Finding the perfect personal trainer

As a second generation gym owner, I have watched the personal training industry go from virtual obscurity in the early nineties to the respectable, mainstream career option that it is today. If you are considering a personal trainer there is probably no better time than now to find one. On the other hand, the personal training industry has experienced a massive growth in the last decade, creating an over saturated market.

Here are some things you need to know to help you sift through all the junk and find a great fitness professional.

Trainers don't have to be certified

Should they be? Absolutely! But they do not have to be and this is an important piece of information to know. There are currently no federal or state requirements to be a trainer in the United States. So yes, technically anyone can call themselves a trainer and start working people out. So, when interviewing a potential trainer, a simple, "Are you certified?" is a fair question and a first step. If the answer is no, then the interview needs to be over. Does certification guarantee competence? Nope, but it does suggest that this person has considered training a serious career option.

Not all Certification are equal.

There are many different kinds of personal trainer certifications, but it's fairly easy to be able to be able to spot out the real ones from the online, one-day courses. For many years it was called the big three. They are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and American Council on Exercise (ACE). This has further been expanded to other newer but just as respectable organizations like the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), International Sports Science Association (ISSA).

It seems like there are new organizations popping up often, some even specializing in running or endurance athletes, or sports coaching. A simple way to verify a certifying organization is the look for the NCCA or National Commission for Certifying Agencies' seal of approval.

Furthermore, even though all of the above Certifications are legit, some are held to a different standard. For example the NSCA's CSCS or Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist requires College education and the ACSM's Exercise Physiologist Certification's require not only Masters level education but also years in the field, and internships before even being allowed to sit for the test.

Personality Counts

Take it from someone who used to hire trainers; paper picking or resume hiring is a huge mistake. I have hired people that had so many degrees and certifications behind their name that all the letters wouldn't fit on a business card. Yet, once they’re out there and in the arena, I would cringe when I’d see them with our customers. Oftentimes they would come across pompous, arrogant, aloof, and their communication skills were pitiful. Their clients saw little results and would eventually quit. Then there was the recently certified basic trainer who within a month, would have a list of clients that would follow her to the moon and back. She might not have had the immense amount of knowledge that the other trainer had but she was able to communicate the knowledge that she had much better, and because of this, she was a better trainer.


This is probably the best thing to look for. Personal training field is very Darwinistic; it’s survival of the fittest. This might not be good news to potential trainers but it is for you, the consumer. Bad trainers just don't last very long, whether it's their lack of knowledge, their personality, or all the above. The proof is in the pudding. If a trainer has worked professionally for a couple of years and is willing and happy to give references, be certain this is about as close to a sure thing as you can get.


This is one of the few times you need to judge a book by its cover. If you’re going to fork over 50-100 bucks an hour for someone to get you in shape, they need to look the part. Does he need to look like Chris Hemsworth with his hair down or like the goddess of squat thrusts? No, that's not what I'm saying. But a trainer needs to possess, at a bare minimum, a healthy appearance. After all, would you take job hunting advice from your, terminally unemployed brother in law? No. And you sure as heck wouldn’t pay for it. Out of shape trainers shouldn't be trainers. End of story.

Even with all the clutter, a little knowledge can go a long way in helping you find a legit trainer. Still, just like dating, it often takes a little trial and error to find that terrific trainer; one that will not only make you fit but also brings a smile to your face. In the long run that's just as important as any fancy piece of fitness advice.

But seriously, don't date your trainer. My wife did that. She even married him, and she's regretted it ever since. ;)

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