Around this time many people are looking for the best way to achieve their fitness and wellness resolutions, perhaps even more so  this year when we could all use a little extra self care.  And in that process many are also wondering how to find a good personal trainer.  If you aren’t already closely involved with the fitness industry in some way it can be difficult to figure out and unfortunately there isn’t enough honest information out there on the topic.  So that’s what I hope to do today to give everyone at least a reliable starting point.  Now full disclosure, I am a personal trainer & health coach, however I’ve made an effort to provide only unbiased information and tips that I would give a friend or family member.

Look for credentials!

An unfortunate fact about the fitness industry is that it’s poorly regulated and there’s no legal precedent for education.  What that means is that in most states you are not required to be certified to call yourself a personal trainer. That means that at this moment you could go make yourself an appealing website, call yourself a personal trainer & start advertising & selling services.  Having read no farther into the fitness industry than this paragraph.

So the first thing to look for is a certification, the 2nd is to check to ensure the certification is reputable.  As a result of the lack of regulation you can get a certification that is essentially just for looks.  These such certifications can be obtained online in a weekend or some in as little as an hour.  So look for an accredited certification that is recognized by NCCA, NBFE or DEAC.  Below is a quick list of the most common accredited certs:

  • ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association
  • NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine
  • FM – Fitness Mentors
  • NCSF – National Council on Strength & Fitness
  • ACE – The American Council on Exercise
  • NSCA – National Strength and Conditioning Association
  • NESTA – National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association
  • NCCPT – National Council for Certified Personal Trainers
  • AFAA – Athletics and Fitness Association of America
  • NFPT – National Federation of Professional Trainers
  • ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine

Now at this point if you’re just looking for a trainer that can put together a program then the basic certification is enough.  However, if you feel that you need someone that can provide more in depth guidance, help prevent or recover from pain and injury, or offer a specific kind of coaching then look for multiple certifications.  All accredited certifications require coaches to obtain some sort of continuing education credits and recertify, however that does not guarantee continued knowledge unfortunately.  For example ACE (my certifying organization) provides a database of articles and webinars that you can read or watch to fulfill these credits.  While this is helpful of course for the coach it also means that you don’t have to put forth much effort to expand your knowledge.  Beyond that it doesn’t guarantee the most updated knowledge.  Given that fitness and nutrition are sciences, updated knowledge is incredibly important.  For example, I could go to that database now and earn credits from quizzes based on articles written several years ago. And even beyond that, there is a big difference between reading an article and earning a new certification or attending a multi-day workshop. While both have their place, reading articles is not enough to truly expand someone’s knowledge.  Now again this is only relevant if you want/need a coach with expanded knowledge of many areas of wellness.  If that’s the case, look for a list of certifications that they earned as a way to continue their education.

Make sure the personal trainer is a good fit for you

Expanding a bit on the topic of education, look for a coach that has certifications in areas specific to your needs.  The first thing to do is of course determine our needs.  For example, if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, look for a Pre/Post Natal certification.  If you’re overcoming an injury or trying to reduce pain, look for certifications relevant to corrective exercise, self-trigger point, etc.

Beyond just education make sure you get along with your trainer and are comfortable talking to them.  After all personal training is personal and therefore the relationship between you & your coach is important.  And if you’re wondering just how comfortable you should be with your trainer, I regularly discuss bowel movements, urination frequency, bloating, gas, sexual dysfunction, mental health concerns and hormonal imbalances with my clients. To be clear that is not because I’m acting as a medical professional or therapist but because all of those things can be affected by your fitness, nutrition & lifestyle habits and vice versa.  Therefore I need to know if there’s concerns in those areas in order to provide the best fitness and nutrition guidance I can and to know when to refer out.  So, if you aren’t comfortable enough with someone that you could discuss all of those things PLUS all of your deepest insecurities, perhaps it’s not the right fit.

Now, that’s not to say you have to be that comfortable instantly of course.  The relationship takes time to build just like any other, but your coach should not be someone that makes you feel tense or nervous.  Your coach should never be an intimidating presence in your life.

A good personal trainer respects their scope of practice

The only regulation in the fitness industry currently is preventing trainers from overstepping boundaries.  For example, a personal trainer cannot diagnose a condition nor can they prescribe a treatment.  Those of course seem pretty obvious.  However, something many people don’t know is that personal trainers also cannot give you a meal plan.  Something that many trainers unfortunately do regularly.  A meal plan is considered a prescription and therefore only registered dieticians can give you a meal plan.  This means even a personal trainer or health & wellness coach with multiple nutrition certifications is not legally permitted to create a meal plan.  While this may sound silly to you, the risk of aggravating known or unknown food allergies or foods reacting with certain medications can be a threat to your life.  Therefore, a meal plan requires medical expertise.  A trainer with a respect for the industry, a concern for the safety of their clients and general business ethics will respect their scope of practice without fail.  At the end of the day if a trainer has a true command of their area of expertise and can provide guidance that can change lives, they will not feel the need to step into someone else’s lane to make money or sell services.

If you feel frustrated or discouraged knowing that you can only receive a meal plan from a dietitian let me provide a little extra insight to ease your mind. Fortunately, many dietitians will agree that very few people would actually benefit from a meal plan.  If you’re looking for guidance on how to eat better, prepare your food, build better nutritional habits and generally live a healthier life then a meal plan is not the best solution.  The reason is based in our psychology and how we respond to restrictive guidance which leads to stress and ultimately does more harm than good.  We have a few other articles on the topic of stress and the psychology of healthy eating.  If you would like a better understanding of that I’ll link them here.
<<Calming the F*** Down Helped Me Lose Weight>>

<<Could Working Out Too Much Be Preventing You From Losing Weight?>>

<<Healthy Eating Made Easy>>

Now if  you have a medical condition or concern that is affected and can be aggravated by food then a meal plan is the best solution.  And any good personal trainer will encourage you to speak with a RD if they discover that this is a problem.

While there’s of course a lot more you can look into when searching for the best coach for you and your goals these 3 key points will ensure that you’re safe and happy with your coach.  You may be wondering why I didn’t address the cost.  Simply put personal training is like any other service.  You receive the level of services you pay for and the level of expertise you pay for.  I’m also not interested in undercutting or undervaluing fellow coaches by telling you how much coaches “should” or “should not” charge for their services.

We also have a video covering and expanding a bit more on how to find a good personal trainer that you can checkout here.

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We have a Free Wellness eCourse.  It won’t teach you to find a good personal trainer but it will teach you to put together your own basic workout program, develop healthy nutrition habits, manage your stress and improve your sleep.