Tips On How To Find A Great Personal Trainer

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In my last article , and this is all about how to pick a good one. Just like there are crappy writers (James Patterson), crappy doctors (Dr. Mengele), crappy actors (Keanu Reeves), and crappy bands (Nickelback), there are also crappy personal trainers.

Here are some tips on how to find one who isn’t crappy:

1. By referral
Do you know someone who uses a trainer they really like? Get the opinions of a few friends or colleagues, and if they have someone they rave about, check him or her out as a candidate.

2. Check out their credentials
This involves knowing what the credentials are. I think it’s a buyer’s market in most cases as long as you’re not too picky about location, so I recommend going with someone who has a degree in kinesiology along with some recognized personal training certifications.

In Canada, the pinnacle is probably CSEP-CEP. CSEP stands for Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology and CEP stands for Certified Exercise Physiologist. You must have an undergraduate degree in exercise science in order to complete this course, and it is grueling. I’d argue it is better than any US certification.

CSEP-CPT is another really good one (CPT stands for Certified Personal Trainer). You don’t need a degree in exercise science, but you still need a half dozen university level courses that meet their exercise science requirements.

The certification I have — NSCA-CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) is a good one, and quite possibly the most respected in the US, but although it requires the candidate to be a degree holder it doesn’t matter what the degree is in. I’ve got an MBA, and that qualified just fine. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brutal course and the failure rate is very high, but if you’re looking for a trainer and they have a CSCS, I’d want them to also have health-related undergrad work like a kinesiology degree (even though I don’t have it myself. But I’m special).

I’m not going to list the crappy McDonald’s drive-though weekend-type certifications here as ones to avoid because I’m getting a little tired of the hate mail that fills my inbox each week, but suffice to say there are some “warm body” certifications where people show up, pay a fee, learn some basics, and get certified. Before you pick a trainer, look at the letters after their name and then hit Google to find out what was involved in achieving them.

3. Consider going outside your gym
There are commercial gyms that have good trainers, but this is the place where less-experienced trainers have a tendency to hang out. As a general rule, the best trainers run their own businesses and they have the most experience. Often they will come to your home or have their own studio.

Of course there are exceptions. In my personal experience University gyms have a tendency to hire highly qualified trainers because they won’t accept people that don’t have health degrees and quality certifications. Community gyms are known for having higher standards as well. The trainer I use works out of the University of Calgary, and he has a kinesiology degree and a host of high-level certifications. He knows a lot more than I do about exercise technique, which is why I use him and defer to him.

Then there are the other commercial gyms that are about making money. For some of these trainers, half their job is selling memberships. Many are just salespeople with some warm body certification, so be on the lookout.

4. Do a trial run
Before you agree to hire a trainer, you need to talk to that person for a bit and judge the vibe you get from them. Does this person seem like they’d be good to work with? Do they seem to be the right fit for you?

If yes, then book one session. ONE only. You don’t want to get stuck booking a half dozen sessions with someone and it turns out you hate him or he spends your session checking out women at the gym. Here are some things to consider when evaluating this first session and deciding if you want to purchase more:

  • Is the trainer focused on you?
  • A good listener?
  • Concerned for your safety?
  • Encouraging and makes you feel inspired?
  • Does the trainer make you feel comfortable?
  • Does his or her personality fits with yours?
  • Is the trainer creating a plan that is specific to achieving your goals?

James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape. He focuses on weightlifting, running and exercise motivation.

An Editor’s Review:

Very well said, I would like to mention that high level of certifications are great, I am just not impressed by them. I need to see them in action, when I see them in action and I have talked to them about training then, I have a pretty good idea.  Not saying that the high certifications are not good, they are and I encourage all to take them, just make sure that you train regularly, so you will be able to help others because you have the experience.

On the other hand, the right trainer is so very important! I don’t use a trainer myself, but I have in the past from time to time. The worst one told me I need to be “more fat”. At 5″4 and 120 lbs. That is a perfectly acceptable BMI, no? He also told me I need to strength train more (3-4 times a week isn’t enough?) and run less (I was training for a half marathon). But I also had some awesome, highly athletic, highly certified trainers.

I would make sure “good listener” is on the list. That is KEY.

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