How to Hire a Qualified Personal Trainer
by Scott White  ©2004

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How to Hire a Qualified
Personal Trainer

Health and fitness are among the trendier topics of the day — and people are spending more money than ever to achieve them. One question, though, is whether the investment in a personal trainer is worth the money. If you have specific fitness goals that you are not meeting on your own, a personal trainer may be well worth the investment. We generally don’t try to provide our own medical care, repair our own cars, or handle our own legal matters. Unless we are uniquely qualified, we hire professionals to do those things for us. Hiring a trainer is no different. And consider this fact: on average, people who hire personal trainers increase their income by $7,000 within a year of hiring the trainer.

So what is the first step to finding a qualified personal fitness trainer? Start by asking around. Ask the people you know who work with trainers. Check the phone book. Inquire at your gym. Check the listings in fitness magazines.

But getting referrals is only the first step. Next, you must do some research and interview prospective trainers. Trainers’ fees run anywhere from $40 to $300 per hour, so you want to be sure you’re hiring a qualified expert who will actually provide good advice and training in exchange for your financial investment. As with most things, you get what you pay for — so you don’t want to go with the least expensive person just because they are affordable. But likewise, a high fee does not automatically make someone qualified. Make sure you ask as many questions as necessary to determine that the person you hire is knowledgeable and will be able to help you achieve your specific weight and fitness goals.

Things to Look For in a Qualified Trainer

§      Check their credentials. You want a trainer with a degree in health, nutrition, Kinesiology, biomechanics or exercise physiology.

§      Look for personal training certifications. These are some of the better ones:

       C.H.E.K – Developed by Paul Chek – Corrective High-Performance Exercise Kinesiologist
(NOTE: This would be my recommended certification to look for, as I regard them as the best for information and education in this field.)

       NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine

       NSCA – National Strength and Conditioning Association

       I.S.S.A. – International Sports Sciences Association – a very good certification for a beginning trainer

§      Some less impressive certifications include:

       CSCS – Offered by NSCA – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist – a very good accreditation, but also outdated

       ACSM – great for clinical work, but not very practical in real life

       ACE – avoid this one. The trainer doesn’t really have to prove any knowledge about training to obtain this certification.

§      Make sure the certifications are current and that the trainer is knowledgeable about the latest trends in the fields of nutrition, fitness and health. Good trainers continuously educate themselves by reading books about diet, nutrition, exercise, health, sleep and any other topics related to the human body and its functions.

§      One note about certifications: There are many trainers without certifications or degrees (or whose certifications are not the best ones) who are still extremely qualified. However, it is important to determine their level of expertise and education. I sell a sample test you may give a prospective trainer to help determine whether they meet the same criteria a certified trainer should meet.

§      Be certain that the trainer is up-to-date on CPR and first aid.

§      Determine that the trainer has a willingness to learn and is open to new ideas in training and nutrition. Avoid anyone with a one-size-fits-all approach. Every person’s psychology, biochemistry, muscle imbalances, hormones, etc. are unique and react differently. You want a program that is tailored to your specific body type and weight or training goals.

§      The trainer should have a good physique and they should have their own fitness goals. The trainer should most definitely practice what they preach.

§      Ask for testimonials and references regarding their training background.

Things a Qualified Personal Trainer Should Offer

§      Professionalism. Your trainer should have an attitude of professionalism at all times. They must be on time, awake, and giving you their 100 percent undivided attention during your scheduled session. Run, don’t walk, from any trainer who makes or takes phone calls, talks to friends or gives you less than their full attention during your session. If your trainer works at a gym, determine whether this is their career — or if they are simply working there for the free gym membership.

§      Motivation. A key role of the trainer is that they motivate you. This is largely what you are paying them for. Face it. If you could motivate yourself to do this work on your own, you wouldn’t need a trainer. Still, your trainer should not be a commanding drill sergeant — they should offer an appropriate balance between motivation and compassion.

§      Accountability. Another part of the trainer’s job is to keep you accountable. The trainer should hold you responsible for being on time, or canceling with advance notice. If you arrive for your session 15 minutes late or you cancel without 24 hours’ notice, you will be charged. As the client, it is your job to keep your word and to allow the trainer to get you results. This means you must arrive on time and ready to work out.

§      Energy. Your trainer should be upbeat and energetic. If they don’t have any energy, how can they possibly get you fired up to work out and sweat?

§      Results. A trainer’s primary job is to help you obtain RESULTS. If you listen to your trainer and follow their advice, and you still are not happy with your results or the way you feel, fire them and hire another trainer. However, if you don’t listen to your trainer, you cannot fault them if you do not achieve results.

§      Focus on your health. Your health should be your trainer’s priority even if getting fit isn’t your first priority. Whether you’re training for a marathon or trying to achieve a body builder’s physique, your trainer must keep your health at the forefront of their concerns.

§      Success. The trainer must be committed to your success, sometimes even more committed to it than you are.

§      Training sessions. Your trainer may offer a variety of packages, including buddy, family, group and corporate sessions. Do not hesitate to ask for what you want from your trainer.

