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How to Evaluate Your Personal Trainer

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 6/1/2011

How do you know if your personal trainer is doing a good job? Follow these tips to evaluate your trainer and be sure you’re getting the best professional training services.

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    What Should a Good Trainer Do?

    Do you know how a good personal trainer should act? Or do you just trust that your trainer knows what she’s doing?

    Whether you’ve been with the same personal trainer for a while or are just looking into finding a trainer, it’s important for you to educate yourself on what a personal trainer should and should not do. Personal training is a service just like any other that you pay for, and it’s important to evaluate your personal trainer on a regular basis to ensure that you meet your fitness goals.

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    Personal Trainers: The Good

    A good certified personal trainer will work with you to help you pinpoint your fitness goals and design a realistic program to help you meet them. He or she should have extensive health and fitness knowledge and teach you not only how to exercise, but also how to fit a fitness routine into your life. Perhaps most importantly, your personal trainer should have a positive attitude and encourage you at every step of your fitness journey.

    To evaluate your personal trainer (or a potential trainer), look for someone with these traits and credentials:

    • Current Certifications. A good personal trainer should be certified by a nationally accredited organization like ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or ACE (American Council on Exercise). There are many organizations that give certifications---some require testing, while others require little more than signing a check. Research a personal trainer’s certifications to be sure that they are legitimate. In addition to holding one or several certifications, a good trainer should always be working on continuing education to stay on top of fitness news and trends.
    • Degree in a Health or Fitness Field. Your personal trainer should have a thorough knowledge of health and fitness. Look for a trainer who has a degree in exercise physiology, sports medicine, physical education, anatomy, or a related health degree. These degrees help a trainer establish expertise.
    • CPR Certification. Personal trainers must know how to respond in emergencies. CPR certification is a must.
    • Liability Insurance. Having liability insurance is important for any professional. Liability insurance covers a personal trainer in the event of a lawsuit.
    • Experience. Since people choose to employ personal trainers for different reasons, it’s important that your trainer has the experience to help you meet your specific goals. Take a look at the trainer’s client list. If you want to train to run the New York Marathon next year but your trainer specializes in fitness for seniors, you may want to find another trainer who is experienced with runners.
    • Good References. A good personal trainer can provide you with a list of client references. Take the time to call at least three clients to evaluate the trainer’s demeanor, knowledge, and overall value as a service provider.
    • A Resource Network. No man is an island, and personal trainers are not exceptions to this rule. While they may be experts when it comes to exercise programs, personal trainers need a network of other health professionals to help them deal with special medical needs. This network should include a doctor, therapist, or nutritionist who can help the trainer answer special questions.

    When you’re looking for a personal trainer, take the time to interview several potential trainers and ask them about all of the areas listed above.

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    Personal Trainers: The Bad

    Look for any of the following red flags to help you evaluate a personal trainer who might not be right for you.

    • You’ve been with your personal trainer for a while and are not seeing progress.
    • When you pose questions, your trainer seems to lack general health and fitness knowledge.
    • Your trainer regularly gives you health or medical advice that only a doctor should give.
    • Your trainer pushes you too hard to the point where you are exhausted or injured.
    • Your trainer has a negative attitude or makes you feel bad about yourself.
    • Your trainer is always late or frequently reschedules appointments.
    • Your trainer focuses too much on physical appearance.
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    Finding a Personal Trainer

    There are no national requirements for personal trainers in the U.S., and anyone can call himself a personal trainer. Take the time to evaluate a personal trainer before you commit to him, and you’ll be sure to avoid having an unsatisfactory or even unsafe experience. Remember that you can’t put a price on your health or safety, so look beyond a trainer’s fees and evaluate the trainer as a whole.

    Knowing what to look for in a good certified personal trainer, you can turn to a few sources for help in finding the right trainer for you.

    • Check with your friends for referrals. If you know someone who currently works with a trainer, ask them about their experience. Remember to ask not only about the trainer and his or her credentials, but also about your friend's experience. If your friend wanted to lose 50 pounds, has she met her goal? If yes, did she have fun losing the weight? Or was it torture? And even more importantly, did her trainer help her to reach that goal within a realistic time period and in a healthy way?
    • Call personal trainer certification organizations such as the ACE, ACSM, or NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). These organizations are known as the "big three" in the world of personal trainer certifications. They can provide you with lists of qualified trainers in your area.
    • If you already go to a gym, ask the gym staff if they have trainers that they recommend. Just be sure to check credentials since not all gyms have stringent requirements for hiring trainers.
    • Your doctor or nutritionist may also be able to refer you to a personal trainer.