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tipsUse our checklist to help you pick a trainer.

In Shape

Personal Trainer Pointers

Oprah's got one...and so does your neighbor. Personal trainers have entered the mainstream, but it's nerve-wracking to pick a person you trust. We've put together some pointers to help you find the right trainer for you.

Pick A Trainer With Credentials

Richard Cotton, former chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), says the first step is to make sure a prospective trainer is certified by a top-notch fitness group.

That means they've shown in an exhaustive written and/or practical exam that they thoroughly understand the body's muscle groups and the safest and most effective way to exercise them.

ACE, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association all certify trainers. Confirm that your trainer's certification is up-to-date.

Also, like any other hiring process, check references to see if other clients with similar aspirations were happy.

Know Your Goals

"The goal of most trainers is independence for the client, so ideally there should be some sort of behavioral objective," explains Cotton.

You also need to consider what you want to achieve from working with a trainer.

Todd Tramp, celebrity trainer and proprietor of the eponymous gym in Los Angeles, says one of the first things he asks people is whether they prefer a trainer who is "high energy or not" and if they are looking to be "pushed and motivated during their session or prefer a more relaxed approach."

Personality Fit

Cotton also stresses the importance of personality fit.

  • A personal trainer should motivate you by positive, not negative reinforcement. He/she should be someone you like.
  • The sex of the trainer is another consideration. Figure out who you'll be more comfortable working out with, a member of the same sex or not.
  • They should also be willing to accommodate your schedule.
  • Tramp also warns against overlooking a trainer's own appearance—after all, you want someone to treat your body as well as they treat their own.

The Cost Factor

According to a recent survey by the International Dance Exercise Association, the average price tag for an hour session with a personal trainer is $40. It's higher in urban areas and can hit $100 an hour for at-home training.

One way to cut costs is to share sessions with someone who has the same fitness goals. Or some trainers offer package deals with a lower per-session rate if you buy a certain number in advance.

Many personal trainers operate as independent contractors and are not health club employees. Make sure your trainer has professional liability insurance and spells out their cancellation and billing procedure in writing.

Getting Your Money's Worth

Once you've begun working with a trainer—and paying for it—how do you know if you're getting your money's worth? For starters, Cotton says a good trainer should record everything you do and be able to point out the incremental gains you're making towards reaching your fitness goal.

You should have filled out a health history questionnaire to ensure your special needs or limitations are met. Also ask yourself if you're learning from your trainer.

"A session with a trainer should serve as a sort of personal tutorial in which you acquire the skills and knowledge to reach your goals or maintain what you've achieved on your own," Cotton says.

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  1. Make sure your trainer is certified by a major fitness group and check that the certification is up-to-date.
  2. Check references to see if other clients were satisfied.
  3. Pick a trainer with liability insurance and written billing policies.
  4. Know your goals and select a trainer who can help you meet them.
  5. Ask yourself if you're learning from your trainer—think of it as a private lesson in fitness.

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