How to pick a personal trainer

Last week, in this post, I talked about the idea of exercise as a gift. If you read it, you might remember my simple words of advice: something along the lines of, don’t gift it unless it’s specifically requested. If a loved one has asked for the gift of fitness (or you’re thinking about a nice little present for yourself), read on! If not, well, maybe you want to file this away for future reference.

How to find a trainer you like

There are lots of ways to pick a trainer: ask a friend, watch different trainers in action with their clients, talk to the front desk or membership staff (though this might not always get you the most unbiased response) and/or talk to the trainers themselves. Also, many gyms offer a lineup of bios, either on site or online, where you can see the different trainers and read a little about their qualifications and specialties. Check out this one here, posted on the website of my old employer, Tri-City Wellness Center. Shout out TCWC–miss you guys!

Lastly, most gyms assign each new member a trainer for a free intro session, which is a good way to meet someone and see if you feel comfortable with them. What you may not know, is that if you don’t click with your assigned trainer, you certainly aren’t “stuck” with that person. If you’re interested in purchasing sessions, but you don’t vibe with the trainer assigned to you, feel free to shop around a little. Sure, there may be some disappointment behind the scenes, but good trainers know it needs to be the right fit for training to be successful. And hey, it’s your hard-earned money after all.

Qualifications to look for

BS, MS, CSCS, ACSM, NSCA, CPT, HFS; it’s an alphabet soup of qualifications out there. But what do they all mean? Obviously BS and MS stand for bachelor’s and master’s degree, respectively, and a trainer with either of those is a good bet. Anyone can go through a quickie internet course and call themselves a “certified” personal trainer, but someone who has a degree in kinesiology, exercise physiology, fitness, physical education or the like, is the real deal.

The rest of those letters are just acronyms for different certifications and certifying bodies. ACSM, which stands for American College of Sports Medicine, is my favorite. I happen to have my certification through them, and they are considered the gold standard in the industry. But there are several other reputable certifications, including a CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), NSCA certified personal trainer (National Strength and Conditioning Association) and ACE certified personal trainer (American Council on Exercise), to name a few.

A trainer with one or more of these certifications has gone through a rigorous testing process, and must stay current with continuing education. Don’t be afraid to ask a trainer about their qualifications and work experience.

Specialties and Style

Most trainers have areas of interest they specialize in. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t help you with a basic exercise regimen. They just get extra fired up about knee injuries or diabetes management, posture therapy or prenatal fitness. Asking a potential trainer about their areas of expertise can give you more insight into what they’ll be like to work with.

And finally, there’s personal style. Do you want a drill sergeant or a confidant? Someone who gently encourages you or barks orders until you are pouring sweat? There’s a style for everyone, and what works for your friend might totally de-motivate you. Most trainers can vary their style for different client types, but we all have a style we prefer.

For example, does this look like the face of a girl who prides herself on the fact that she has made grown men throw up? Multiple times? No? Well, looks can be deceiving.

Me in my stylish Tri–City Wellness Center training shirt

There’s your personal training primer, just in time for the holidays. Hopefully I helped de-mystify some of the process surrounding choosing a trainer. Keep reading in the following weeks for more information regarding how to choose training packages, pricing, what to expect of your sessions, and how to pick a gym. My goal is to prepare those of you looking to make some healthy changes in the new year.

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