Anyone can claim to be a personal trainer, but it takes more than liking to exercise and knowing how to lift weights. Just because trainers look great in yoga pants or can bench press their own body weight doesn’t mean they know how to safely and effectively help you do the same.
Here are five things your trainer should know:
Education: Your trainer should, at the very least, hold a nationally recognized personal training certification. Even better, they should have a health-and-fitness-related degree, such as exercise science or kinesiology. Before you let anyone work with you, ask the trainer for his or her credentials. Legally, anyone can claim to be a personal trainer and, unfortunately, many gyms only require that their “trainers” are good at selling sessions and products to clients.
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Proper form and technique: Your trainer should be able to name any muscle in the body, as well as the function of that muscle. In addition, a qualified trainer should know proper form and technique for every lift or exercise to ensure both your safety and the effectiveness of your workout. Give your trainer a little test. He or she may use layman’s terms for ease of explanation, but should be able to tell you that “lats” stands for “latissimus dorsi” and should know the difference between abduction and adduction.
Modification and personalization: Qualified trainers should know how to modify your exercises to meet your needs and goals. They should know how to manipulate angles, levers and body positions to make common exercises easier or harder depending on your fitness level and any injuries. Sound complicated? That’s why you pay them the big bucks. They also should know how to read your intensity level, understand your comfort zone and help push you just past it, but not to the point where your exercise becomes dangerous.
Nutrition: While personal trainers are not nutritionists or dietitians, they are required to receive nutritional training if they are certified or hold a degree. Trainers should know the basics of healthy eating. They should never pressure you into anything, such as taking supplements you are uncomfortable with, or advocate extreme calorie restrictions or other fad diets. They should steer you toward fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. While they may OK occasional splurges, the message should be everything in moderation. If you feel your trainer is pushing you toward unhealthy eating habits, get a second opinion from an actual nutritionist.
How to be reliable. Setting and reaching goals is all about priorities. A trainer’s main function is to hold you accountable to your goals. If the trainer is consistently late, doesn’t manage session time well, is disorganized or can’t remember specifics from previous sessions, your trainer is not taking the job seriously. He or she should have planned workouts so you can see progression. A trainer that flies by the seat of the pants and picks exercises out of a hat does not have your goals in mind and is not giving you the attention you are paying for.
Connection is important, too. You two should have a good rapport and you should look forward to your workouts. The trainer’s end game should be to make you feel comfortable working out on your own and share knowledge so that, eventually, you won’t need them to correct your form and push your intensity level. A good trainer will teach you what they know, then let you loose to set and reach your goals on your own.
Kelly Turner: firstname.lastname@example.org; Turner is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer and fitness writer. www.KellyTurnerFitness.com; on Twitter @KellyTurnerFit