By James Riley

Contributing Writer

This column has often recommended that people hire a personal trainer if they need professional assistance.

A personal trainer can provide assessment of your exercise needs,  programming to develop an exercise routine that meets those needs, technique on how to perform the prescribed exercises, and reassessment of whether you have improved.

As with many professions, especially those that don’t require a license or certification, there is a broad range of background and qualifications among those who call themselves personal trainers, and the cost of their expertise doesn’t seem to differ greatly.  It’s a “buyer beware” market, so it pays health dividends if you shop wisely.

Here are six characteristics to look for when selecting a personal trainer.   They are listed in priority order, with the first one being the most important.

  • The trainer should have a four-year degree in a study related to personal training, such as kinesiology, physical education, biology, athletic training or other related field.   They should also possess a certification from a nationally recognized fitness organization.  Education and certification indicates they have sufficient competency background.
  • The trainer should have at least two years of experience as a personal trainer and have completed an internship at a fitness or performance facility.
  • The trainer should be able to first provide you with an assessment of your fitness and movement abilities.  They should be able to discuss with you what you do well and the abilities that need improvement.

Improving fitness is most frequently about improving the deficits in your movement ability rather than enhancing strengths.  You and the trainer should set goals together, based upon the assessment, and the trainer should regularly track your progress toward those goals.  If the trainer doesn’t know how to assess your abilities then the program they design for you will be a generic one rather than one specific to your needs.

  • Most trainers charge in the range of $50 to $70 per hour and some will do half-hour sessions for about $30.  The trainer should provide you with a detailed copy of your workout.  Many clients prefer to learn a workout from the trainer and do it on their own and then see the trainer for upgrades periodically as they progress.  Others prefer to train regularly with the trainer.

Most trainers give discounts for packages of workouts purchased in groups of 10 or more.  Beware of the long-term commitment packages, especially when you are just starting to work with the trainer.

  • Find a trainer whose personality you feel comfortable with and can relate to.  The trainer’s style should match your style.  Do you prefer a “praiser” and a friend, or a drill sergeant that is totally focused on the tasks?
  • Reputation:  Does the trainer have good reports from others who have worked with them?  While you are asking others about a trainer, take the time to observe the trainer at work and determine how they fit with your style and needs.

A competent personal trainer is well worth your investment if they can assess your movement needs, design and teach you a program, and evaluate your progress.  Most clients probably do not need, nor can they afford, a full-time trainer. However, for many people a regular consultation with a trainer may greatly improve the quality of their fitness progress.


James Riley is a certified strength and conditioning coach and a Level One Olympic Lifting Coach who holds a B.A. in physical education, an M.A. in psychology and a doctorate in education.