Selecting a Personal Trainer – Ways To Pick a Perfect Trainer


The fitness training industry is flooded. It is easy to go online and take a quick course, print out your certificate and call yourself a trainer. It may not be as easy to build up clientele, but what worries me is that you will be able to find several people who will believe you are qualified, without even looking at your credentials. There are even some gyms that will allow you to train there, although the larger ones usually hire trainers with an education from a reputable school.

Before you hire a personal trainer there are some things you should look for and ask. It’s easy to lean on someone else who promises to get you in shape when you feel so low about yourself. I am going to list several things you should ask and look for before you write that check. There are so many things that go into being a good trainer. I feel bad when I hear some of the horrible horror stories. Hopefully this will save you time, money, and disappointment.

selecting-personal-trainer-nscaEducation, or a certificate is very important. However, if I did a search for quick, cheap personal training certificates I am sure I can find tons of schools online. Check this out, I stopped and did a search and found a school (nameless), the cost 69 dollars, and they are running a special “buy one enrollment get one free”. I am sure they are not accredited and they probably wouldn’t be recognized at most large gyms, and even some smaller ones that care about the quality of service. Make sure to ask any potential trainer to show you their certificates and find out where they studied. I have listed some of the well-known, acknowledged, and accredited schools below (this is not a complete list, but this should get you started):

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • American Fitness Professional & Associates (AFPA)
  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)

Continuing Education
Finding a certified fitness trainer who is qualified is not as simple as you think. A certificate does not make you a good trainer, or even a safe one. In fitness, things are always changing so you have to continue to re-certify. It’s a good idea to make sure the trainer you are thinking of hiring is current with all their necessary documents. Just because you took a course 6 years ago doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about. Someone who cares about the quality of service they are providing will continue to learn in such a changing industry. If you stumble on a trainer that has taken their studies further and has taken specialty training courses, this could be a big bonus. But let me say this, studying and having multiple certificates does not make anyone a great trainer. Many factors go into the mixing bowl when you are creating a fantastic trainer.

If a trainer is current with their certificates, they will also have insurance. Ask to see their policy or a policy card. A trainer who does not carry insurance does not carry it for a reason. You also have to have a CPR/AED card to qualify for insurance. Trainers without their CPR/AED card raise a big red flag and I would recommend to stay away.

Every trainer should have a current CPR/AED card. If they have one that is expired, that is simply not good enough. An expired CPR/AED card will not get you insurance, and does not protect the client. You want a responsible trainer who values the status of “current”, and also your life. Ask to see their card.


Assessment and Testing
I believe a trainer needs to assess and take the client through testing to provide safe and effective training. Some of these tests should include:

  • Strength Testing: This can be performed by having the client perform some of the basic exercises that can offer a trainer a solid understanding of the level of strength the client currently has. This will help the trainer avoid pushing the client too hard in the beginning, or at any time, and avoid possible injury.
  • Body Fat Testing: This can be done with a caliper, or other devices. I have a Lange caliper, and the Bodymetrix Pro ultrasound. These are pretty accurate, of course as accurate as the trainer is skilled in using them. If I ever question a reading I get with my ultrasound, I will double check with my calipers. Those electrical impedance testing machines are full of s%$#! They are far from accurate and are very sensitive. I had an obese client tell me they were 28% body fat after having their fat taken at a doctor’s office with one. My scale at the time had this feature. I wanted to show him how unreliable these were. I stepped on mine and I was 30%. At the time I really was 12.3%. I had taken my body fat a week prior, and then had another skilled trainer (just to be sure) take it again. Just because a trainer doesn’t offer a body fat test it doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified, and just because they do it doesn’t mean they are. I knew a trainer who would add several points when he first took their body fat so that when he did it again 6 weeks later it would be less regardless of what happened with their weight.
  • Flexibility Testing: Testing flexibility is important. It can show the trainer where there is stiffness and what needs to improve. The lack of flexibility can lead to painful injury.
  • Cardiovascular Testing: This can be a simple test. It can be a mile test, where the trainer asks the client to run, or walk a mile as fast as they can comfortably and sees how long it takes. Or even just having a client do some cardio and watching the effort exerted.
  • Blood Pressure: I have a Withings blood pressure monitor. I like to know where a client is before we start. Sometimes people fail to tell you everything, or do not know. I like to be safe. Also, exercise reduces blood pressure. After a while of exercise, when you take their blood pressure and they see this for themselves, they may get even more excited about improving their health.
  • Body Weight: It’s a good idea to know where a client is when they start. Weight is not the best indicator of how successful the program is. One pound of muscle is smaller, and more compact than one pound of body fat. So using the scale plus doing body fat testing is the most accurate way to track progress.

There are definitely more tests but these are a good start. I don’t think any training program should be taken without some assessment and testing. There are more factors such as personality, concern, passion, and honesty but those are left to your gut and how you feel about the trainer and interact with them. I hope this information helps anyone who reads this to assist them in finding the perfect trainer!

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About Author

Diane Mohlman

I'm a ISSA certified fitness trainer, specialist in performance nutrition, fitness therapy and youth fitness. I continue to educate myself on the topics of health and fitness. This industry is ever changing and new discoveries are made constantly. I have such a love for this field, and also helping people better their lives! See my profile page for more information.

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