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9 Tips for finding the perfect personal trainer

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed. is a personal trainer, freelance writer and entrepreneur who works with a wide variety of fitness clients. She's the founder of the popular website, - Girls Gone Sporty, and she's the host of the High Impact Blogg...

Ready to commit to personal training in the New Year? Use these tips to choose the right trainer!

woman with personal trainer

Finding the perfect personal trainer is a little like finding a best friend. You want someone who understands you, who knows how to encourage and motivate you and who can call you on your crap when you're slacking off — but who is always there to support you. It's not an easy task!

It's important to understand that not all trainers are created equal and not all trainers will be the perfect fit for you. That's why it's so important to do your research before committing to a contract. The last thing you want is to end up dreading your weekly sessions and feeling like you're throwing money down the drain. Here are nine tips for finding your perfect match.

1. Ask around

Instead of searching blindly for your trainer, ask friends and family members if they've heard of someone good. Their suggestions will give you direction for your search, and while you may not end up using the trainers suggested, it's a good way to find a personality match since you and your friends are likely to be drawn to the same types of people.

2. Look for affiliations

Some trainers are independent, while others are affiliated with a particular gym. If you want to work out at a specific facility, make sure you're only interviewing personal trainers who are approved to train there. When gyms hire and manage their own trainers, they're unlikely to allow independent trainers to train in the gym.

3. Check certifications

I can't stress this enough — only train with personal trainers who have been certified through an accredited personal trainer–certification program. These programs have been checked for excellence and require a significant amount of education prior to sitting for an exam. Popular accredited certification programs include ACE, NASM, ACSM, NSCA and The Cooper Institute. To find a full list of accredited certifications, search "Fitness and Wellness" on the Institute for Credentializing Excellence website.

4. Inquire about education

While education isn't everything, if you can score a personal trainer with a degree in exercise science, kinesiology, exercise physiology or a related field, you can feel confident you're in good hands. These four-year degree programs provide students with in-depth scientific study on the body's physiological response to exercise and nutrition and on the mechanics of movement. While not all degree programs offer course work specific to personal training, the overall knowledge gained by the trainer is beneficial to any training client.

5. Look for specializations

If you have a particular need or concern, look for trainers who specialize in that area. For instance, if you're pregnant, if you've just had a baby or if you are hoping to lose a significant amount of weight, look for trainers with additional experience and credentials specific to those specialties. Certified trainers are required to participate in continuing education to maintain their certifications, and additional credentials are available in fields ranging from prenatal and postnatal fitness and youth fitness to senior health, sports-specific training and weight management.

6. Get payment details

Personal training isn't cheap. You can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $300 per hour for a highly qualified trainer. When talking to trainers, make sure you ask about their hourly rate, whether they offer specials or discounted package rates and what their cancellation policy is. Some trainers charge you a session fee if you fail to provide sufficient notice for cancelling a session, so that's something you want to know in advance.

The goal here isn't to avoid spending money on a trainer — it's an investment that's well worth it — but to make sure the trainer you choose has rates that fit within your budget.

7. Call references

Any trainer worth her salt will be able to point you in the direction of a few clients she's successfully trained. During your meeting, ask for names and phone numbers, and don't hesitate to place the calls. Former clients can provide insight into the programming and motivational tactics used by the trainer, and they may also be able to provide you with names of other clients the trainer didn't mention. Personal trainers are only going to provide you with references who had a good experience, so if you can seek out the name of a client who didn't top the reference list, you may be able to get more well-rounded insight into the trainer's pros and cons.

8. Make sure they're covered

Whenever you engage in physical activity, there's always the potential for injury. Furthermore, even the best personal trainers and gyms sometimes make mistakes or experience unexpected equipment failures. You want to make sure that the personal trainer and facility you're using have liability insurance to cover possible injuries. Gyms are required to provide insurance for their facilities, and if your trainer works for a gym, she is likely covered by the facility's plan. But if you're working with an independent or home-based trainer, always ask to see a copy of her current insurance policy before signing any type of contract.

9. Go with your gut

After you've narrowed your search to a few qualified trainers, it's time to go with your gut. The trainer you immediately formed a rapport with, who just seemed to "get" your humor and whose approach to training resonated with you is the trainer you should sign up with. Even if that means you're committing to a less experienced trainer or one who charges more, you want to enjoy your sessions and look forward to working out. Your trainer plays a significant role in your overall fitness experience, so never underestimate your gut feeling.

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