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How to Pick a Personal Trainer

Published: January 28, 2011

Trainers are not one-size-fits all, and it’s important to know how to pick the right one for you, says Alexis Peraino, M.D., a physician at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Weight Loss who selects the personal trainers for the center’s referral list and also has a degree in exercise physiology.

“I see again and again in my practice that patients don’t choose the right workout routine for them,”  she says. “The result is often injuries or boredom – both of which lead to less physical activity rather than more.”

Here are Dr. Peraino’s steps to a personal trainer who can help you reach new levels of intensity—and keep you accountable for your physical activity goals.

1. Conduct a tough-minded interview with potential trainers.

Ask potential candidates about their professional background. Also, know your own fitness goals – is it losing weight or increasing lean body mass?

“Match your trainer’s past experience to your current needs,” Peraino advises. “If you have a specific health issue – like arthritis or a back injury, or you’re overweight, or obese – ask how they address those issues in their workouts.”

Request references, then speak with past clients. Also confirm their qualifications. Current certifications are proof of training and a commitment keep abreast of the latest science and trends in fitness. Among the most respected credentials are: American College of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine, and the American Council on Exercise. And remember to discuss practical logistics questions: Does the trainer’s availability match yours? What’s their cancellation policy?

2. Expect the trainer to interview you.

Trainers should raise their own questions about your fitness level and whether you can exercise safely. They should ask about medical conditions, medications, previous injuries, and surgeries that may relate to physical activity. Top trainers often offer an assessment that demonstrates they understand the risks of exercise for their clients and their ability to appropriately determine clients’ health and fitness.

3. Find a trainer skilled in various types of exercise.

Boredom is the enemy of fitness. Good trainers know many ways to work the same muscles and can vary the workout with fun and different activities like weight training, Pilates, yoga, and martial arts.

4. Make the most of your training time.

Your trainer should assist you with a proper warm up and cool down, as well as with exercises to build flexibility. And no workout is complete unless you’ve raised your heart rate and challenged your muscles. Be sure your trainer also gives “homework”—exercises you can do on your own to help develop into healthy habits.

“The best trainers provide you with an education, suggesting workouts you can do on your own and that will be sustainable beyond your sessions together,” Peraino explains.

5.  Beware the salesman. Clients often need to change their diet in order to meet fitness goals. While trainers can offer counsel on dietary topics,  be wary of those too eager to ignore the exercise regimen while huckstering specific supplements, protein drinks, or fat burners. There are no “miracle” products or pills on the market: fitness requires old-fashioned, hard work.

“When you screen carefully, personal training can be an excellent investment in fitness,” Peraino concludes. “Remember that your investment doesn’t need to break the bank. The most expensive trainers aren’t necessarily the best. Many trainers will consider semi-private sessions so you can split the cost with a friend. Just be sure that friend has needs and goals that are similar to yours.”

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