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How To Find a Personal Trainer — What To Look For

Ask questions, get referrals and consider if someone is a good fit for you and your fitness goals

personal trainer working with person on treadmill at gym

You probably already know this, but it’s worth saying again: Exercise is important for your physical and mental health. The right exercise program can keep your heart healthy. Can help you get to a weight that’s healthy for you. Can give you more energy, promote better sleep, improve your mood and more.

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But it’s not always as easy as just resolving to exercise more and then suddenly reaping the benefits of a healthier, happier you. It takes dedication to keep up an exercise regimen. And some know-how to ensure your program works for your goals, your lifestyle and your health status.

That’s when turning to a personal trainer can make a big difference.

“I don’t think there’s a person out there who wouldn’t benefit from coaching to help them reach their goals,” says personal training manager Scott Crabiel. “We all have a cap on our discipline and knowledge. And when you bring somebody else into the equation, those caps tend to get elevated.”

But how do you find a personal trainer? What should you look for? And how much does a personal trainer really help? Crabiel shares his experience to help you find a personal trainer who’ll work best for you.

Benefits of a personal trainer

If you want to up your fitness game, sure, you could follow along with some YouTube workout videos. Or walk into a gym and start messing with all the fun equipment. Or build your own home gym and just get down to business.

But how will you know if you’re choosing the right mix of exercises for you? How will you muster up the energy to stick with it on days when you’d really rather not? Who will celebrate your successes with you — and help you work through obstacles that get in the way of meeting your goals?

That’s where a personal trainer comes in. A good personal trainer will be your fitness coach, your cheerleader and your motivational speaker.

“People come to personal trainers because they’re looking for behavior change, and that can be an emotional thing,” Crabiel shares. “As emotional beings, when things aren’t going our way, we can go into an emotional spin that takes us off track. A personal trainer can see the hurricane from a distance. They can feel the turbulence, and they can get you back on track.”

How? Crabiel explains how people benefit from building a relationship with a personal trainer.

Motivation and accountability

Even if your head knows you should be working out, your heart may not be quite there. Or maybe you have the wind in your sails to exercise today, but history has shown that your dedication tends to wane with time.

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A personal trainer can keep you motivated to keep up your program and hold you accountable for meeting your goals.

“When you have an appointment and when you have financial stakes in the game, it’s more likely you’re going to follow through on your training, even if it may not be exactly what you want to do in that moment,” Crabiel says.

After all, it can be easy for some people to bail on their own plans. (“I’ll do that yoga video tomorrow, no biggie.”) But when you inconvenience someone else, it can make it easier to motivate yourself to stick to your commitments. (“My trainer set aside this time for me. I don’t want to leave them hanging.”)

A good personal trainer isn’t going to guilt-trip you into exercising. But they will support your goals and encourage you to keep up your progress.

Guidance and education

We all come with a different baseline when it comes to our experience and knowledge of exercise. But a qualified personal trainer has specialized knowledge in the field.

It’s like the difference between thinking you know how the real estate market works because you bought a house last year versus having a real estate license.

“Some people may have the motivation to improve their physical fitness, but they don’t know exactly what to do. Or they feel like they’ve gotten as far as they can with their existing knowledge base. Turning to an expert can help take them to the next level,” Crabiel reaffirms.

A personal trainer can help you devise a plan that gives you the right mix of strength training, aerobics and flexibility exercises that will lead to the results you want. They can tell you how hard to push. When to pull back. And ways to mix it up to keep things fresh and interesting.

So, rather than jumping into pre-made fitness programs (ala 75 Hard Challenge), a personal trainer can work with you to create a fitness program tailored to you and your life.

Specialized knowledge

A qualified personal trainer can consider how your physical limitations, pain or health conditions impact your exercise potential. And they can work within those parameters to help you reach your goals, without causing injury or aggravating your condition.

How to choose a personal trainer

So, you’re on board with the idea that a personal trainer is a worthwhile ally in reaching your workout goals. Great!

Now ... where do you find such a person? What should you be looking for in a personal trainer? How can you trust they know what they’re doing?

After all, can’t just about anyone who knows their way around a weight bench call themselves a personal trainer and then charge you big bucks for unqualified advice?

Yes. Yes, they can.

“Unfortunately, there are unaccredited online programs where anyone can become ‘certified’ without much effort, if any at all,” Crabiel cautions.

But a little research can help you find a personal trainer you can trust and who’ll help you see results. Crabiel offers advice for finding a qualified personal trainer.

Questions to ask a potential personal trainer

When you meet with a potential personal trainer, don’t be afraid to ask questions about their experience and qualifications:

  • How long have you been working as a personal trainer?
  • How long have you been working here?
  • What certifications or degrees have you earned?
  • What’s your experience working with people who have [insert any health conditions you have]?
  • What do you consider your area(s) of specialization? General fitness, weight loss, marathon training, aging adults, etc.?
  • Do you have any current or former clients I could speak with?

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Some trainers may have specific education in the field, like a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree. Or they may have earned accredited certifications from organizations, like the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA). Crabiel advises that bona fide education and experience go a long way toward establishing a potential trainer as someone you can trust.

Consider their workplace

Personal trainers often work in facilities like gyms, healthcare centers and private agencies. Doing some research on their place of employment can help you get a feel for the level of expertise a potential trainer may have.

Credible organizations are more likely to hire credible people, after all. And hold them accountable for working to certain standards.

Ask for recommendations

Crabiel says that word of mouth is one of the best ways to connect with a personal trainer. Ask your co-workers, friends or family members.

“If somebody refers you to a trainer, that means they’ve had a good experience with them. They’ve had good outcomes. And they feel like they’re getting good sound advice,” Crabiel points out.

Don’t know anyone who uses a personal trainer? That’s OK.

Ask your healthcare provider if they have a recommendation. And when you meet with a potential trainer, again, ask if they have any current or previous clients you can talk with. Good personal trainers should have plenty of people ready to sing their praises.

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‘Fit’ matters

And, no, we’re not talking about your trainer’s physical fitness here. We’re talking about finding someone you “click” with. Someone who you’re comfortable with.

“Working with a personal trainer is embarking on a long-term relationship. You’re going to see them often and you want to be comfortable,” Crabiel acknowledges. “Find someone you can be yourself with, that you can be honest with. Do you need someone more straightforward? Or someone who sugarcoats things some? Their energy and how well you mesh will matter to your success.”

Try before you buy

The cost of personal trainers can vary dramatically depending on what kind of facility you go to and where you live.

In bigger cities, you’ll probably pay more. It’s also likely that you’ll pay more at a “boutique” training facility or private studios than at your local gym (and remember, your gym may also require monthly membership fees).

So, you may not be able to consider the cost of personal training as an indicator of quality.

But one financial consideration that Crabiel advises against is buying into long-term commitments to personal training without first doing some homework.

“If a personal trainer wants you to commit to a several-month contract or a year-long contract right out of the gate, you want to make sure they’re reputable,” Crabiel stresses. “You want to be confident that your trainer will fulfill their end of the bargain before you enter into a longer-term contract.”

Choosing to work with a personal trainer can be a real benefit to your physical and emotional well-being. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking an important step to improve your health. And get ready to reap the rewards!

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