seams of America’s pants. Some have zero training, some have zero experience and some may be a bad fit for you personally, but perfectly qualified.
Unfortunately, fitness expert Liz Neporent, co-author of the new Fitness for Dummies, 4th edition, sees this all the time. She recently had an all too typical “bad” trainer experience at her gym. “There was a trainer at a residential gym I witnessed recently who the clients loved but I could see was probably bordering on dangerous. She had clients doing high impact joint crunching workouts day after day. No certs, no insurance. [She] was offering them diet advice she got out of a Suzanne Somers book! But the clients loved her because she looked the part so they lobbied management to keep her. Sure enough, one by one they started coming up with injuries. She really was a disaster but was finally forced to at least get insurance coverage and a low level certification.”
To avoid this, Neporent advises asking questions. “Don’t be shy about asking for a trainer’s experience, education and certification credentials.” There are over 300 certifications, but only a dozen have national NCAA accreditation, including the American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Even these certifications vary in terms of the length of training, content covered and hands on, classroom learning required to complete the course. Some can be completed over the internet with purchased study materials, and some require hours of classroom learning with real clients, but either way, a certification shows at least that some training was completed.
The perfect trainer, on paper, would be one with a college degree in the field, something like exercise science, kinesiology or sports psychology, a personal training certification and years of experience. A degree shows they have studied anatomy, biomechanics, safety, and the mental aspects of motivation, goal setting ans weight loss, so they can not only train your body, but your brain as well.
But, alas, even this may not be enough to pick the best trainer for you. Before you sign over your retirement account to a trainer you just met, sit down and think about what you really want and need, and go in prepared. Aside from demanding credentials, ask questions. A lot of them. Have a list prepared if you need to, but make sure you cover everything.
What is your area of expertise? “You want someone’s expertise and experience to match your goals.” says Neporent. “One trainer might be great for someone trying to lose weight but not someone who has the goal of running a marathon.” Ask what age group they prefer to work with. Most trainers have a preference.
Do you have insurance? Any physical activity runs the risk of injury, and when a professional is in charge of your routine, they assume the risk. Certification programs allow certified trainers to purchase insurance through them to protect both parties from law suits in the event of a serious injury. Trainers that work through gyms are usually covered by the gym’s insurance. Either way, you want to make sure your trainer is insured so in a worst case scenario, you can recover your damages.
How long have you been training? If they completed an online certification course, you could be the first person they have every physically laid hands on. It’s up to you if their answer changes your mind.
After you ask your questions, ask for proof. Ask to see certifications and diplomas- most will have them hanging on the wall or readily available. Ask for testimonials from other clients to see what results they can actually produce and how other clients perceive their training methods.
Don’t be fooled by the physique. Some of the best trainers have “real bodies”, don’t assume that someone with zero body fat is better at getting results than someone of average physique. Being an effective trainer is about understanding how the body and mind work, how your muscles are most effectively used, anatomy, and the principals of motivation and habits change- not being able to work out for 4 hours a day.
Do a trial run. Sometimes it is personality that makes all the difference. Most trainers won’t give you a free session to try them out because no one wants to work for free, but only pay for 1 or 2 sessions the first go around. That way, you won’t be locked into 10+ sessions with a trainer that doesn’t fit your needs.
Personal training is an expensive commitment, and you should never apologize for making sure you are getting what you pay for. Education and expertise are important, but the personal one-on-one relationship also plays a part in how successful you are. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit personality wise, don’t be afraid to move on. Some people prefer male trainers and some prefer female trainers, and there is nothing wrong with that. Your trainer should be motivating, so if you are a middle aged woman who will only make your sessions for a hot, 20 something hard body, find one. Whatever gets you through those doors, and through an effective workout safely, is the right fit for you.