A new client came to see me this morning. As part of the standard fitness assessment I perform at my facility, the Personal Training Center for Women, I asked her if she had any aversions to exercise. Her response: “Actually, yes. My last trainer put me through a workout that ended up causing a tear in my meniscus. The pain was so bad I had to have surgery.” That incident happened over a year ago. Until now, the woman had been afraid to exercise again.
If this was an isolated case, I could brush it off as an anomaly. After all, there are bad apples in every profession. But the sad fact is, I hear these types of stories over and over again. And what upsets me most is that it casts a bad light on the industry as a whole.
Unfortunately, the field of personal training is largely unregulated. Anyone can hang a shingle on their door and call themselves a “fitness professional.” You don’t need any education or certification. Heck, you don’t even need to have ever lifted a weight in your life! Think about it: Hair dressers and manicurists need to be licensed but personal trainers don’t. Who do you surmise can cause greater harm to their clients?
So how does one go about selecting a competent trainer. Until legislation is enacted that sets proper standards for those in the field, here are some things to consider:
1) What are the trainer’s academic credentials? Does he/she have at least some schooling in exercise science? A college degree in an exercise-related major is good. A master’s degree is even better. There also are vocational schools specifically devoted to the science and art of personal training. I’m on the faculty of the American Academy of Personal Training American Academy of Personal Training where I teach aspiring trainers how to hone their craft. Students get extensive schooling in exercise physiology and applied anatomy, as well as learning basic nutritional science. They receive both lecture-based instruction as well as hands-on experience. By the time they graduate, they’re well-prepared to create and carry out fitness programs in a one-on-one setting.
2) Is the trainer certified? If so, by what organization? There is literally an alphabet soup of organizations that certify personal trainers. Most of them, however, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. A colleague of mine actually got his 9 year old son certified by one of the fly-by-nighters simply by paying the necessary fee. I’m sure I could find an organization that would certify my pet bulldog! Only a few select certifying bodies are nationally accredited. For me, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is at the top of the list. Their trainers tend to be the most knowledgeable based on my experience. Other well-respected certifications include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
3) What experience does the trainer have? While knowledge is extremely important, the application of knowledge takes time to get right. A trainer should have a minimum of a year or two experience “in the trenches”. Any less and they’re still learning on the job. Don’t hesitate to ask for references if you have any doubts.
Want to spot a bad trainer? Here are a few giveaways:
1) The trainer doesn’t do an extensive fitness assessment. You can’t train someone properly if you don’t know anything about them. A good trainer will always perform an assessment that provides insight into things like medical history, needs and goals, body fat analysis, and strength testing. I never start training a client without spending a good hour or so going through all these things and more.
2) The trainer doesn’t chart your workout. This one is a real pet peeve of mine. It’s amazing how many trainers don’t take this basic step to heart. Any trainer worth his salt will be training multiple clients a day. How can he possibly remember what exercises you did in the previous session, not to mention your workout a week or two ago? Answer: he can’t. The only way to properly structure a workout is by noting everything the client does in every session. This means the trainer should carry a clip board and pen with your training chart throughout your workout.
3) The trainer takes you through the same workout every session. I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from people. Either their trainers are lazy, don’t care, and/or don’t know any better. Regardless, it’s a surefire prescription to poor results. Variety is the spice of fitness. Not only does changing a workout help to ensure continued progress, but it also helps to prevent exercise boredom. Routines should be varied on a regular basis. If not, the trainer isn’t earning his fee.
If you need any further advice on this topic, post a comment or shoot me an email. I’m always happy to respond.