PERSONAL TRAINERS – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
By Monika Tarkowska-Carter CPT, LWMC, HLC
After almost 19 years in the health and fitness industry I have seen them all: from the most professional and qualified ones to those that are a downright disgrace to the training profession, and then everybody in-between. And what I see doesn’t really surprise me anymore but what does is people’s inability to tell the difference. So here are some helpful hints that will not only tell you what to look for if you are thinking of hiring one but maybe make you think twice about the one you already have. And please, don’t tell me that you’ve had them for a while, you are used to them, you don’t like changes, they are your buddies, etc., etc. and that’s why you continue training with them because, trust me, that’s not a good enough reason.
So let’s start with the basics.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING – EDUCATION and CREDENTIALS
1. Although our industry is not regulated just yet (there is no licensing system) there are many educational bodies that insure proper training of personal trainers. Make sure they have a nationally recognized certification from a reputable organization. The best ones in the industry at the moment are:
-American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
-National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
-National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
-American Council on Exercise (ACE)
The above organizations have operated for many years and provide the highest standards in training fitness professionals. There a few others, less known ones but the bottom line is: make sure they are accredited by NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). You can find the list of accredited organizations on their website: http://www.credentialingexcellence.org/NCCAAccreditation/AccreditedCertificationPrograms/tabid/120/Default.aspx
2. A degree in a related field is helpful though not absolutely necessary. I have seen many excellent trainers without degrees and terrible ones with degrees. A degree of B.Sc. or M.Sc. in the field of exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics etc., gives a lot of valuable background knowledge that can be used to successfully train clients but it does NOT prepare one for a training position all by itself as the knowledge gained is mostly theoretical and not practical. Certification from one of the above mentioned organizations is still absolutely necessary.
3. Many universities now offer special certificate programs in personal training*. These are advanced, college level courses that give not only theoretical but also practical knowledge of the exercise field. Many of them count towards Master of Science degree should a trainer wish to pursue one. (One such example is UCLA Extension which for many years has been considered one of the best programs of its kind). Some require a certification as a prerequisite to enrollment.
*Note that the Certificate is not the same as Certification but after completion of a university level certificate program most students are able to successfully pass certification exams as their level of knowledge is a lot more advanced.
4. Is the trainer’s certification current?
Each organization requires a certain number of continuing education units per year. Many trainers take the exam and never renew their certifications when the time comes. Make sure their certification is current. Just go to the website of an organization your trainer is certified from and do your homework. How credible do you think a person is if they took an exam 10 years ago and their certification is long expired?
5. Continuing education – how often do they take classes, attend lectures, symposia and conferences? How much continuing education do they do per year: the bare minimum or more?
They should be able to show you their certificates of completion if requested.
6. Do they have additional certifications or training in other complementary fields like nutrition or lifestyle coaching? These are always a huge plus not only because they show a trainer’s commitment to education in many related fields but also because they will assure your needs are better addressed.
HOW TO FIND A REPUTABLE TRAINER IN YOUR AREA?
You can go to the websites of the above listed organizations and enter your zip code or a trainer’s name if you have someone in mind and want to check their credentials.
A better way, however, is a new website by IDEA Health and Fitness Association (the biggest educational body in the fitness industry). Its great advantage is the fact that IDEA has done all the work for you: all current certifications of trainers are listed and verified for accuracy as well as their insurance and CPR training so you can be assured that the information is true. Trainers listed have their own page where you can learn more about them, their areas of expertise, training philosophy, etc. You can read reviews posted by clients, go to the trainers’ websites, blogs, newsletter, Face book and Twitter accounts and see videos if there are any. In addition, the website allows you to find gyms and different classes in your area. Just go to: www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect , choose a type of professional you are looking for and your zip code and you will get a list of names to choose from. Those that appear on top of the list are the highest rated.
1. The best certification on the market is just a start. If you are young, healthy, want to get a little fitter and just need a little push to exercise this may be enough but in most cases it is NOT. There is nothing like years of practical experience to make a trainer truly good. This is especially important if you have health concerns or problems, are a lot more serious about fitness than most people or have very specific goals in mind. These can be related to weight loss, fat loss, muscle gain, your particular health condition or sport you participate in. It is hard to suggest a specific amount of years here but look for someone with at least 5 years of experience or more.
