7 Tips for Hiring a Personal Trainer

Posted On Sunday, 06 March 2016
7 Tips for Hiring a Personal Trainer

It’s a pretty impressive figure.

Between 2001 and 2001, the number of personal trainers in the United States grew by 44%. And that’s simply for one reason. More and more people are seeking the services of a personal trainer. According to the International Health and Racquet Sports Association, the number of people who have hired a personal trainer has jumped from 0.5% in 2003 to over 3% in 2013.

Problem is, however, many people don't know what to look for in a trainer, and most never bother to ask some very important questions of the trainer they are hiring.

In fact, it's really important to "interview" a personal trainer before hiring him or her to make sure they are a good fit and more importantly, that you don't get injured. According to the American Society of Exercise Physiologist, an estimated 50% of all health club members have suffered minor injuries.

I should know. I learned the hard way.

When I first hired a personal trainer, I never even thought of asking him anything. He came highly recommended by someone who told me she got great results from working with him. Naïve and uninformed, that was proof enough for me he was good. When I met him, his physical presence confirmed to me that he must know what he was doing in the gym. He was massive. So, without any questions for him and without any doubts in my mind, I hired him. I never bothered to ask if he held a personal training certification. I never bothered to check if he had any fitness education background.

I did, like many others do… I just assumed.

How could I have known that only a few months later, I would sustain a major injury because of his careless training? Lifting too heavy a weight one day during one of our sessions, I wound up snapping the ligaments of my left wrist. Surgeons did not want to operate as the success rate was not good. For the next 20 years, I lived with the discomfort and disfigurement of wrist that would not heal. Eventually, I did need surgery (two of them, actually) to treat an increasingly inflamed wrist which had by that point become quite arthritic.

True it was a costly lesson for me in learning how to hire a trainer, but eventually I became a personal trainer myself and dedicated my career to not only practicing with the highest degree of integrity, but also to educating the general public on what to look for and what to ask when hiring a trainer.

To that end, here is my list of questions and suggestions I offer to you as you interview a trainer whom you are thinking of hiring.

1) What fitness certification(s) does the personal trainer possess?

Ask to see actually proof of a current and valid certification. If a trainer is legitimately certified, they will be issues a certificate and/or a wallet-sized card that proves they are certified.

Remember, anyone can call themselves a personal trainer. You don’t need to have a license to be a trainer. You don’t even need certification either! Which is why it is essential to ask for qualifications to ensure your trainer has a minimum of credentials.

2) What type of formal fitness education does the trainer have beyond certification?

Do they possess a degree in kinesiology? A diploma in fitness and health promotion from a community college? Some certifications require no fitness education background at all except for material covered in their textbook.

3) If you have any specific medical conditions, i.e., diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, etc., does the trainer have experience working with clients with your condition?

Do they understand your condition well enough to know how to devise a safe program? If they say yes, don’t just accept their word for it. Put them to the test… ask them questions about your condition to see how much they know. Remember, you are trusting your safety, your body and your body’s health to someone you just met. You want to be sure your body is literally in good hands.

4) Can the trainer provide at least two references?

A good trainer will not hesitate to oblige. If they can’t, I would be highly dubious about working with this individual.

5) If you want to find objective third party information about your trainer, log on to the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals (www.usreps.org).

USREP keeps a record of those trainers who have successfully earned the most well respected and rigorous certifications in the industry. If there name appears on this registry, you can be sure their qualifications meet the highest standards. Click the “View the Registry” link at the top right hand corner of the screen and type in the trainer’s name. Note: this is a voluntary registry, so it’s not a comprehensive list of all trainers in the United States. That’s why it’s important to ask the above suggested questions.

6) Don’t be scared.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t give a thought to whether you’ll be insulting the trainer by probing his or her background, knowledge, and experience. I wish I knew to back then. Remember, it’s your money and it’s your health at stake. If the trainer is smart, confident and honest, you’ll likely pick that up right away. But there’s only one way to know that. By asking.

7) Lastly, “go with your gut.”

If your prospective trainer answers all your questions to your satisfaction, do you get a good feeling about him or her? Do they seem like the person you could work with? Do they have a sense of humor? A successful personal training relationship is as much about the interpersonal chemistry as it is the trainers’ background and experience.

In conclusion, I am reminded of the oft quoted Latin phrase that seems especially appropriate when hiring a trainer – Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware. You’ll be plunking down a fair wad of cash for personal training services. Asking the right questions and getting the answers you are seeking will leave you feeling more confident and more assured about your decision to hire a trainer. And that can make all the difference in your progress, your success, and your accomplishments in pursuit of getting, fitter, firmer and stronger.

Lorne David Opler, MEd, CSCS

Lorne Opler has been a Certified Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 1997 and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has a Master's degree in Health Education from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently an instructor in the Fitness and Health Promotion program at Centennial College in Toronto, Ontario, where he teaches up-and-coming personal trainers.

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