Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

Are personal trainers just for the super-rich and super-fit? Do you have to have one if you want to get fit? The answer to both questions is "no." Anyone can hire one and they don't always have to be super expensive. With the right determination, you can certainly get fit without one but personal trainers provide motivation and guidance, save you time, and reduce injuries by customizing programs for your fitness goals and training on proper equipment use.

What does a personal trainer do?  According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), qualified and properly trained personal trainers help you safely start and maintain an effective exercise program. They're a resource for the latest health and fitness information; help fit exercise into your busy schedule and teach you how to make the most out of your gym time.

ACSM also provides a warning: The title "personal trainer" doesn't guarantee they're qualified. Currently, there are no national standards or minimum requirements. Working with an under-qualified trainer could do more harm than good. 

How Do You Hire One?

Many health clubs and fitness facilities offer personal training sessions with your membership. There are also dozens listed in the phone book and on the internet.  Fees and experience vary. Consult for references to qualified trainers.

Before hiring a trainer, make sure they're a good fit for your needs. The ACSM recommends choosing a trainer based on these criteria:

  • Certification and Education: The better educated they are, the better they'll understand how the body responds to exercise. Ask if they have a four-year degree from an accredited university in physical education or another fitness-related field. They should have additional training by a nationally recognized personal fitness organization, CPR, and first-aid certification and liability insurance.
  • Personality and Gender: Interview a few to determine if you'll be more comfortable with a man or a woman. You want one who's friendly, easy to communicate with, explains exercises in a way you understand, and motivates you without bullying you or pushing you beyond your limits.
  • Experience and References: Ask how long he/she's been a personal trainer and what type of clients they have. Get a current resume and references. Ideally, they'll already have satisfied clients with similar goals as yours.
  • Safety and Pre-activity Screening: A good trainer creates a program for their client's specific physical needs, health history, previous injuries, risk factors, and training experience. If you're hiring a trainer for a teenager, make sure they have extra training, certification and experience working with young people.

If you decide a trainer isn't for you, design your own program by setting realistic goals. Include cardiac/aerobics, flexibility, and strength training in your program.  Consider a one-time training session to understand how gym equipment works.  Sign up for aerobics, yoga, circuit-training, or spinning classes.  Buddy up with a workout partner, and hold each other accountable. Stay up-to-date with fitness magazines and websites. There are endless ways to stay motivated.