What to look for in a personal trainer

01/13/2014 1:35 PM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

If you’re considering using a personal trainer to help meet your health and fitness goals, you’ll probably need to do a little legwork first – but not the kind that will work up a sweat.

Before working with a personal trainer, ask about their credentials and experience, say exercise and fitness experts.

Rich Bomgardner, athletic training education program director at Wichita State University, also suggests checking references of current and former clients.

“As a consumer you need to be able to evaluate your trainer,” Bomgardner said. Don’t just settle for a trainer who happens to be free when you are, he said, but make sure they’re compatible and focused on helping you meet your goals.

“You need to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth,” he said.

One of the most important things to check is certification, say experts. The quality of certifications can vary greatly in the field of personal training – which is largely unregulated and has grown at a fast pace of more than 40 percent in the past decade.

Practically anyone can become a personal trainer nowadays with a home study program and a little cash, noted Bomgardner. One company, for example, advertises its personal trainer certification online as “the best value for money” at $69.99.

“Never be afraid to ask what a trainer’s qualifications are and what their certifications mean,” said Ashley Lentz, metro fitness and health director with the Greater Wichita YMCA.

Most reputable gyms require personal trainers to be certified by a nationally recognized fitness organization that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

The NCCA recognizes less than 10 such organizations offering personal trainer certifications, including the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Some of those certifying agencies, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, which is considered the gold standard, require their trainers to have a degree in exercise science or a related field.

Some gyms prefer to hire trainers who have a related degree or are working toward a degree, in addition to certification.

At the Greater Wichita YMCA and at Genesis Health Clubs, the majority of trainers fit that criteria. Landon Branine, owner of Rogue Personal Training in Andover, has a staff of seven trainers and prefers his trainers have a college education, as well.

Some trainers opt for further specialized certifications.

Preston Petersen, the director of personal training at Genesis Health Clubs, became certified as an advanced health and fitness specialist through the American Council on Exercise when he realized many of his clients had multiple health issues.

“I wanted to be equipped to deal with those special populations,” said Petersen, who has degrees in health management and physical education from Friends University.

Today’s trainers are seeing clients of various ages and with a number of medical conditions, Bomgardner said. The more educated and experienced a trainer is, the better they’ll be at understanding how to adapt exercises for clients such as senior citizens, post-op patients, cancer survivors or sedentary kids.

“You just never know who is going to walk through that door and you need to be able to adjust a program to meet their needs,” Bomgardner said.

Besides having quality certifications and experience, a good personal trainer should be able to customize a program to meet your goals, say experts.

“That’s what you’re paying for,” said Branine, the small-gym owner. “What gets one person to their goal may be different than what gets another person to their goal, even if they both have the same ending.”

While a trainer can help fitness rookies find their way around a gym or adapt a program for someone with a special condition, a trainer also can benefit someone who’s not seeing results from exercising on their own or who can’t stay motivated.

“You tend to choose what you like to do when it comes to taking group classes and doing exercises,” Branine said. “A personal trainer can help you push through things that you don’t enjoy but should be doing to meet your goals.”

Studies have shown that if people pay a premium for a service, such as sessions with a personal trainer, they are more likely to stick to that commitment, said the Y’s Lentz.

Not everyone may make a great connection with their trainer, but that’s no reason to give up on using a trainer, experts say.

“Don’t feel like you’re stuck with your personal trainer and have buyer’s remorse,” the Y’s Lentz said. “If you feel that person isn’t right for you … try someone else.”

“I’ve had a car break down and I’ve not given up driving cars,” said Petersen, from Genesis. “Every trainer is good for somebody, but not every trainer is good for everybody.”

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