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I think back to when I first started personal training nearly 20 years ago, before there was such a thing as a certified personal trainer, back in the days of “Body by Jake” when personal training was unheard of for anyone who wasn't a celebrity or outrageously wealthy. Now personal training is a household word, yet the requirements for being a personal trainer are basically the same as they were back then. . . Which is none. Sure, you can become a “certified personal trainer” and the certifications range from grueling (American College of Sports Medicine ACSM) to challenging (National Strength and Conditioning Association NSCA, National Academy of Sports Medicine NASM) to moderately difficult (American Council on Exercise, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) to questionable, such as passing a non-proctored test and then being considered “certified” (International Sports Sciences Association) and many, many more, but with the broad range of qualifications needed to take and pass these tests (some require a BS and work experience, most require only a current CPR card) the term “certified personal trainer” could mean a lot or nothing. So, since you can't base your decision on whether or not your potential trainer is certified, what should you look for in choosing a personal trainer?

  1. Who are they certified by? Best of all is ACSM, second best are NSCA and NASM. Cross your fingers that licensing of this profession will happen soon.
  2. Do they have any experience? Where was this experience, what were their duties and for how long? I would look for someone who has been training for at least 1 year and has had the opportunity to work with a broad range of clients but most importantly clients similar to you.
  3. What is their education background? Ideally, your trainer would possess a BS or MS in exercise physiology, or biomechanics. If they don't have this, make sure they have taken the basics – exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology and anatomy. Often, trainers will take a lot of continuing education workshops without having ever taken the basics which means they lack the conceptual understanding and depth of knowledge to truly use the science behind the training.
  4. If they are going to be working with you on your nutrition program make sure they have a BS or MS in nutrition or have taken the appropriate classes to be offering you advice. Beware the nutritionist who has gained their knowledge from the latest bestselling book!
  5. Get some referrals from your potential trainers and talk to 2-3 of their clients.
  6. Audition them. Try out the trainer for a week or two to make sure that your personalities and goals mesh. Be sure that the trainer is able to help you reach your goals, not theirs!

If you have had a bad experience in the past, it could be time to give personal trainers another try. Just because you had a bad meal at a restaurant doesn't mean you quit eating out! The latest studies confirm that clients who regularly work with qualified personal trainers get far better results than those who train on their own. Just be sure to refer to the guidelines above and make sure you choose to work with a trainer who is not only qualified, but is also the right trainer for you! 

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