How to Choose a Personal Trainer

Elvis Elvis

If you are trying figure out how to choose a personal trainer, you might feel a bit confused by the whole thing. There are dozens of different certifications alone, and that is just one tiny little part of the big picture. Trainers cover a wide variety of experience, educational background and cost. Aside from those considerations you will find differences in motivational style, teaching style, and personality.

So how do you decide? Here are some of the key things to look out for…

Passion for Health and Fitness

This is at the top of the list because I think it’s really the most important. Someone that is passionate about fitness is better able to communicate the benefits of exercise and motivate others to achieve. You should be able to tell when your trainer loves what they do – it should show! And here’s the thing, everything listed below should follow naturally from passion as the driving force. Make sense?


It’s unfortunate, because it’s an unregulated industry there really are no rules about who can call themselves a trainer. As a minimum requirement, a nationally recognized certification personal trainer should be certified through ACSM, NSCA, NASM, ACE, ISSA, or CHEK.

Professional Development

It’s important to understand that a single certification is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to a full understanding of exercise and health. So, more importantly than just finding someone that is certified, is making sure that the personal trainer is continually improving his/her knowledge base.

Some questions you might ask…

  • What professional organizations do you belong to?
  • How do you keep up with the latest science related to exercise and nutrition?
  • Do you have multiple certifications?
  • What are your plans to improve your knowledge through further workshops or course work?

Experience Personally

While in no way does this guarantee a good trainer, it’s a good sign if they have been training themselves successfullyfor a while.

Experience Training Clients

How to Choose a Personal Trainer

It’s important to find a trainer that has experience training a wide variety of clients. They should be familiar with common musculo-skeletal imparments and muscle imbalances. Most people have some existing problems when they come to see a trainer – the ability of your personal trainer to correct or work around any issues is critical to your success.

Specific Knowledge

If you need to accomplish very specific goals, you will want to find someone that has knowledge in those areas.

For example, bodybuilding/fitness training and contest prep at the competition level involves a somewhat specific skill set that most trainers do not have. Similarly, sport-specific training is a fairly specific field that requires knowledge beyond what might be needed for the client with fat loss or muscle gain goals.

Proper Needs Assessment

This should include a consultation about your medical history including anything related to the heart, lungs, joints, bones, tendons or ligaments, musculature, any balance issues, chronic conditions, medications, and past injury or surgery.

Your trainer should get a clear understanding of your past experience in the gym, your weight and weight loss history, and your expereinces working with any other trainers. This info is often very helpful in determining motivation levels and uncovering any obstacles to your progress.

Current exercise routine or any other physical activity is also important.


There is no cut and dry answer on this one. I’ve known terrible trainers that had a 4-yr degree in exercise science, and I know excellent trainers that don’t have a 4-yr degree in anything. Experience in the gym is going to be more important than a fitness related degree. A Masters degree in a fitness related field would be a big plus.

I can tell you that a graduate degree in another science related field is also helpful when it comes to keeping up with the latest fitness information. I don’t have a fitness related degree, but I do have 2 Masters degrees in the sciences and what I learned while in school makes it easy to interpret fitness and nutrition research because I’m familiar with various experimental designs, testing procedures, and statistics.

Testimonials or References

Any trainer that’s been at it a while should have some client success stories to share with you. Think of this like a portfolio for any other professional, it’s a representation of the quality of work that you can expect when purchasing services.

Good Physique

It’s hard to believe that I have to put this one in the list but… your trainer should be in good shape! They don’t have to be a fitness model by any means, but they should be in the kind of shape that makes you notice.


Make sure your schedule will work with what your trainer has available. Good trainers are usually busy and the hours before 8am and after 5pm are usually the hardest to schedule.


Here are a few things that a trainer should NOT do:

  • Talk on the cell phone while training a client
  • Not be fully engaged with the client