top of page

Thinking of Hiring a Trainer? Read This First!

As the year winds down and thoughts turn to healthy resolutions for the New Year, you may be considering hiring a personal trainer for yourself or a loved one. In our largely unregulated industry (in America), how can you set yourself up for success? Here's an insider's guide to what you need to know:

1. What should you look for when hiring a trainer?


This can be tricky, because there are loads of certification options. Your best bet is to make sure your trainer has one that has been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) who ensure standards of excellence for professional certification programs. These are the most common well regarded certifications:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

  • National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT)

These agencies aren't widely known outside of the industry, so some trainers list their credentials on their business card or website, and some don't. If you'd like to know where they obtained their certification, ask. To maintain credentials, all of these organizations require membership dues (which gives access to experts and up to date exercise science info), a minimum of 20 hours of continuing education credits every 2 years, and up-to-date CPR/AED certification.


It is important to note that the certifications require sitting for an exam only. There is no "live skills" testing. It is rare for a gym to have a formal internship process, and this is typically reserved for gyms that focus on training elite level athletes. Conscientious new trainers will often shadow fellow trainers to see how knowledge is applied. As with many things, ask friends you trust for recommendations and listen to your instincts when you meet them. If you want to know more about your trainer, ask for references from current or former clients. Keep in mind that when it comes to cost, you're not just paying for their time, but their accumulated knowledge and experience.

About nutrition

Many people have weight loss goals when they hire a trainer. It's true that you can't undo poor nutrition with exercise. If you're hoping for an individualized meal plan, trainers are limited in scope of practice, and must follow state laws in order to maintain their certification. The two most common certifying bodies, ACE & NASM, discourage trainers from offering individualized meal plans or selling supplements. (One caveat: some gyms may require their trainers to sell supplements.) Trainers should refer you to a licensed dietician or nutritionist if you need detailed advice on nutrition, especially relating to medical conditions. More importantly, a meal plan is a temporary solution that doesn't address the long term habits required for change. If your trainer is credentialed with an additional certification in nutrition, they can provide more coaching and guidance.

Fun facts about trainers

Trainers are real people

Most trainers are human and exist on more than kale and quinoa. Looking like a fitness model and having loads of social media followers are not indicators of their skill at training others. The hype around trainers is that they have it all figured out, but the reality is that they're juggling their life to fit exercise and good nutrition in, just like you!

Trainers have to be good at multitasking

They need to keep up with learning, scheduling clients, client sessions, designing individualized programs, and keeping each client motivated. If they work independently, they also have to handle admin tasks like billing and marketing.

Most trainers are not in it for the money, and are not salaried

Often they're passionate about fitness because it has been transformative in their own lives. They're very dedicated, and spend a lot of their time outside of sessions on preparation so they can support you to the best of their ability.

2. What can you expect when you work with a trainer?

I am going beyond the obvious issues of being on time, not checking their phone every 5 minutes, not cancelling without good reason, not working out with you during your session, not body shaming for "motivation"

They will ask for a health history. This alerts your trainer to potential health risks and effects of medications on exercise so they can design a safe program for you.

They will help you clarify and refine your goals into SMARTer (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound) goals.

They will perform a physical assessment, based on your goals. This can be formal or informal, but they use this information to design your exercise program. If they're not assessing, they're guessing.

They will meet with you at least 1x/week. This is not a hard and fast rule, but an ad hoc approach makes for ad hoc results. Working with a trainer is not like getting a hair cut or a massage. You are an active participant in learning, and it takes practice to make progress on your health and fitness goals. Most trainers will meet with a client on the same day(s) at the same time(s). This makes it easier for you to make consistent progress, and is the best way for your trainer to accommodate all the clients on their schedule.

They will establish trust and rapport with you. Your trainer should check in with you often during your session and listen to what you have to say. They should be able to adjust their cues so that you understand proper form. They're happy to explain why they're including an exercise. They will encourage you to track your program so that you can see how you're progressing. They offer positive encouragement through the inevitable ups and downs of working toward your goals.

They can think outside the box. They should have a flexibility of approach to help you adjust your plan in response to real life. If you have an injury you need to work around, they can help with plan B. If something's not working for you, they will try something else, do more research, consult their fellow trainers and mentors.

FAQs (that may feel awkward)

What if I know a good trainer, but they're booked?

A good trainer will refer you to another trainer they trust, if you're ready to get started.

What if I'm working with a trainer, but it's not working out?

I get it, this can feel like a difficult conversation that is best avoided! Just be honest. A good trainer isn't going to get defensive, they'll listen. If they don't, it's definitely time to move on! And, if after some adjustment it's still not working, your trainer will understand They know that good rapport is absolutely necessary in order for you to make progress.

Is it normal for trainers to put their hands on their clients?

Any trainer worth their salt is going to be acutely aware of this issue. The bottom line is that no trainer should ever put their hands on you without first asking your permission, and they should be able to clearly explain why. Check your gut instincts to see if their reasoning makes sense to you.

I hope you found this information useful! Have burning questions about your health & fitness? Email me here. Sharing is caring, so please share on social media, or forward to friend. Thanks!
68 views0 comments


bottom of page