2. Do they have experience training different populations and age groups? Have they trained clients with your health condition? Are they well informed to do that? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions – a good trainer will not feel defensive when asked. They will probably appreciate that they are dealing with an informed consumer.
3. Do they ask about your medical history and medications taken?
4. Do they do some kind of an assessment or evaluation of your initial condition that would tell them what your fitness level is and help them evaluate your progress in the future?
1. Do they have valid professional insurance?
2. Are they CPR and AED trained? This is an especially important consideration if you are elderly, on medications or have serious health problems.
It never ceases to amaze me how few people ask me about my credentials or are even interested in them. Yes, I know that I have built a reputation in the fitness industry over many years and that your friends’ referral is what matters to you, but your friend may not be the best judge after all. Know why you are making the choice. Do your research.
- Is the trainer professional in every way?
- Are they on time?
- Do they treat you and refer to you with respect?
- Are they focused on the client at all times?
- Are they constantly engaging in a conversation with others while training you?
- Are they on their cell phone during the training time?
- Are they always watching television screens in the gym instead of paying attention to you?
- Do they dress appropriately?
- Are they trying to do their own workout while they are training you?
- Is their language appropriate?
-Are they listening to you or do they follow their own agenda?
-Are they good listeners in general?
- Are they sensitive to your concerns?
- Do they treat you like a buddy? (Even if they are your body they should not treat you like one in a professional environment in front of others.)
I am not talking about complete perfection here. All of us are guilty of small “misdemeanors” from time to time, like saying “Hi” to a colleague or club member passing by, having to answer a cell phone call because of some emergency, getting distracted by a piece of braking news on TV, etc., etc. but doing so on a constant basis is not acceptable.
Have they explained their policies to you in a manner that is satisfactory to you? Are you happy with the way they communicate with you? Are they easy to reach? Do they respond to your phone calls or emails in a timely manner? Do you feel you are being heard? Is the training about YOU or about them? Do they constantly talk about themselves, their own issues or problems? Are they willing to cooperate with your doctors and be a part of your health team?
Does your trainer’s personality fit well with yours? Do you want a trainer who is nurturing and soft or energetic and exuberant or a boot camp drill sergeant?
Is the trainer courteous to other members of the club? Do they respect other members’ space or behave as if the gym is their own? Do they treat their colleagues with respect? Do they gossip about other trainers or members? Are they always judging other trainers’ work or other people’s workouts?
Remember that it is OK for your trainer to answer your questions about the exercises others are doing or point to exercises that are downright dangerous as a way of educating you but criticizing others constantly is not OK.
Unfortunately, as in most industries, the better and more experienced the professional the higher their fees will be. In the US the prices run from as low as $30 a session for beginning trainers in big health club chains to $300 and even $400 an hour for top rated trainers in Hollywood and New York. The average at the moment, depending on where you live, is somewhere in the ballpark of $70- $150 per session. You have to take your budget into account but don’t make your decision based on the price itself. Our industry has many highly qualified professionals whose training and experience justifies their fees and is worth every penny. Remember that continuing education is expensive. If you expect your trainer to stay on top of the latest research you have to be prepared to pay for it.
All the above considered you should, however, keep certain things in mind. Many of us work from early morning hours sometimes until late at night. We are often on our feet all day. We constantly listen to people’s problems and complaints about their various aches and pains. Many clients treat us as their therapists and an emotional outlet for their frustrations. This can be very tiring and draining at times. Please, be understanding if occasionally we need to sit down or our focus dwindles for a few seconds.
Hiring a personal trainer is an important decision in your life and if you have a specific health condition it may just turn out to be one of the most important ones you’ll ever make. Don’t be afraid to do your research, ask the right questions and interview possible candidates. You wouldn’t go to any doctor, would you?
All of the above qualities are important when choosing a personal trainer. Don’t make this decision lightly. It is your money. It is your HEALTH. And what could be more important than that?