Why a trainer may be right for you
If you want to lose weight, get healthy and/or build muscle, hiring a personal trainer can be a step in the right direction. A good trainer can help you set up a program that meets your goals and teach you the best way to exercise. Here's what you should know before you hand over the cash.

What is a Personal Trainer?
A personal trainer should be, at the least, educated and certified through a reputable fitness organization (see below). This person's job is to assess your fitness level, set up a program for you and keep you motivated. He or she will push you past your comfort level--something difficult to do on your own. A trainer also provides:

  • Guidance on reaching your goals
  • Education about strength training, cardio and basic nutrition
  • A reason to show up at the gym each week
  • Accountability
  • Ways to help track your progress

What is a Session Like?
Each session lasts about an hour. The first meeting is devoted to assessing fitness level, body measurements, exercise and health history and goals. Be prepared to step on the scale, have your body fat tested and answer specific questions about your goals. After that, you'll spend most of your time on strength training and cardio.

What to Look for In a Personal Trainer

  • Education: A personal trainer should be certified through a reputable fitness organization such as ACSM, ACE or NSCA). An exercise science or other related college degree isn't necessary, but the more education your trainer has, the better your workouts will be.
  • CPR: your trainer should have an updated certification in CPR and/or first aid.
  • Specifics: If you have a specific medical problem, injury or condition (such as being pregnant, heart problems, diabetes, etc.) make sure your trainer has education in these areas and will work with your doctor.
  • A good listener: A good trainer will listen closely to what you say and make sure he understands your goals.
  • Attention: A good trainer will be focused only on you during your sessions.
  • Tracking progress: A good trainer will regularly assess your progress and change things if necessary.
  • Personality is important too since you'll be working very closely with this person. Make sure you get along with your trainer and feel comfortable asking questions.

Choosing a Personal Trainer
Like all professions, personal training has its share of losers. But, just because you're assigned to one trainer doesn't mean you can't work with someone else. It may be a personality conflict or you may wonder if you're getting the best advice. Either way, here are some warning flags that it's time to switch.

Warning Flags
Beware if your trainer does any of the following:

  • Ignores or dismisses your questions
  • Works you so hard you're in pain for days. Soreness is normal, but you should still be able to get out of bed
  • Neglects any part of a complete program or recommends a level of training that's too hard for you
  • Recommends questionable supplements or herbs. Always talk to your doctor before taking anything!
  • Diagnoses injuries or illnesses instead of referring you to a doctor
  • Interrupts your session to talk to friends or take phone calls (unless it's an emergency or can't be avoided)
  • Doesn't return phone calls or emails

A personal trainer should watch you, correct your alignment, and explain what you're doing and why. If you're having problems, talk to them--they may not be aware there's a problem. Another option is to talk to the manager or terminate your sessions and look for a different trainer. It's your money and your have a right to get what you want and a good trainer will understand that.

Exercise Standards
In 1998, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommended the following guidelines for healthy adults:

  • Mode of activity: Any activity that uses large muscle groups that can be continuously maintained. Examples include walking, jogging, running, swimming, skating, bicycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, rope jumping, jazzercise, dancing of various kinds, and other rhythmic activities.
  • Frequency: 3 to 5 days a week.
  • Intensity: 55%/65% to 90% of maximum heart rate. (Maximum heart rate is approximately 220 minus the person's age.)
  • Duration: 20 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity. (Intermittent means bouts of 10-minutes or more accumulated through the day.)
  • Resistance training: Strength training of moderate intensity, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that condition the major muscle groups 2 or 3 days per week.
  • Flexibility training: Sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion; a minimum of 2 or 3 days per week.

