Global TV recently reported on a personal training duo being sued for non-receipt of services and falsified qualifications. I'm surprised we don't see this more often. There is an undeniable lack of oversight and regulation in the fitness industry, without so much as a governing body for personal trainers to report to, making it difficult for consumers to tell the good from the bad. Based on nearly two decades of experience, I offer the following advice for identifying a trainer.
You need someone qualified, whom you can afford to work with consistently over a designated period of time. In-person training can range from thirty to a few hundred dollars per hour, depending on education, years of experience, location, and specialized training.
I generally recommend investing in three to six months of in-person training, two to three times per week. You'll replace bad habits and hammer home exercise fundamentals, while ingraining the trainer's coaching cues into your subconscious. This empowers you to eventually train independently.
In-Person v. Online Coaching
There are incredible benefits to in-person training, which allows real time communication and ability to make adjustments on the fly. Still, it has its drawbacks. The best of the best may be outside of your budget. You will fight for prime appointment times. Missed sessions and cancellation fees cost money, momentum and progress. The trainer you want to work with may live in a different city or country than you.
New technologies have empowered professionals like myself to bridge the gap between in-person and online training. Through smartphone apps and video-sharing services like YouTube, you can now work with the trainer of your choice, anywhere in the world, on your schedule, and for a fraction of the cost. Good online trainers make themselves regularly available by phone or email for constant motivation and timely adjustments to aide progress.
Wheat v. Chaff
Getting a personal training certificate is so easy, you can literally do it in a weekend. Comparing credentials for at least three candidates, using the following guidelines can mean the difference between a strong, functionally sound and fit body, and a stack of chiropractic bills.
What Do You Know?
You want to see a well-rounded education. A degree in health sciences isn't required, but they need to know their way around anatomy and physiology, and should regularly acquire new tools to assist their clients. This might be a specialization in pre-natal exercise or, like myself, a nutrition certification. Look for NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) or ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) professionals, as we complete mandatory continued education each year to maintain certification.
Ask for a consultation, either in person or on the phone. If asked for money at this stage - move on! Many will offer free 15-minute consultations to prospective clients to mutually determine if they have a good rapport. Note whether the trainer is actively listening and genuinely interested in understanding your goals. If not, you're likely to receive a cookie cutter program. Ask the name of the last fitness book they read, what they learned from it, and what they plan to read next. If they stammer instead of giving you an enthusiastic answer, move on!
If you're torn between multiple candidates, the following are useful tiebreakers:
- Do they have accessible references? A good trainer has a roster of clients happy to share their experiences. Ask to talk to them by phone so you can ask questions.
- Do they accommodate your lifestyle? An individualized fitness program includes reasonable compromises. You cannot control teething babies, or business trips that dictate your sleep and meal schedules, and a good trainer will find creative solutions to those obstacles.
- Do they sound too good to be true? There will always be people who tell you what you want to hear to get your business. If your goal is to lose 100 lbs. in three months and they say, "No problem!" it's a problem! A professional creates manageable expectations for safely achieving your goals.
- Do they walk the walk? Not all trainers want to be Calvin Klein models, so don't be quick to dismiss a trainer who doesn't have washboard abs. They do need to walk the walk, though, so ask about their personal fitness routine.
- Do they have a wellness network? There is a current trend of unqualified trainers assessing, diagnosing and treating physical ailments or injuries. This is incredibly dangerous and unnecessary. Great trainers have a network of trusted health professionals they refer clients to for complementary care. This should include doctors, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, dietitian's, massage therapists, and mental health professionals. If you permit a team to discuss your progress, it can dramatically enhance your results.
What Gets Measured Gets Managed
The process isn't complete until a trainer confirms your doctor's assessment that you're able to safely begin a workout program. You'll be asked to complete a health history and lifestyle information form, along with a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire). Both are important, but this is where many trainers stop. And it's not even close to enough!
I insist clients complete a movement assessment and physical fitness test before creating their program. This simple, informative tool assesses joint mobility and overall ability to perform everyday movements free of pain and dysfunction, helping me determine appropriate exercises for the individual. Failure to do this leads to building muscle and strength over existing dysfunctions, injuring yourself further. Tests should be specialized. If you want to lose body fat and increase stamina, your test should match those goals. Fitness tests and movement screens should be repeated regularly.
Congratulations on choosing to live a healthier lifestyle. I hope the above tips help you find the right professional to assist you in achieving your goals.
Nathane L. Jackson is an NSCA-CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist specializing in holistic living. He services clients from around the world through his online coaching programs at www.NathaneJackson.com.
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