Tips for Choosing the Perfect Personal Trainer

Tips for Choosing the Perfect Personal TrainerIt’s All About the Right Fit!

Some trainers just are not a good fit, either due to inexperience or simply because they have their own agenda. Having a trainer who is a good fit for you, and places your needs first, is of the utmost importance. After all, training should be about you, not them.

In my 20 years as a personal trainer I have worked with a lot of individuals and have developed routines that were specifically tailored to each person. The ground rules for any of these clients were to develop programming that was safe and with content built specifically for their body limitations, fitness level, and interests. I spent several years educating and certifying new trainers and tried to instill these same important concepts into them before issuing a diploma. Some trainers get it, others do not.

First, a Word about Ethics

No matter what certification a trainer holds, if they are from any of the major players in the industry, they all have relatively the same code of ethics in the training manuals. Some key areas include responsibility to the public and responsibility to the profession. A trainer should be supplying services in a legal manner within his/her scope of practice. The services should be provided in a competent, skilled, and passionate manner utilizing best practice and always putting safety first. The trainer should maintain high professional standards and continue to educate him/herself in order to maintain the knowledge skills and abilities set forth by the certifying agency. If you are working with a trainer who does not elicit these basic ethical standards, look elsewhere. (1)

Asking the Right Questions

There are several questions you should be asking every potential trainer you work with in order to find a professional who is the perfect fit for you! Here are some of the general questions you should be asking to see if they are the right fit before purchasing a slew of sessions.

Question 1: Who are they certified by?

A few of the top certifications for Personal Training are from the ACSM, NSCA, NASM, and ACE. There are certainly other organizations that can provide a great certification, but these are the most well-known and are known to use evidence-based information in their courses. The organization that someone is certified by certainly does not dictate exclusively how good of a trainer they will be, but it can alert you to the caliber of their training and expertise. Be careful if you find a trainer who gives you the name of some two-bit web-based organization that no one has ever heard of.

Question 2: What is this trainer’s specialty?

Personal trainers should be able to work with a variety of individuals at any fitness level; the basic training principles remain the same, but many trainers find a niche market either by happenstance or because of specialty training that they have received. Find out if the trainer specializes in working with older adults, newbies, college athlete, or serious weight lifters. This will give you a good indication if this trainer is right for you and will meet your specific needs.

Question 3: What is their fitness philosophy; how do they elicit change in their clients?

What does a typical workout consist of for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced client? Ask for a description about how they would plan a basic workout for each of these. Each workout should be organized a little differently and have tactics in mind that challenge a person at each stage. This can either be shown to you in print, or a simple verbal description of how they would design a workout for your preferred interests and skill level. If you are a beginner, one thing to listen for is that they are designing an uncomplicated workout that does not require too much thinking or know-how. Your initial 2 weeks of weight training should not consist of five different routines. On the other hand, if a trainer has the same routine for everyone, this does not work either; go elsewhere.

Question 4: Do they have any experience with behavior change theories?

Personal training is not just about putting you through the paces of a great cardio and weight routine, it is also about learning “why” the clients either do or do not make lasting changes. This all starts with basic behavior change theory; the most prevalent one used is the Stages of Change Model, which is taught in most renowned personal training courses. The trainer should have a basic knowledge of health behavior theory in order to identify how to best elicit change in you, and how to counsel you when you get “stuck”. If a trainer has no idea what behavior theory is or the basic premise of how it is used, you may want to find someone with more experience in this area.

Question 5: What feeling do you get when you are speaking with them? Do you click?

One of the best indicators you can use when searching for a trainer is your gut! What is your overall feeling when you are first introduced to this person? Are they welcoming, engaging, personable? Whatever qualities you look for in the people you hang around with should be the same that you look for in your trainer. After all, you may very well be spending several hours a week with this person, so you want to enjoy that time! If your personalities and/or training methods are not a match, any good trainer should be able to sense this and should be the first one to suggest another trainer for you.

Question 6: What is their fee and availability?

If all of the other parameters fall into place, then the only things left to discuss are “how much” and “when can we start!” Fees vary from region to region, but for the most part you can expect to pay between $30.00-$80.00 per session with a well-qualified trainer. The more experienced and educated the trainer is, the more you can expect to pay, unless they work in a facility with a fixed rate. Lastly, make sure that your schedules jive and that this person has the availability you are looking for. The next step is to schedule that first session and get started on the path to a brand new you!

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right personal trainer will certainly be easier if you keep these six points in mind as you find the right fit for your fitness journey! Good luck!


1. American College of Sports Medicine. (2004). ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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