The health and fitness industry is booming right now, more than ever, with rapid growth each year that shows no signs of stopping. With this steady increase of people becoming more interested in investing in their health (demand), comes more and more options for the consumer (supply). Not all of those options will be right for you. Since people are “buying into” different aspects of the health and fitness industry more than ever, I thought I would share some tips about one of the aspects that I have some experience in. So let’s talk about what responsible personal trainers do, what they don’t do, reasons to hire a trainer, and things you should consider if you’re looking for one.
Understanding a Certified Personal Trainer’s Scope of Practice
What certified personal trainers DON’T do:
- Prescribe Medicine
- Prescribe diets or recommend supplements
- Treat injuries
- Monitor progress for medically referred clients
- Work miracles
- Do the work for you
- Force you to do anything
What certified personal trainers DO:
- Screen for limitations
- Identify potential risk factors through screening
- Refer clients to an appropriate allied health professional or medical practitioner
- Follow national consensus guidelines for exercise programming for medical disorders
- Receive, follow, and monitor exercise, health, or nutrition guidelines from a physician, physical therapist, registered dietitian,etc
- Design exercise programs
- Provide general information on healthy eating, according to the MyPlateFood Guidance System (this is another topic for another day but I don’t typically provide this information to my clients for personal reasons. I prefer to refer them to a nutritionist or dietitian. I’ll probably blog about this topic soon.)
- Refer clients to a dietitian or nutritionist for a specific diet plan
- Use exercise to help improve overall health
- Help clients follow physician or therapist advice
- Design an exercise program once a client has been released from rehabilitation
- Refer clients to a qualified counselor or therapist
- Encourage, support, educate
Why you should hire a personal trainer:
I mentioned earlier that I’m a certified personal trainer so you might be expecting me to say that everyone should hire a trainer. The truth is, I actually don’t think everyone needs a trainer. But instead of covering why some people don’t need a trainer, let’s talk about why some people do. If any of these statements apply to you, a trainer could be right for you:
- You need coaching in behavioral change and goal setting
- You need encouragement and someone to hold you accountable to be consistent with your workouts
- You lack the confidence and aren’t comfortable trying new things or working out alone
- You lack experience with different types of exercise (i.e. weight training, functional training, etc.)
- You have some experience but need help with form
- You have been working out and losing weight consistently but have hit a plateau
- You are totally new to exercise and don’t know where to start
- You have experience with different types of exercise but need someone to provide individual workouts or full programs for you
- You are lazy when it comes to exercise and just want someone to push you to get your butt in gear
Things you should consider:
If you have gotten this far then maybe you’re thinking you could benefit from hiring a personal trainer. It’s so important that you not only find a good one but also that you find the right one for you. Here are some things to keep in mind.
This industry is not regulated well.
There is no single regulatory body for personal trainers. So basically, no one is keeping up with trainers and their qualifications, or lack thereof. Unlike dietitians, for example, who have to meet certain requirements by law in order to call themselves a dietitian. No regulations or laws exist for personal trainers.
There are countless personal training certifications available but not all of them are created equal. In fact, only a handful are actually accredited and recommended over and over across the industry. The other certifications are typically ones that cost very little and you can get one in a short period of time. The reputable certifications will take at the very least 6-8 months of learning and the tests are known to be very difficult to pass. I can attest to that!
Instead of linking to a single article, I want you to go to Google and search “accredited personal training certifications,” so you can see for yourself. There are many people who are working independently or for gyms who are not certified at all. I think that’s because finding a person who has an accredited personal training certification who is also right for their gym, wants to work their hours, carry out their job description, and so on is just hard. Not to mention, a person who is not certified could be paid less than someone who is. So gyms might be cutting corners there.
Pressure to sell
Most of us get into training to help people, but there’s so much pressure for trainers to sell training in a gym setting and so many hours that have to go into training to actually make decent money, that the focus inadvertently is taken off of helping others and placed on meeting a goal. So it’s really hard to find someone to fill that position and keep it filled. I’ve heard it said (and I believe it) that typically if a trainer is good at sales they won’t be as good at training and vice versa.
I suck at sales so I’m hoping that means I’m an amazing trainer (wink). I learned quickly through my experience and through meeting and speaking with other trainers about their experiences, personal training in a gym is not an easy job. It happens a lot that personal trainers grow tired of the gym sales setting and working their butts off for commission and they leave to train independently. Then the gym has to fill that space quickly so they don’t lose their clients.
Then you have the world of online personal trainers, which is growing very quickly. This is even trickier to maneuver because they typically sell the same packages to many people. This is actually fine in some cases, but if you actually need one-on-one help, it’s probably not the way to go because the mechanics of exercise cannot be coached easily online. It’s more of a hands-on learning experience. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but I do believe online trainers are better for people with plenty of exercise experience, no injuries, and no trouble with the form and function of exercises.
