Unfortunately, you may not know if your trainer is good at what he or she does until you've already committed a lot of time and money. Trying to find a skilled trainer among all the rest can be a very difficult task and it's far too easy for the average person to become a "certified" personal trainer.
What does all this mean??? It means that Joe Smith who dropped out of high school can find an organization that provides a Personal Training Certification for about $300 and a few weeks of studying. In a month he could be training you at your local gym, and you wouldn't know the difference between this guy and a great trainer until it was too late. This is an extreme example... but YES, there are certifications that DO NOT even require a high school diploma.
Here are a few things to look for in your personal trainer...
1) At least a bachelors degree in an Exercise Science related field. They don't need to have a BS to be a great trainer, but it certainly shows that they're dedicated to the field and assures you that they do in fact know what they're doing. Beware of the "well... I guess I can just be a personal trainer now" types. If your trainer is working other jobs as well as personal training... get off the treadmill and run out the door! I'm serious, this person is training solely for money, NOT because they know how to help you achieve your goals. You don't want a "job personal trainer," you want a "career personal trainer."
2) A C.S.C.S. (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) is by far the most difficult certification to attain. Although there are some great trainers with other certifications, it's less common to find a bad trainer with a CSCS due to its requirements.
3) An actual passion for fitness... if your trainer doesn't even workout themselves... Dump Them!!! Trust Me. On the other side...just because your trainer is in shape DOES NOT guarantee that they know what they're doing.
4) A busy schedule... if your trainer isn't busy, then there's most likely a reason for it. There aren't many good trainers in the field, so the good one's are highly sought after.
5) The ability to customize programs to your needs. Everyone is different...and to achieve your goals in the most sound and logical manner you need a customized program. There is no one size fits all. If your training at a fitness club, take a look around... if you see a trainer performing the same exercises with EVERYONE, the chances are that they've gotten lazy and become an "exercise of the day" trainer. This absolutely does happen, just watch.
Lastly...ask your trainer what your doing and why your doing it... A competent and confident trainer will be happy to explain exactly why your doing what your doing. Be curious, ask questions, it will pay off. There are a lot of trends in the field right now that are grossly misused, make sure you don't become a victim of one of them.
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