Things Quality Fitness Training Should Include

§      Measurements. Before you begin a fitness program, measurements should be taken of body fat, weight, circumferences, and blood pressure. Tests should be done to determine postural analysis and muscle imbalances. Progress must be tracked.

§      A PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) should be administered and a medical history taken, so the trainer is aware of any physical conditions that could inhibit your training or potentially injure you. The trainer must know beforehand of any and all medical conditions and medications in order to address your personal health concerns and keep your safety a number one priority.

§      One-hour sessions, three times a week. For the most efficient training, sessions should last one hour and include warm-up, weight training (the best bang for your buck for fat loss and muscle gain), stretching, and cool-down. Your trainer should recommend three sessions a week to achieve your ultimate fitness goals. If you work out only once a week, you cannot expect quick or quality results. (In the event that you only are able to work with a trainer one time per week, it will become your responsibility to work out the other two times a week on your own. But don’t try to fool yourself. If you know you won’t work out on your own, make the investment to work three times a week with a trainer.)

§      Workout log. Your trainer must record everything you do with them. Records are extremely important for the trainer, as they will track your progress and success.

§      Variety. You should never have to do the same boring workout all the time. If that is the case, get a new trainer. Your trainer should be smart enough to design innovative programs to keep you motivated. That is a key aspect of their job.

§      Undivided attention. You, the client, should be the most important person in your trainer’s life for the length of your session. You deserve their undivided attention and utmost respect.

§      Sweat. Working out isn’t supposed to be easy, but neither is it supposed to kill someone. Your trainer should push you as close to the edge as possible — and, yes, you should work up a healthy sweat in every workout. Remember, you can’t get fit without getting funky. However, some workout days will be lighter than others because no one can achieve peak performance everyday. It is up to your trainer to get the most out of you every time they work with you.

§      Proper form. During a session, your posture and biomechanics should be more important to the trainer than being a rep-counting cheerleader. You, the client, should count the reps while your trainer watches carefully to make sure you are performing the exercises properly and corrects any deviations in your form.

§      Directives for times outside the training sessions. In addition to one-on-one training, your trainer must recommend a proper meal plan and encourage you to perform regular cardiovascular exercise to help burn those extra calories and shed those extra layers of fat.

Things You Should Bring to Your Training Regimen

§      Specific goals. Ask your trainer to help you clarify and prioritize your fitness goals. Make sure your trainer is willing to help you achieve them in the most efficient way possible.

§      Be willing to work. Don’t hire a trainer and then simply go through the motions. Listen carefully and follow your trainer’s advice. (A note to trainers: If your client doesn’t listen to what you say, FIRE them, because they will only discredit you and your reputation. You might hesitate to terminate a client relationship because you feel bad or you need the money, but continuing to work with them will only hinder your long-term success.)

§      Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask your trainer about it. That’s why they’re there. And above all, make sure you ask for what you want.

§      Most importantly be honest with yourself and your trainer. If you didn’t do your cardio or eat correctly that week, be honest. The trainer knows you’re human, and that you will likely have lapses. Remember, if you could do it alone, you wouldn’t have hired someone to coach you in the first place. It doesn’t help either of you in reaching your goals if you lie or try to cover up. Your trainer will know you’re lying anyway if you are not getting in better shape, you’re not losing body fat, or your stamina is not improving. Your trainer is not necessarily responsible for your lack of progress — this is a two-way street.

§      Note: Lack of results when you are working diligently and following all of your trainer’s instructions could be an indicator that their methods or eating plans are misguided or uninformed. Use your discretion — and get a new trainer if the lack of progress continues even after you’ve shared your concerns with your trainer.

Things to Avoid

§      Glitz and glamour. Don’t hire someone simply because they (or their studio) look good. Make sure they can back up their appearance with knowledge and expertise.

§      Steroids, diuretics, and any other harmful drugs. A trainer should promote health and fitness. Drugs of any kind do not belong in your body. Don’t train with a big, buff guy (a muscle-head) just because they look the part. Their appearance alone doesn’t mean they know anything about proper training methods. Investigate a trainer’s background and personal training history before you hire them.

Remember, hiring a personal trainer is an intuitive process that is unique to each individual. Continue to interview people until you feel confident you’ve found a trainer who will be able to help you meet your personal fitness goals.

Ask for references and check with the trainer’s current clients to determine whether they enjoy working with that person. Ask the trainer as many questions as it takes to help you gauge how compatible you are with them. The training relationship is a unique partnership — and for maximal success, you need to find the best partner possible.


Scott White is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist located in Scottsdale. For more information about nutrition and fitness or to inquire about a Assessment, call or e‑mail Scott today. 480.628.1607 or

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Scott White is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer. He is an Kinesiologist and his credentials include a BS in Kinesiology from Arizona State University and International Sports Science Association certification.  He also is CPR and First Aid certified.

Since 1998, Scott has been training and providing nutritional guidance for optimal results to clients including:

        Annett Davis and Jenny Jordan from the Olympic Beach Volleyball Team and other professional volleyball players

        Lucia Rijker, women's boxing champion

        Freddie Mitchell, Philadelphia Eagles and UCLA football player

        Many other professional athletes, actors, directors and producers