How to verify certification:
Just ask for their certification information
Ask what organization they received their certification through then look it up and find out if it’s an accredited program. Accreditation is a quality assurance process. If a certification program has been accredited that means it has been evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met.
Take a look at their certification card
If they don’t have one, that’s a red flag. If they do have one and it doesn’t have an expiration date on it, that’s also a red flag. An expiration date means that they are required to continue renewing their certification. In order to do that they have to complete so many continuing education credits, or CEC’s, during each certification cycle in order to qualify to renew. This is very important because health and fitness research is always evolving and those CEC’s keep fitness professionals up to date on important knowledge for health, safety, and effectiveness in their programming.
Check online listings
If they don’t have a card or certificate to show you but they tell you they lost it or just don’t have it handy, most reputable programs have online listing of their fitness professionals so you can look them up and verify their current certification. Also possible for sure, because it’s the situation I’ve been in, they just renewed their certification and they haven’t received an updated card/certificate.
If you find a trainer who was recently certified but their certification just expired and they didn’t renew, I would say it’s not entirely unsafe to take a chance with them. But keep in mind that most certifications run in two-year cycles. During that time, if they had already decided they weren’t going to renew, they probably weren’t taking any classes for continuing education credits. So they could have missed out on new knowledge and information that is important for them to do their job well and safely. On the other hand, maybe they did take those CEC’s. The good news is, you can ask them to see proof because each course you take gives you a certificate after you pass it. Don’t be afraid to ask.
If a trainer is offering meal plans with their programs that is a red flag
This could mean they aren’t certified. The truth is before I got certified I didn’t know that personal trainers can’t prescribe meal plans. So maybe other people don’t know that and they are just doing what they think personal trainers do. Again, a trainer who is certified through an accredited program knows their scope of practice and will not (in theory) offer meal plans themselves. Check to see if they are also a registered dietitian or a certified nutritionist. Chances are if they are they will have already advertised that because they know it’s important. They also may have partnered with a dietitian or at the very least a nutritionist, which I have done in the past. For example, the meal plans I used to offer come from registered dietitians employed by a company I partnered with.
Even if a trainer turns out to be certified from a reputable organization, seems very knowledgeable, and is in the physical condition you want to be in, I would not accept a meal plan that they have written. They might have figured out how to reach their goals but what worked for them probably won’t work for you. You can really slow, halt, or even reverse your progress by using a meal plan that doesn’t fit you and your goals. But more importantly, if you have any health issues (known or unknown), they will not know how to handle those or identify them in your body’s response to certain diets. It’s also entirely possible that the trainer has studied and learned how to prescribe meal plans specific to each individual’s needs, but if they don’t have proof of that education, I wouldn’t risk it.
Find a personal trainer who is right for you, not just qualified.
Just because a trainer has a legitimate certification and all the knowledge in the world it still does not mean that trainer is right for you. Make sure your personalities are compatible. Your health and fitness are personal things. You first need to find someone you are comfortable sharing personal things with like your weight, goals, setbacks, obstacles, fears, honest experiences, and more. Up there in the ‘things trainers don’t do’ section I mentioned trainers are not counselors and that’s true.
Counseling is outside of my scope of practice as a personal trainer. That means it’s one of the things I recognize that I am not formally trained for. so I basically agree not to do it and I will refer my clients to a professional counselor or therapist if needed. But what we do have to do (and be good at, in my opinion) is listen, empathize, and help our clients dig down deep into their underlying issues (why they want to change, why they haven’t changed yet, etc). We cannot help change behaviors in our client’s lives if we don’t understand where the behavior is coming from.
A good trainer makes you comfortable with getting uncomfortable
In my opinion, a good trainer is not only knowledgeable but also capable of connecting with their clients. Also important is finding someone who will push you past your limits. When I say find someone you are comfortable with, I mean find someone you are comfortable getting uncomfortable with. The last thing you want to do is pay big bucks to a trainer who is going to pacify you and help you justify the reasons you have not changed. We probably all have at least one friend who can do that for us for free.
Sidenote: sometimes people hire personal trainers for things like bodybuilding, figure competition training, sports specific training, etc. Those requirements would look a little different than the lists I have here. This post is focusing on everyday people who are just trying to take responsibility for their health and fitness.
Find a trainer who:
- You feel comfortable talking to
- Seems to be genuinely interested in why you want to make changes
- Doesn’t help you justify your excuses
- Will push you – side note: this means in whatever way is most effective for you. So find a trainer who cares enough to know what you need. Do you need the Jillian Michaels type screaming in your ear or do you need gentle, consistent encouragement and support? Maybe you need a little of both. Maybe you need someone who will care enough to get to know when you need one or the other.
- Doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear because they want you hire them. “Sure, Linda, we can knock off that extra 100 pounds in 4 months!” No, Linda. We can’t. At least not safely. Find a trainer who is upfront and honest with you about what it takes to make those kinds of changes and what it takes to make them stick.
Consider your willingness to commit and follow through.
Not everything about deciding to hire a personal trainer depends on the trainer. It’s not a $10 group exercise class you can drop into and out of as you please. Most personal trainers/gyms will require you to purchase a certain number of sessions upfront. Of course, there are some business-related reasons for that but, most importantly, trainers want your commitment upfront.
When you come to me asking me to help you I will immediately ask you a few things:
- What are your goals and your time frame?
- Why do you think you haven’t made these changes before now?
- What do you expect to get from working from me?
- On a scale of 1-10, how ready are you to change?
You’re going to get a ton more questions from me than that, but that’s where we start. Do I want to make money? Of course! I need to make money. But do I want you to make that positive change in your life just as much, if not more? YES! Personal training is not as glamorous and fun as it seems. It is hard, exhausting, never-ending work. I am a trainer because I’m passionate about what fitness can do for our physical and mental health. I want to help others understand that. When I put those packages in front of you it’s not just a question of how much money you want to spend (although that is very important for you to consider and to stay within your means). it’s also a question of what you are willing to commit to.
Are you ready to give your goal the commitment it needs?
It’s a question of how much time and effort you are going to give me in order for me to help you get the results you want. It’s actually super stressful for me because I typically need you to choose a longer commitment. I know that realistically you need that time to reach your goals, but I don’t want to push you to spend more than you can spend. So, you see why I’m a terrible salesperson. It’s a real conundrum for me. Anyway, that’s another issue altogether. think long and hard about the level of commitment you will give to a trainer before you talk to that trainer to begin with.
Some other things you should consider when deciding to hire/choosing a trainer are:
How much money you can spend
Decide this and present it to the trainer you choose. You will have trainers tell you that you need to splurge on this purchase because you’re worth it, your health is the most important thing, you’ll take it more seriously, etc. But I personally could never sit face to face with someone and tell them that they wouldn’t be able to make changes if they didn’t choose the program I wanted them to choose. A good trainer will work with what you can do. Granted, you will get less the less you spend. I’m not saying the trainer should work for nothing for people who can’t afford it. I’m just saying there’s no reason they can’t still do something for you. If they legitimately don’t have an option that fits your price range then they should definitely be able to recommend an alternate route for you.
If a trainer is not available when you are I firmly believe you should find a different trainer. The fact of the matter is, sometimes a trainer’s schedule won’t work with yours and you need a routine that you can stick to. This isn’t about the trainer, it’s about you and your life. You are paying for a service, you should get exactly what you need. If you make exceptions and try to finagle your schedule to fit your trainer’s schedule it could work, but if it’s going to put pressure on you in relation to your other priorities then it will soon leave you with a choice to make. Unfortunately, I’ve been in this situation with clients in the past and they have quit showing up to their sessions and then ghosted me entirely because it all became too much to juggle.
Do not judge a trainer by the way they look
It’s easy to believe that a person who isn’t in the best shape of their lives must not know how to help you get in the best shape of your life. But that’s not always the case. There are plenty of factors that can play into this. Check credentials first, no physical judgment! Very, very often (not always) people who look to be in the best shape have underlying issues because of the stress they put on their bodies to maintain that physical appearance.
On the other hand, those who aren’t rocking “perfect” bodies could have studied and obtained their personal training certification and then started their own fitness journey. OR — and this is my favorite — some trainers have no interest in rock-hard abs. Can you believe that? It’s actually true that you can be healthy and not have a six-pack. That’s a real thing, believe it or not. So, no judgment! Some of the best trainers I know do not actually look like what people assume a personal trainer would look like. It matters so much more what they know and their investment in and passion for helping others.
You don’t have to go to a gym to hire a personal trainer
I no longer work in a gym myself. I have since offered either online services or, for clients who are local, I have offered either in-home services or workouts at parks and other public places. While I am not currently training and focusing on other ventures, I recommend that you be open-minded when you’re looking for a trainer. To find a trainer who trains outside of gyms you can search those directories I mentioned above.
Now you’re ready to start the search for a personal trainer
I could write and write on this subject until I turned this blog post into a book. Instead, I’ll just say please contact me if you have questions regarding personal training or fitness in general. Hopefully, after reading all this information, you can feel confident in the process of finding and hiring a personal trainer. As always, if you have anything to add to this, please comment below.