Personal trainers aren’t just for celebrities preparing to hit the red carpet or competitors on reality television shows. As more people commit to leading healthier lifestyles, the interest in working with personal trainers expands.
Trainers offer a host of benefits to both beginning and experienced exercisers, including boosting motivation, teaching proper form and helping prevent exercise-related injuries. Research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that one-on-one sessions with a trainer helped increase physical activity and adherence to an exercise program.
But, before hiring a personal trainer, ask these questions:
Organizations such as American Council on Exercise, National Strength and Conditioning Association and American College of Sports Medicine all offer personal training certifications. Despite the available credentials, Tom Holland, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, exercise physiologist and author of “Beat the Gym,” notes, “Many trainers have little to no formal education in exercise science, which is frightening.”
One study found that a small percentage of personal trainers had no exercise-related college degree or personal training certification. “If a trainer is current in their [certifications] and making sure to complete their continuing education credits, it will create a safer environment,” adds Marc Coronel, Trigger Point and TRX master instructor and owner of Open Mind Fitness.
Don’t be afraid to ask about credentials, then corroborate the information with the organization to confirm certifications are up to date, to ensure you’re hiring a pro.
Some trainers specialize in certain fitness niches such as weight loss, muscle development or sports performance. If you want to learn some new moves or need help with motivation, a well-rounded personal trainer can be a great fit. For help meeting a specific goal, Holland advises finding a trainer who specializes and excels in that field, “Not someone who simply talks a good game, as many trainers do, but someone who walks the walk as well.”
For example, before hiring a trainer to prep for your first marathon, ask how many times they’ve crossed the finish line of a 26.2-mile course.
Sitting in on a session helps you get an idea of how trainers interact with their clients and what a typical session entails. Pay attention to how a trainer keeps workouts interesting and how they interact with clients.
Tony Maloney ACSM-certified personal trainer and fitness center manager at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, suggests watching more than one session to see how a trainer changes up the workouts for different clients. “Each program should be different, specific to each client,” Maloney says. “If you see them running through the same workout with multiple clients, it could be laziness or a sign that those are the only moves in their toolbox.”
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Watching a trainer work is good, but the best way to determine whether a trainer is a good fit is stepping into the gym with them. “You should feel 100% comfortable with a trainer [because] you’re trusting them with your health and safety,” Maloney says.
During a trial session, pay attention to how the trainer guides you through the workout: Is there an explanation of which muscle group each move targets and how to do it safely? Do you feel challenged and encouraged? Does the trainer address your questions and concerns?
Maloney also suggests watching for red flags like a trainer who shows up late or spends the entire session looking at their phone — both are signs of a bad trainer, he says.
“Asking to speak with former clients can yield incredibly valuable information about the trainer,” Holland says. Call a few references to ask questions such as: What did you like (and dislike) about the trainer? How long did you work together? What results did you see? Do you recommend this trainer?
Learning all you can before hiring a trainer is the best way to ensure you’re choosing the fitness professional who is best suited to helping you achieve your goals — and having an enjoyable experience in the process.
“There should be a conversation about what steps to take so goal setting can be reasonable and attainable,” Coronel says.
Asking about a plan also allows you to learn more about a trainer’s philosophy and, most important, it helps ensure the trainer is a pro who knows how to design a fitness program that’ll allow you to achieve your goals.