Hiring a personal trainer may once have seemed to be only a luxury that the rich and famous could afford. These days, anyone with a little expendable income has the power to enlist the assistance of a personal trainer. A qualified trainer can assess individual fitness, create goals based on the status of that assessment, and motivate the client to adhere to the program as outlined. A proper program should address both the exercise and nutritional components of the person’s lifestyle. This article describes the credentials you should consider when seeking a personal trainer. Professionalism, experience, and a personality compatible with that of the client are also important and can be assessed asking a few simple questions.
First and foremost, a professional trainer should have a bachelor’s, masters or doctoral degree in exercise science, kinesiology, exercise physiology, physical education, sport management Or something similar. Also, if you are unfamiliar with the university that granted the degree, make sure it is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Accreditation ensures that the program your trainer completed has met proper standards for course content and academic rigor. Feel free to visit the university’s Web page where you can read course descriptions of the classes taken by your trainer. The degree is an assurance that the trainer did not enter the profession on a whim or as a fly-by-night endeavor. Proper training requires somewhere between 2,000-3,000 hours of in-class instruction, many exams and research papers, as well as much outside studying and writing. A normal time frame for completion is between four to six years that provide a solid background in human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and exercise prescription techniques.
Personal trainer certification is another critical element in crafting a knowledgeable trainer. Due to a presence of government regulation, your best bet is to find a trainer who is certified by one of the following:
- Aerobic and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research (CIAR)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
There may be other quality agencies; however, those listed above are the most respected in the field. These certifications ensure that the trainer has demonstrated basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology, exercise prescription, nutrition, and responsibility to the client. Valid CPR certification is generally required in order to sit for the exams, and most of these certifying bodies require continuing education credits every year or two to keep certification current. Professional liability insurance is often offered at reduced rates to members as well.
Finally, do not accept as legitimate any certification that allows the individual to take the exam at home. Some fringe agencies require only a 70% or higher score even though the exam is taken at home. There is no way to ensure that the trainer in question actually took the exam.
Degree vs. Certification
Ideally, your trainer should have both, adhering to the standards discussed above. The degree requires a more indepth and complete approach to the academic subjects in question. For example, a college human anatomy course will require both a lecture and laboratory component. On average, a 16-week semester will have 130 hours of combined in-class instruction as well as roughly 6-12 exams, depending on the class instructor. Most personal training texts devote one chapter to each subject, and a limited number of questions pertain to each on the actual certification exam. Certification tests also cover various training techniques, as well as information related to client issues. If you are going to spend between $30 to $120 per hour, find a degreed and certified trainer and make the most of your hard-earned money.
No training program is complete without proper nutrition. The quantity and types of nutrients consumed weigh heavily on the outcome of your program. Trainers with a Registered Dietitian (RD) credential from the American Dietetic Association should be able to provide in-depth nutrition advice. However, a Registered Dietetic Technician (DTR) credential or an associate or bachelor’s degree in nutrition from an accredited institution of higher learning may be sufficient for providing basic dietary guidelines. Work experience in the field of nutrition is also a plus. These additional credentials in nutrition should be considered as an adjunct to, but not in place of, the aforementioned exercise science degree and personal trainer certification.
In 1998, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommended the following guidelines for healthy adults:
Mode of activity: Any activity that uses large muscle groups that can be continuously maintained. Examples include walking, jogging, running, swimming, skating, bicycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, rope jumping, jazzercise, dancing of various kinds, and other rhythmic activities.
Frequency: 3 to 5 days a week.
Intensity: 55%/65% to 90% of maximum heart rate. (Maximum heart rate is approximately 220 minus the person’s age.)
Duration: 20 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity. (Intermittent means bouts of 10-minutes or more accumulated through the day.)
Resistance training: Strength training of moderate intensity, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that condition the major muscle groups 2 or 3 days per week.
Flexibility training: Sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion; a minimum of 2 or 3 days per week.
What You Should Expect
Many trainers have a personal philosophy about the best way to develop their client programs. However, during the first meeting, the trainer should explore your health history, fitness goals, and any exercise preferences. You may also be asked to complete several forms:
Informed consent. This should outline the benefits and risks of engaging in an exercise program and states that the client accepts the said conditions without any undue deceit or coercion. It is required by law where program participants may be exposed to some type of harm, be it physical, psychological, or other. Potential clients are advised to read it carefully. Signing the document renders it legally binding.
Health history form. This will contain questions regarding past and current medical problems, family history of disease, and possible risk factors which are contraindicated with exercise. Truthful responses will assist the trainer greatly.
Physician approval. Although not absolutely required for apparently healthy individuals, it is prudent for many people to discuss their training plans with a knowledgeable physician. A good trainer requires written approval from a physician.
Once clearance has been secured, the trainer may ask you to perform several tests to provide a baseline information about your levels of flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiorespiratory endurance. The test areas may include stretching, lifting weights, walking on the treadmill, using the stationary bicycle, and taking a body-fat percentage using skinfold calipers. The initial interview and tests will govern the type of exercise, equipment, and level of intensity that are used.
Although the majority of reputable trainers abide by a code of ethics and professional standards, there will always be those who are less than qualified. In addition, some qualified trainers may engage in unethical practices. Be highly skeptical if your trainer:
Insists on a workout during the first meeting. Most personal training sessions last either 30 or 60 minutes. This initial meeting should be used to explore what you need and process any necessary paperwork.
Tries to sell you dietary supplements. If the client chooses to use supplements, they are best obtained from a retail store.
Advises everyone to use vitamins, protein supplements, amino acids and or any dubious products.
Says that his or her style of training is the ONLY way to get results. Although self-confidence is a positive attribute, it is incorrect to imply that there is only one way to achieve results.
Is hesitant to provide you with proof of credentials or references. This is probably a sign that the trainer’s credentials are less than credible.
Is uninsured. Liability insurance is a must for every personal trainer.
Is not punctual about appointments, or is unavailablevia telephone or email. A professional trainer shouldbe punctual and available to answer client questions.
Is unclear about the cancellation policy. Clients havea right to know how much time they have to cancel asession in advance without being obligated to pay thefee.
Does not keep up with current research in the field ofexercise science. It is important to keep abreast ofany advances or new developments in this ever-changingprofession. This can be done by taking accreditedcontinuing education courses and reading journals suchas The Physician and Sports Medicine, the Journal ofApplied Physiology, the Journal of Sports Medicine,JAMA, and the Journal of the American DieteticAssociation.
Does not practice what he/she preaches. Those who donot train their own body may lack the dedication needed to inspire their clients.