Choosing the right personal trainer can be challenging, but it is not impossible. You should want to work with someone who knows what they are talking about and who can help you reach your goals, and there are plenty of trainers out there who do and can. The trick is telling the difference between the real fitness professionals and those who are just pretending to be.
Why is it hard to tell the difference?
It is important to note that personal training is a profession, not simply a job. Personal Trainers teach people how to exercise and should be providing guidance rooted in kinesiology and dietetics. If instead they are giving advice based on what they have read on the internet and their own anecdotal evidence you will likely not be set on an efficient path to achieve your goals and worse yet you may be headed for a setback in the form of injury.
One of the great challenges in the professional field of fitness today is the absence of a universal professional licensing program. There are a myriad of ways to become a “certified” personal trainer, few of which are legitimate, and as a consumer it is hard to tell which are which. In order to ensure the person with whom you are trusting your physical welfare is qualified, you must dig deeper than their title. There are four important areas for you to consider (in particular order):
Education is the foundation of any fitness professional’s skill set. Exercise is often thought of as ever-changing common knowledge, but it is very much a science. At a minimum, your personal trainer should have a bachelor’s degree in something exercise related (e.g. kinesiology, exercise science, athletic training). If that is not enough for you it is not uncommon to come across someone with a master’s degree in exercise. There are some fairly strong associate’s programs out there as well, but proceed with caution. Just make sure your personal trainer did not just walk into the gym on a whim and decide to become “certified”, as they will not in any way have the background requisite to keep you safe and ensure that you reach your goals.
There are two big names in personal training certification: the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). One is not necessarily better than the other, but they are notably different. As their names imply, the ACSM is geared toward professionals who in a clinical setting, and the NSCA to geared toward those who work in an athletic setting. Your personal trainer’s choice to associate with one professional organization or the other speaks loudly of their interests. That being said, they are both broad certifications designed to test a professional’s ability to work with most demographics. Look for ACSM-HFS, ACSM-CPT, CSCS, CSPS, TSAC-F, or NSCA-CPT after their name. There are a multitude of certifications available, and you should not take any at face value. Before you choose to work with someone, take the time to research the certification process that they went through. If the certification can be attained online, or if it is handed out to anyone for a “small fee”, it does reflect well on your prospective trainer.
Where your trainer has been, who they have worked with, and what they have done matters. A well-rounded personal trainer has experience in research, with a multitude of demographics, in an athletic setting, and participates in athletics him/herself. Ask your trainer not only where he or she went to school, but what was accomplished there?
Without a strong personality the aforementioned strengths will not amount to much. Make sure that you interview your trainer in person before committing to train with him or her. It will take time to build a trusting relationship, but you should be able to tell very quickly if you are going to get along or not. Do not judge your trainer on looks alone, trust your instincts as well.