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How to Choose The Personal Trainer Who's Right For You

Aug 13, 2008

So you are thinking about hiring a personal trainer. That is terrific, because more people are working out with their very own exercise consultant than ever before. Personal trainers are not just for Hollywood stars and the "rich and famous" anymore! For good reason, since personal trainers can make the difference between a great workout and a ho-hum one—or even no workout at all. Your personal trainer will motivate you, keep you on track and make sure your workouts are safe, enjoyable and effective.

Of course, you want your personal trainer to exhibit the same qualities you demand of any provider of professional services, say, your tax preparer or dentist—a high degree of knowledge in their field, demonstrated expertise, plus a personality that's compatible with yours.

A recent IDEA survey showed that personal trainers provide a wide variety of clients with an extensive list of services, including nutritional guidance, fitness assessment, lifestyle management advice, weight control programs and many more.

To help you choose the personal trainer who's just right for you, we've developed this handy guide. It takes you through the steps of identifying potential candidates and provides specific questions to ask. We recommend that you interview at least three personal trainers carefully before making your decision.

How to Locate Personal Trainers in Your Area

Personal trainers can be found through a variety of sources. If you are a member of a health club, fitness center, YMCA/YWCA or JCC in your community, ask if they have a personal trainer on staff. Ask friends, health professionals, or your family doctor for referrals. To choose a personal trainer near you, check out IDEA FItnessConnect.

Determine Your Goals, Needs and Budget

Frequency — Are you merely looking for a one-time consultation about your exercise program, or do you want to establish a long-term working relationship? For a modest fee, many personal trainers will perform a fitness assessment and design a workout regimen tailored to your needs.

Location — Where do you want to work out? Many personal trainers will come to your home. Or, if you prefer, you can meet your personal trainer at a studio or health club nearby.

Budget — Personal training rates range from $20 to $100 per hour-long session, with the majority charging between $25 and $50. If that sounds high, remember, you are making an investment in your most important possession—your health. In addition, discounts are often available for multi-session purchases, for higher frequency (three times a week instead of two), and for training multiple clients at the same time.

Questions to Ask during Your Interview

The following questions will help you evaluate a personal trainer's credentials and determine whether his or her expertise is appropriate to your needs.

What is your exercise and educational background? Are you certified by a nationally recognized organization?

To properly design a safe and effective workout, a personal trainer should have a good grounding in exercise technique, including exercise physiology, anatomy and injury prevention. A four-year degree in a fitness-related field or certification—or, preferably, both—indicates the personal trainer knows at least the basics of conducting a quality session

What is your level of personal training experience? How do you keep current on the latest personal training techniques, research and trends?

Fitness is a fast-moving field, and you want to be able to rely on your personal trainer for current information on fitness, exercise and healthy lifestyle activities. Membership in a professional association such as IDEA is one way to tell the personal trainer is staying abreast of the latest information on a variety of important topics.

Are you certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid?

While emergencies during training are extremely rare, be sure your personal trainer knows precisely what to do in case one should arise during your session.

Do you require a health screening or release from my doctor?

Many medical conditions or past injuries can affect your participation in a training session and the program your personal trainer designs for you. A quality personal trainer needs to know relevant details of your past medical history, including any medications you may be taking, before he or she can provide you with an effective workout. If you are under a doctor's care for certain conditions, your personal trainer will discuss any exercise concerns with your physician.

Can you give me references from other clients and industry professionals familiar with your knowledge and abilities?

People choose to hire a personal trainer for many reasons, including weight loss, cardiovascular improvement, marathon or triathlon training, injury or illness rehabilitation, pre/postnatal fitness and many more. It is important to hire someone who has experience in the type of training you seek. Calling references can help you gauge whether the personal trainer has the expertise to properly serve your needs.

Will you keep track of my workouts, chart my progress and update my medical history periodically?

Your personal trainer will help you establish realistic short- and long-term goals and assess your progress towards them. He or she might chart areas such as weight, percent body fat, body measurements, cardiovascular improvements, strength and endurance. By updating your medical history from time to time, your personal trainer will also be able to adjust your workouts as necessary to reflect your new abilities.

Do You Carry Personal Trainer Liability Insurance?

It is important for your personal trainer to have liability insurance in case you are injured while working out with him or her.

Do you provide clear-cut policies on cancellations, billing and so on in writing?

Having all policies clearly stated in writing helps avoid any misunderstandings or confusion and protects your rights as a consumer.

What is your rate per session? Do you offer any discounts or package deals?

The personal trainer you select will most likely be an experienced professional with a high degree of expertise, and expects to be compensated as such. Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per hour-long session, and be sure to ask about any discounts available for multi-session purchases, for higher frequency (three times a week instead of two), and training two or more clients at a time.

What Hours Are You Available To Train?

If you're a professional with a full-time job, you probably want to work out either in the morning, at lunch or in the evenings—all popular times demanded by clients. If not, you probably have more flexibility regarding workout times. However, do not feel "locked into" a time; should you need to change appointment times at a later date, be sure to ask what hours your personal trainer has available.

Will You Help Me Focus On Reasonable Goals, Not Unattainable Results?

No reputable personal trainer will promise that you will lose 30 pounds in 30 days, for example. It is vital both for your health and your motivation to set realistic, achievable goals. This prevents disillusionment and disappointment, raises your chances of success and is a proven technique to keep you moving toward your goals.

Do you have a network of professionals, such as physicians, dietitians, physical therapist and other fitness/health professionals?

A quality personal trainer will have established sources for specialized questions and referrals to provide you with the best service possible.

What is your communication style with your clients?

A quality personal trainer will always motivate you through positive, not negative, reinforcement, and should never make you feel incompetent or inadequate. Your personal trainer should listen to you carefully to determine your goals and needs, communicate an understanding of them, and tell you why the program that has been designed is appropriate. He or she should also ask for your input on your program, and be prepared to put in writing the principles and reasoning behind exercise program decisions.

Parting Thoughts

Keep in mind that while personal trainers are business people, most got into the profession because they care about the well being of their clients and want to see them succeed. Your personal trainer should ask questions about your lifestyle, including your eating habits, whether you smoke or drink, and other activities that could affect your ultimate health. He or she should also take steps to tailor your program to your unique needs and make you feel comfortable in the relationship. You should feel free to bring up questions or concerns you have at any time.

Give careful consideration to personality. Make sure your personal trainer's approach—energetic versus relaxed, aggressive versus low-key—fits your personal style. Gender is also important, since some people like working with a trainer of the same sex, while others prefer one of the opposite sex.

The bottom line is, you will experience good results if you are comfortable with your personal trainer. We hope you will use this guide to go out and find the right personal trainer for you. Good luck, and stay active! This information furnished as a consumer education service of IDEA, the Health & Fitness Association, as part of our mission to "Inspire the World to Fitness".

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