What You Should Expect
Many trainers have a personal philosophy about the best way to develop their client programs. However, during the first meeting, the trainer should explore your health history, fitness goals, and any exercise preferences. You may also be asked to complete several forms:

  • Informed consent. This should outline the benefits and risks of engaging in an exercise program and states that the client accepts the said conditions without any undue deceit or coercion. It is required by law where program participants may be exposed to some type of harm, be it physical, psychological, or other. Potential clients are advised to read it carefully. Signing the document renders it legally binding.
  • Health history form. This will contain questions regarding past and current medical problems, family history of disease, and possible risk factors which are contraindicated with exercise. Truthful responses will assist the trainer greatly.
  • Physician approval. Although not absolutely required for apparently healthy individuals, it is prudent for many people to discuss their training plans with a knowledgeable physician. A good trainer requires written approval from a physician.

Once clearance has been secured, the trainer may ask you to perform several tests to provide a baseline information about your levels of flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiorespiratory endurance. The test areas may include stretching, lifting weights, walking on the treadmill, using the stationary bicycle, and taking a body-fat percentage using skinfold calipers. The initial interview and tests will govern the type of exercise, equipment, and level of intensity that are used.

How to Help Your Trainer
You can help your trainer do a better job by being a good client.

  • Save the chit-chat for after your session.
  • Be prepared by bringing your own towel and a full water bottle.
  • Give at LEAST 8 hours notice if you need to cancel or reschedule
  • If you have questions, write them down and bring them to your session--you'll spend less time talking and more time working out.
  • If you have a problem with your trainer, address it immediately.
  • Don't interrupt your trainer when she's with a client. Wait until she's finished before approaching her.
  • Recognize that your trainer is there to guide you--but YOU still have to do the work!

How to Choose a Personal Trainer
When you decide to improve your fitness, you may wonder whether to just join a gym, sign-up for group classes, or to hire a personal trainer.

Why Have a Personal Trainer?
A trainer will:

  • Assess your individual abilities and needs.
  • Help you set realistic goals.
  • Personalize your workouts so that they help you achieve your goals.
  • Ensure you are doing exercises correctly and provide instant feedback on how to adjust your posture, motion, and exertion to get maximum results and prevent injury.
  • Instantly adjust an exercise if it is proving to be too advanced for you to do correctly. Likewise, the trainer will add a difficulty level to the exercise if it is too easy for you and isn't giving you the challenge needed.
  • Keep your workouts fresh and fun, introducing you to using different equipment to work out

Choosing the Right Personal Trainer
You should assert yourself and interview the trainer, as this will be a personal one-on-one relationship. You need to be comfortable with the trainer and able to understand his or her directions. Choosing the gender of your trainer is one way to narrow the field. Many people find it easier to take direction and motivation from a trainer of the opposite sex, while others may only feel comfortable with a trainer of their own gender.

Interview Questions for a Personal Trainer

  • What are the trainer's professional credentials? Is he or she certified by ACSM, ACE, or NSCA?
  • Has the trainer worked with other clients with your same starting fitness level and age? If you are training for a specific sport goal, such as walking a marathon, has the trainer worked with others who have that goal?
  • Does the trainer keep up with the latest ideas, research, and equipment?
  • What hours does the trainer have available, and what flexibility will there be in scheduling your workouts?
  • What are the fees? What is the penalty for having to cancel a workout? Do package agreements have an expiration date? Are they transferable to other trainers at the same facility? You will want to research fees of other trainers in your area to see what the going rate is.
  • Is a trial session available for free or a low fee? If you like the trainer, book just a couple of sessions as a trial before you buy a package of sessions.

After the Interview/Workout Session
I recommend going through a workout with the trainer before making your decision - how he or she communicates with you throughout the workout is what really counts. After you've done this, ask the following:

  • Did I understand how the trainer was directing me to do the exercises?
  • Did the trainer encourage me to give feedback, or did I feel intimidated and clam up?
  • Did the trainer listen to and understand what I was saying and adjust the session so I could do the exercises correctly?
  • Did the trainer understand my goals and seem to be gearing the workout in that direction?
  • Is this somebody I will feel comfortable working out with? Does he or she motivate me to perform better?
  • Will I look forward to coming to workout with this trainer, or am I likely to find excuses to miss workouts?

This will better prepare you in choosing a trainer best suited for you!

Copyright © 2007 RML Fitness Group LLP, A member of the X-Synergy Group. All rights reserved.