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How To Get Started: Selecting a Personal Trainer

In a recent conversation with my sister, I learned that she was one of the many whose New Year’s Resolution involved losing weight and going to the gym. To help her keep this resolution, she decided to hire a personal trainer. She made her selection based on two criteria: 1) she saw this person in the gym regularly and 2) he looked like he was in good shape.

When I asked her about his training and certification, she had no idea. Her response to me was, “How am I supposed to know? I assume the gym wouldn’t allow him to train there if he wasn’t qualified!”

I think my sisters assumptions and response are all too common. How does the average consumer know what makes a “qualified”, “competent” trainer? Even if they are “certified”, in a self-regulated industry, are all certifications equal? Is certification enough to distinguish someone as qualified and competent?

So I sent my sister back to ask her trainer the following questions:

1. Is he certified? If so, what did his certification require? What other education and training does he have? Is his certification current and what type of continuing education has he taken to maintain his certification?

2. How long has he been training clients? (AND CHECK REFERENCES FOR CURRENT AND PREVIOUS CLIENTS)

3. What is his experience working with clients that may have her specific health conditions (i.e. 49 year old female, high blood pressure and cholesterol, family history of heart disease, relatively sedentary lifestyle.)

4. What is his training plan and approach for HER? What are their goals for her progress? How does he use assessments to track her fitness?

5. Is he certified in CPR and AED?

So, I’m still waiting for the responses, but now I’m wondering if this is enough information to gather to help her make a decision.

What other criteria should she check to make sure this individual is qualified to provide safe and effective personal training?

How would you feel if a client or a potential client asked for this information?

If it were your sister, mother, spouse, child— what questions would you ask?

I really look forward to your input! If we, as fitness professionals, can’t distinguish a “qualified and competent” personal trainer from the rest, how can we expect consumers to do so?

I look forward to hearing from you!

To learn about W.I.T.S. fitness certifications and special offers for continuing education and our online Fitness Business Institute, please visit




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8 thoughts on “How To Get Started: Selecting a Personal Trainer

  1. This a great topic to cover! A lot of people go off of judgement when it comes to selecting a trainer from their gym and don’t really look into the trainers credentials. I find it very important to ask all of these questions. You wouldn’t want just anybody from the gym training you because there are safety issues all around. You would want a trainer that has experience and is also certified. Make sure you look into the actual certification they have. It will help you get a better understanding of what they know entirely. Another question i would ask is, “Is it your job to be a personal trainer or is it your career?” This will help you understand if that trainer is passionate and really into helping others or trying to make extra money without 100% caring.

    1. Hi Devon, Thanks for the post and for your thoughts on how to select a personal trainer. Those are great questions to add! Finding out if they are “career” fitness professionals or just enjoy it as a “hobby” will tell you a lot. Career professionals will likely be more committed to you, to their clients’ successes, and will maintain their credentials through continued education and training to better themselves and their skills. Thanks for the thoughts and input!

  2. I still remember presenting to a room of wellness center directors and asking them a simple question. How many hours of hands on training does your certified personal trainers have? 100? 50? 25? The majority of the employers hands went up for 100 hours of training to be a certified trainer. When I told them the average of the certs had 12.5 hours!! In some cases this included the 2 hours to take the “WRITTEN ONLY” exam. The room was a buzz with gasps, comments and head nods. I had hospital wellness directors with exercise physiology degrees in front of me and they did not know the qualifiers of the long time certifications in the industry. They were shocked but at the same time it now made sense for them to see the crazy things they saw trainers showing clients in their facilities. All of the current certifications only require a written exam only to earn a certification to work with the public at large. W.I.T.S. is the largest collegiate partner internationally offering a 9 week course that also requires practical labs, practical skill competency exams and internships before you qualify to receive our certification.

    It seems silly that this is not a simple standard like every other health occupation. Be wary and ask questions about the qualifiers of any trainers certification. Google everything you can to cross compare certifications. How long were your training classes? How many clients have you worked on when taking your certifications classes? When is the last time you renewed your certification and what was that process? Do the same research like you are buying a car or some other big appliance. The difference is that it is for you! No one needs someone to learn their trade on your body. Interpreting pictures and trying them out on your mom, sister or you is not the way. Make your new years resolution a fun safe lifestyle change and do your research and ask the questions. A top trainer, like a doctor, will appreciate it and expect it.

  3. Great suggestions and insight, Jay. It’s amazing that the folks who were hiring Personal Trainers had such misconceptions about the training they received. We can and should do so much better as an industry. Employers need to demand higher standards, consumers need to educate themselves before making a “purchase” and personal trainers need to remember that they are professionals and have a huge responsibility and impact on peoples’ lives. Great discussions!

  4. Knowing where to begin in selecting a trainer can be tough. Sure referrals and word of mouth are great but do you know that this person is a good match for your specific needs? Knowing the right questions to ask and doing your homework is key. You will be spending a good amount of time with this person, make sure you are comfortable with their abilities.

  5. Thanks for the post, Crystal! Great advice! Most of us spend hours/days researching a TV or computer before we purchase. We should spend at least that much time picking someone who can have such an impact on our health and well being!

  6. Great exchange! It’s so important to educate ourselves on these topics.

  7. That’s a great list. never thought of those things when qualifying someone for personal training. At a gym there are so many classes and trainers to choose from sometimes that you just take them at their word but these are great questions to ask just in case. Thanks for the article.

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