Choosing a personal trainer can be a difficult task for several reasons. Will they listen to my goals, am I being trained safely, will I like the exercises that they want me to do, are they qualified to work with populations like me, do they have a credible certification, will they offer me discounts, what papers will I have to sign and the questions go on and on. I would like to get you started in choosing a professionally qualified trainer. I will also help you to determine if you will be a good fit with someone you are considering.
This topic really has no limits so I will try to keep things simple and brief. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American College of Sports Medicine Industry Standards and Guidelines there are three primary tenants of professional qualifications for personal trainers. They are a formal education, an industry certification and some type of experience working with a specific or general population. I will expand on each of these below.
A formal education: Let’s face it; the person who finishes last in medical school is still called doctor. To a degree this holds true for personal trainers. The trainer should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science or related field from a regionally accredited school. The degree in Exercise Science verifies that they have taken coursework as it relates to the scientific foundations of exercise. The coursework most likely includes biomechanics, physiology, motor learning and of course anatomy. Most regionally accredited schools will include classwork in exercise program design, rehabilitation and reconditioning and, facility management.
The second area of professional qualifications is certifications. This gets interesting for good reason. Many times in the personal training industry trainers will suggest that their certifications are the best to hold and the gold standard. That is understandable. Here is what you need to know. Does your potential trainer have a certification that reflects the competencies of their practice? That means is the trainer comprehensively certified in the scope of their practice. There is an extensive list of items but to name a few they are cardiovascular exercise prescription, organization and administration, working with special populations (obesity, pregnancy, and cardiovascular disease), bioenergetics, the nervous system and it goes on. There are at least three certifications that I would recommend you ask for. They are the National Strength and Conditioning Associations Certified Personal Trainer, the American College of Sports Medicine Health Fitness Instructor and the American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer. All three of these certifications require continuing education to maintain the certification and a code of ethics that must be adhered to. You may here about a trainer who is kettlebell certified or spin certified or weightlifting certified. Those certifications are all referred to as “specialty certifications”. Are they nice to have; yes. Do they reflect the scope of practice of a personal trainer; no.
The third area of professional qualification is experience. Ultimately, you’d like to know if the trainer has experience working with a specific population. For instance, if you were to bring your child to a trainer for some reason, you’d like to know if they ever have worked with children. There are many specific populations that personal trainers may have experience (or not) with. They are athletes, strength/power and endurance, senior populations, children, people with disabilities, pregnancy, metabolic syndrome and of course people with no specific limiting conditions.
I would like to add one last item to our list of professional qualifications and, to me, the most important. The personal trainer must have a desire to help people. The desire to help others is the fan to the flame. It drives the trainer to listen, effectively communicate, study up on specific conditions, treat their clientele with respect and dignity, improve themselves professionally and ultimately create a safe and valuable experience for their clients.