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How to choose a personal trainer

When it comes to keeping pace with exercise adherence and motivation, employing a Personal Trainer can help reach one's stride. However, determining which Personal Trainer to choose can be a challenging task.

How to choose a personal trainer

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Does your current exercise routine have you running in circles? When it comes to keeping pace with exercise adherence and motivation, employing a Personal Trainer can help reach one’s stride. However, determining which Personal Trainer to choose can be a challenging task, and it is important to be aware of which credentials to look for and what differentiates one trainer from the next.

This is your body we are talking about. Would you go to just any doctor your insurance covers without reading up on the physician? Probably not. So why entrust the wellness of your body to any Joey Jockstrap your gym throws your way? I am here to help navigate you through what credentials and certifications to look for in a Personal Trainer. Let’s get to work.

Disqualify the Uncertified. As a rule of thumb, always verify that your Personal Trainer is certified.

Exercising correctly and efficiently is grounded strongly in science. In order to manipulate, sculpt, rehab and strengthen your body, a Personal Trainer should have comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and a working knowledge of nutrition.

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There are hundreds of certification programs available at the click of a mouse. Unless your trainer is NCCA-approved, I’d kick start your exercise routine by running for the hills. Some examples of NCCA-accredited certifications:

  • The American Council on Exercise (my certification of choice)
  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine
  • The American College of Sports Medicine

A brief overview: The NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) was created to protect and ensure the public that any individual certified through an NCCA-accredited program, has demonstrated the highest level of competency in any given field—i.e., Personal Training.

Some gyms will hire anyone who calls themselves a Personal Trainer. Some trainer’s education is derived from thumbing through Cliff Notes, or sitting at their local Starbucks, sipping on a latte, while dog earring pages they find relevant from the highly-revered Fitness for Dummies by Sammy Squats-a-lot. Go for the gold standard and hire a NCCA-certified Personal Trainer, and not someone who is just certifiably awful.

A Tailored Fitness Coach. When my back hurts, I make an appointment with the chiropractor, not the gynecologist. The same concept applies when choosing a Personal Trainer with a specialization specific to your needs. Once certified, a Personal Trainer can expand their knowledge by receiving further education in a particular physical fitness field. A few examples of specialization would be:

  • Seniors
  • Cancer patients
  • Pre/post natal

If you have health issues that interfere with your exercise routine, such as a bad lower back, it is important to seek a fitness professional that is equipped with the know-how, so your injuries of health concerns don’t become amplified.

Exercise Good Judgment. Personal Training sessions are an investment—physically, mentally, financially and time-wise. Therefore, consider asking your trainer for a free trial session. This allows the client and the trainer a sneak-peek of what future sessions would entail. Several essential characteristics you want your Personal Trainer to possess are:

Education (as previously discussed)—Your trainer should have the paperwork to verify their credentials.

Spoiler: People like to bend the truth. I recall visiting a friend’s gym once, and while there I wandered over to the staff “Wall of Fame.” Everyone’s credentials were extremely impressive, especially the woman who had received the same certification I was currently enrolled in through the American Council on Exercise.

After my workout, I approached her in hopes of receiving a few insider tips (in other words, what exam questions to brush up on). She blankly stared at me and stated, “I am not certified… yet. The material is really hard.”

That’s exactly what you don’t want to hear. Ten minutes later, I stared in horror as she improperly stretched some poor, misled woman. I hope that client paid for her session with Monopoly money, because that trainer was a complete phony. The point being, ask to see the paperwork.

Professionalism: No one wants a Personal Trainer that admires their Adonis physique in the mirror, rather than correcting your form as you lift weights. Nor do you want Tommy Texter tapping away on his Android while you are waiting for your next exercise. It sounds ridiculous, but these characters do exist. If your Personal Trainer is not holding up his end of the contract, then Soup Nazi his lean posterior out the door—NEXT!

Rapport: The key component for creating a lasting trainer-client relationship is having a good rapport. If the sparks aren’t flying during your trial session, then perhaps it is time to continue shopping around. Motivation is the core element that will dictate whether or not an individual adheres to a program. Your Personal Trainer must be able to extrinsically motivate you on days you lack intrinsic drive. A strong trainer-client relationship forms the foundation upon which you will build your future success upon.

Choosing a Personal Trainer shouldn’t entail breaking a sweat. Save your energy for your workout. Chances are if you have the right trainer, you’re going to need it.

Earn it.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.
About this blog
Brian Cammarota, MEd, ATC, CSCS, CES Partner at Symetrix Sports Performance
Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS Co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Michael G. Ciccotti, M.D. Head Team Physician for Phillies & St. Joe's; Rothman Institute
Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT Magee Rehabilitation Hospital
Peter F. DeLuca, M.D. Head Team Physician for Eagles, Head Orthopedic Surgeon for Flyers; Rothman Institute
Joel H. Fish, Ph.D. Director of The Center For Sport Psychology; Sports Psychology Consultant for 76ers & Flyers
R. Robert Franks, D.O. Team Physician for USA Wrestling, Consultant for Phillies; Rothman Institute
Ashley B. Greenblatt, ACE-CPT Certified Personal Trainer, The Sporting Club at The Bellevue
Eugene Hong, MD, CAQSM, FAAFP Team Physician for Drexel, Philadelphia Univ., Saint Joe’s, & U.S. National Women’s Lacrosse
Martin J. Kelley, PT, DPT, OCS Advanced Clinician at Penn Therapy and Fitness, Good Shepherd Penn Partners
Julia Mayberry, M.D. Attending Hand & Upper Extremity Surgeon, Main Line Hand Surgery P.C.
Jim McCrossin, ATC Strength and Conditioning Coach, Flyers and Phantoms
Kevin Miller Fitness Coach, Philadelphia Union
Heather Moore, PT, DPT, CKTP Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
Kelly O'Shea Senior Health Producer, Philly.com
Tracey Romero Sports Medicine Editor, Philly.com
David Rubenstein, M.D. Team Orthopedist for 76ers; Main Line Health Lankenau Medical Center
Robert Senior Event coverage, Sports Doc contributor
Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC Athletic Trainer for US Soccer Federation; Aria 3B Orthopaedic Institute
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