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What to Look for in a Personal Trainer

By Stacey Feintuch

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People hire a personal trainer for an array of reasons. Some people want a trainer to show them how to use equipment. Some need a scheduled day and time to exercise as motivation to workout. And others want someone who can help them create and reach attainable and achievable goals.

Trainers can be found anywhere, with the most common avenues being your local gym, which has many trainers you can choose from, or basic word of mouth. If you'd rather work out at home, you can consider a private personal trainer. It's more expensive but can be more convenient.

You'll be dedicating a lot of time and money to a trainer. So it makes sense that you want to choose someone who's right for you. We've rounded up a few qualities and criteria that you should look for in a personal trainer. Don't get overwhelmed at the idea of finding someone who fulfills all these factors. Pick and choose a trainer based on what works for you.

The right certification and experience.
Trainers should have and be able to show you the right certification for their area of expertise. Some common certifications include the National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, American College of Sports Medicine, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and American Council on Exercise. They should also stay updated on the latest and evolving trends and research in fitness. If you're looking for training in something specific such as preparing for a marathon, you want a trainer who specializes in running as opposed to another field like bodybuilding. They'll know the area better and likely be more interested in it, too.

Comfort factor.
This trainer is seeing you at your most vulnerable self. You want someone you feel comfortable with and trust. Maybe you do well with someone who doles out lots of praise, support and encouragement. But someone else may need to be screamed at and "scared" into doing another lap around the track by a drill-sergeant-like trainer. Find a trainer whose style works for your personality and how you like to be motivated.

Philosophical agreement.
If you like to exercise outdoors but your trainer prefers gym-only workouts, he might not be right for you. Does he use only free weights and no machines? You want a trainer whose fitness philosophy meshes with your preferences and goals.

Convenience and availability.
See if the trainer has available time slots in her schedule that work for you. Ask if she is always booked solid or has some room to see you another time if you need to change your regular time. Inquire about her cancellation policy and if you can reschedule missed appointments. You also want someone who will train you in a convenient place. You may be fine with driving across town, or you may need someone near your office to accommodate your schedule.

Good reputation.
A trainer is only as good as the results his clients have been able to achieve and attain. Ask the trainer to provide referrals from clients who've had goals similar to yours. A good trainer should be happy to share references and success stories. And yes, every trainer needs his first client. But you likely don't want to be that guinea pig.

Affordability.
Trainers' rates vary based on factors such as experience, location and how much time you spend with them. They range from about $20 per hour to $300 per hour. The hourly fee for a trainer in an urban gym may be around $50 per hour, while an independent trainer may cost $75 per hour or more. Consider your budget when choosing a trainer. If you found someone you love who is out of your price range, see if she can offer you any sort of discount, such as group training sessions.

Still not sure?

Go with your gut to select someone who is a good fit for you. Just remember to always speak with your health care provider before starting any new exercise regimen.

If You Can't Afford a Personal Trainer …

Can't afford a personal trainer? No problem! You can still get fit in many ways, some of which cost no money at all. A few of your many options include:

  • Jump rope. Inexpensive and portable, you can get in some cardio wherever you may be with a good jump rope. It will likely unleash your inner child—and your kids may want to join in.
  • Get a workout buddy. A personal trainer helps keep you accountable to your goals. A workout pal who challenges and motivates you can be a good substitute for a personal trainer. And you can also use your workout time as an opportunity to catch up with your friend, which makes the session fly by.
  • Take advantage of your gym. If you belong to a fitness center but can't swing paying for a trainer, try some of the gym's classes. Many offer options like yoga, Pilates, dance, spin and more. Class leaders are typically happy and eager to dole out advice.
  • Do some bodyweight workouts. Planks, sit-ups, push-ups, squats. They'll all help work your body and can be done anywhere.
  • Go online. Often for free or minimal cost, you can download or stream sessions ranging from yoga to fitness boot camps. Ask friends for recommendations, try some out and see what works to keep you motivated and fit.