How do you pick a good trainer?

This question has been asked of me many times when clients of mine have had to move away and were fearful of not having the same quality of care and professionalism that they had with me. There are some telltale markers of an excellent trainer which sets them apart from others who may call themselves trainers but have limited education, experience or diversity of exercise modalities.

So the first thing you want to check out about any prospective trainer that you are thinking of hiring to help you with your fitness and health goals, is their level of education. Do they have at least an undergraduate degree in physical education? Are they certified by a recognized certifying body?

There is a great variability of certifying agencies. The best ones are:

w NASM (The National Academy of Sports Medicine, established in 1987);

w ACSM (The American College of Sports Medicine, established in 1954);

w CSCS (The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist offered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association) — most often this certification is for trainers working with athletes;

w NSCA-CPT, The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s certified personal trainer certification established in 1993.

The person you are considering hiring as your trainer should hold at least the minimum of a certified personal fitness trainer certificate. This is also an important prerequisite for them to be able to carry insurance.

It is obvious that the more specialist certifications they hold, the better you will be served as well because they will have a broader knowledge base and more exercises and modalities of exercise genres and lifestyle interventions at their disposal to demonstrate and utilize.

There are other certifying bodies that offer personal training certifications. However, some are simply little more than a weekend retreat with a written exam upon completion, with no practical exam or treatment of adult learning styles. You want to have someone on your team who not only knows their anatomy, bio-mechanics and physiology lessons, but is able to impart knowledge to you, and motivate and support you in a way that feels comfortable, not intimidating or condescending.

The second important aspect to consider is the experience level of the prospective trainer. Are they fresh out of school? Have they worked with people who may have similar health, fitness or limitation issues as you do?

Often, I’ve seen trainers who seem to deliver the exact same programming to all of their clients because they have such a limited repertoire of interventions. Often they train their clients just like they train themselves, perhaps because that is all they know.

That hardly sounds like personal fitness training. Your program should be devised for you, given that your health history, goals, fitness level, time table and lifestyle are uniquely yours.

Of course, then there is the other issue of people who make no pretense at all of being trainers but offer you friendly advice at the gym on how to do things. Hardly a strategy for success.

Other issues to consider besides education, experience and diversity of exercises is the prospective trainer’s attitude and personality. Some trainers, it seems to be all about them rather than all about you. There needs to be a good fit between personalities and the trainer must display a caring, supportive attitude that feels motivating and contributory to your needs and goals.

Can the prospective trainer provide references of satisfied clients? Although I never would speak about any of my clients without their permission nor would I ever break their confidentially on any subject including their identity, many of you know that some of my clients loudly proclaim that they “Train with Dr. Jane” and those types of clients are the ones that any good trainer should not hesitate to ask if they might provide a reference. Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising. Satisfied clients spread the good word.

As with any other profession, there are the very good and the not-so-good practitioners. By asking a few pointed questions and doing a little research, you can be assured of getting a trainer who will work with you to help you achieve your goals, help you avoid injury and set a positive and motivating tone for your workouts. Your health is your greatest wealth and you shouldn’t entrust it to just anyone.


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional advise and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at (808) 212-8119 cell/text,,


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