How to find the right personal trainer

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Whether you work out at home or at the gym, it’s always wise to have at least one session with a personal trainer to ensure that you learn the proper form and technique for using the weights and exercise machines that are a central part of the YOU%2B program. This is vital to success.

In need of a trainer

Not long ago, I was in the gym with a couple of friends. We all stopped to marvel at one man who was doing a particular exercise very loudly. Unfortunately for him, his technique and form were all wrong. He thought he was getting fit, but he was actually damaging his body. Chances are he would soon have been in his doctor’s office, complaining of pain. That bad experience would then keep him from going back to the gym—all because he didn’t know the right technique and form in the first place. Even slightly incorrect form can eventually lead to an injury, but learning proper form can prevent this. This should be one of the primary roles of the trainer you visit. You don’t need someone to give you advice that strays from the fundamentals discussed in this book and explained in the YOU%2B app and website. You also don’t need someone to sell you supplements. You need someone to teach you how to perform the exercise correctly, and for that, a good trainer can be indispensable. A good trainer will also help you shape and tailor your workouts to your goals and abilities, while minimizing your risk of injury.

The trainer for you

Because I place a high value on having at least one session with a trainer, choosing the right trainer is important. A reasonable place to start is the trainer’s certification. Huge disparities in this area make certification a bit hard to understand. Some certifications come from a lot of serious coursework and a comprehensive written exam. In fact, some colleges now offer bachelor’s degree programs in personal training. Then there are the “certifications” that can be purchased just by taking a short online course. Some people who call themselves trainers have no certification at all. They may have a lot of experience in the gym, but you have no way of knowing for sure if they really know what they’re talking about. I hope the process of certification will be regulated someday. In the meantime, look for a trainer who has certification from one of the following professional associations:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  • National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)

What you should be looking for

The person you hire definitely needs to be somebody you like and are comfortable with. This is particularly true if you are looking for more than one session, but even one hour can be useless if you don’t like or trust the person. You don’t have to work out together the first time you meet, and I advise you not to. An initial brief meeting to assess whether this is the person you should hire is essential. A good trainer should be a good listener and able to accurately assess your current level of fitness. Nothing is more demotivating that starting too hard and being so sore the next day you never want to go back. During your session, the trainer should be paying attention only to you, not chatting with other members or doing his or her own workout along with you. Ask about basic logistic issues. Can the trainer work with your schedule? What about being charged if you have to cancel? Do he or she have liability insurance? Ask for personal references. If the trainer is hesitant about this or if you’re not happy with his or her certification, move on to the next person on your shortlist. As with gym memberships, a trainer’s fee will vary depending on where you live. Expect to pay around $50 an hour in most places. Some gyms may give you a free session with a trainer to get you started after you join. Be sure to ask about this.

Buddy up

You may find you really like working out with a trainer, but for many, expense becomes an issue over time. Once you’ve learned about the correct techniques and form from your trainer, I strongly recommend you consider finding a good workout partner instead. If you feel you’re having trouble with your form, however, or are having difficulty with a new piece of exercise equipment, a session with a trainer might be a good idea. For me personally, having a workout partner has made a huge difference. Having a training partner isn’t for everyone, but it can be the key to the consistency needed for success. A good partner will keep you focused and motivated and make it easier to exercise. There are days when I just wouldn’t have gone to the gym if I didn’t have someone there waiting for me. There are days when even though I am there, my time would have been essentially wasted if I didn’t have someone to focus my efforts in the right direction. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that having a partner makes working out a lot more fun. Having someone you can laugh with, kid around with, or sometimes even compete with helps keep the gym fresh and interesting. Fun in the gym may sound like an oxymoron to many, but with the right training partner—perhaps a friend or equally committed work colleague—your workout really can be fun. You can transform it from something that’s a chore into something you actually look forward to.

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