Good personal trainers don’t grow on trees and aren’t bodybuilders.  There are a lot of qualified and experienced fitness professionals out here looking to help people.  You all just need to know what you’re looking for and how to find them.  So here’s my take on what people should look for when hiring a personal trainer…

Finding a qualified fitness professional to whip you into shape is just a few mouse clicks away if you visit the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) web site.  The NSCA is the worldwide authority on strength and conditioning and is the first fitness-related certifying agency to be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

The NSCA offers the gold standard certifications in the field for fitness professionals.  Along with the NSCA, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the other certifying organization that offers a meaningful certification.  Traditionally the ACSM was involved with professionals working in clinical settings, but in recent years, they have broadened their certification offerings to include those working with people from healthy populations. 

The ACSM employs an extremely high standard for all of their certifications. I built my business according to the guidelines developed by the NSCA with regard to staffing, philosophy and every other meaningful aspect of the business and have seen firsthand how the NSCA’s principles are based in legit science and, as a result, produce rock solid results for our clients. 

My partners and I and all of our employees hold the NSCA’s highest certification – the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) – and we all train our clients according to NSCA guidelines. There are many factors that need to be considered before you hire a personal trainer, but I like to start with the certification.  Your personal trainer should hold an NSCA certification – either the Certified Personal Trainer or CSCS designation. 

If you cannot find an NSCA certified trainer look for a trainer with the ACSM designation.  And remember membership in these organizations is not the same as actually being certified.  A lot of trainers who aren’t certified will advertise that they are members of these organizations with the hope that potential clients will be satisfied that membership is indicative of some kind of proficiency in the field.  A membership in these organizations can be obtained by anyone willing to pay the dues.

A serious fitness professional should be willing and able to make the commitment to earn a valid certification.  The cost is more than reasonable given the importance the certification holds, and the test truly prepares candidates for the realities and responsibilities of the job. In addition to the certification, there are a variety of other important factors such as college education, experience and references.

Every trainer should be willing to provide you with their resume that includes their educational background, certification status and certificate number, years of experience and a list of at least five clients that you can speak with.  You should also ask the prospective trainer what their training philosophy is and what their athletic background is. 

My advice is to stay away from bodybuilders and distance runners.  Also, ask the trainer if their workouts are machine based or ground based, and if they use single joint or multi-joint exercises. Training sessions should involve very few, if any machines.  With the exception of the pull down machine and the seated row machine, you should spend all of your training time on your feet and not sitting or lying on equipment.

You also, don’t need to have your trainer watch you spend long stretches of time on cardiovascular machines. This you can do on your own.  Run from anyone who shows an unwillingness to share any of this info with you. There are many factors that go into making a decision about what trainer is right for you. But if you look for a valid certification and know answers to some key questions you will have a much better shot at hiring somebody who knows what they are doing.


    • All certifications are – in the end – just pieces of paper. However, it is what the individual does with the knowledge acquired during certification that reflects upon the certification. I’ve seen good and bad trainers with all kinds of certifications. However, I have spent almost a year and a half observing a 25-person training staff, all of whom are advertised as having NASM certifications. After watching these trainers at work they are obviously either willfully ignoring training protocols and progressions or simply do not know that they exist. I’ve seen women with obvious Valgus deformities (and horrendous landing mechanics) put through box jump workouts, trainers who cannot perform a proper lunge showing a client who can’t lunge how to lunge while holding dumbbells, children who cannot move properly being put through plyometric and explosive workouts, etc. I can understand how one or two trainers out of a large group can be less-than-prime-time, however, when an entire staff acts this way you have to question what they’ve learned through their certification process.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here