What's the Difference in Personal Trainer Certifications?Posted on Nov 17th 2009 1:00PM by Liz Neporent
Does it really matter if my personal trainer is certified? I just want someone buff to get me through the workout. – Karen Astor, Kingston, New York
There are many reasons to hire a personal trainer. Maybe you haven't done anything physical since you climbed the ropes in elementary school gym class, or you have a specific goal in mind like running a marathon or finally dropping those excess pounds once and for all. I suppose wanting to stare at an Adonis or Athena for an hour isn't the worst reason in the world to plunk down $50-$100 an hour, provided it comes with the added benefit of raising your fitness level. Just make sure you hire someone qualified.
Problem is, plenty of gorgeous and maybe not-so-gorgeous trainers out there don't know the difference between a push up a push up bra. They don't even bother to demonstrate the minimum qualifications and knowledge to ensure a safe and effective workout. And believe me -- a bad trainer can turn what should be a fun and positive experience into a nightmare -- or at the very least, waste your time without bringing you any closer to achieving your fitness goals.
So when you hire a personal trainer, please be sure to consider the following minimum requirements:
A certification from a reputable organization. This is first and foremost. A trainer who has passed a test given by a reputable organization has taken the time to at least understand the basics. There are more than 300 certifying bodies out there but only a few that have met the self-imposed industry standards for accreditation. Ask your trainer if she has a certification from one or more of the following organizations: American College of Sports Medicine; American Council on Exercise; National Strength and Conditioning Association; National Academy of Sports Medicine.
A passing grade on any of these certification exams ensures that your trainer has demonstrated at least a minimum level of knowledge related to proper exercise choice and technique. All of them also require a current certification in CPR which is a real bonus.
Of course, some trainers go beyond certification requirements and hold a bachelors, masters or even Ph.D. in an area like physiology, kinesiology or anatomy. If that's the case, certification is just an added bonus. Going through a solid two, four or even six year program obviously requires a lot more in depth knowledge and expertise than a three day certification seminar.
Experience. Has your trainer most recently completed a stint slinging hash at the local diner? Is he appearing in regional theater as Othello? Look for a trainer who has at least two years of steady experience either on his own or in a health club rather than someone who is moonlighting as a way to pick up extra cash between temp jobs. He or she will have the knowledge and practical experience to help you achieve your goals.
Insurance. It's not just for your car. And if you get hurt you don't want to end up at "the body shop" nursing a sore knee or a bum elbow. It is very important that your trainer carries liability insurance. Even when you work with a qualified trainer, there is always a risk you may get injured. A good trainer who is "in the biz" will be smart enough to have proper insurance coverage for her benefit as well as her clients'.
Personality. You know how you loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but your friend hated it? Well it's the same way with trainers. We all need something different. A trainer may have impeccable credentials but if you need a kind, gentle approach and she barks at you like A Biggest Loser coach, your workouts will not be pleasant. Be honest with yourself. Do you prefer a drill sergeant approach or a shrink? A prison guard or a cheer leader? It helps to get a recommendation from someone you know and trust so you can ask questions about a trainer's training style. You can tell a lot by getting the skinny on a trainer's rep.
Now I'd like to hear about your personal training experience. Have you ever been held captive in the gym by a muscle-bound homunculus in a tracksuit? Or do you wish to sing the praises of an amazing fitness professional who is truly helped change your body and your life? Are you currently looking for a reputable, certified trainer? Skip on over to the American Council on Exercise's website for a list of credentialed professionals in your area.
Liz Neporent is a diet and fitness expert and co-author of "The Fat-Free Truth." She regularly appears on national TV programs and is the president of Wellness 360, a New-York based wellness provider. You can also follow her on Twitter @lizzyfit.