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Published: Monday, 12/31/2012

FITNESS

8 tips for hiring a personal trainer

BY JOE MILLER
CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

CHARLOTTE — Trying to get in better shape? Maybe it’s time you asked for help from a personal trainer.

“If you’re in need of a personal trainer, it’s probably because permanent changes are overdue and need to start happening immediately,” says Taylor Carpenter, with TaylorCarpenter Personal Training in Charlotte.

A personal trainer can fill several vital roles — tailoring a workout regimen to your needs, making sure your form and technique are good. Perhaps the biggest advantage: a personal trainer provides accountability.

Dennis McGarry of Charlotte succeeded with the business he started 32 years ago but could never duplicate that success with exercise and health. “Unfortunately, while I am extremely disciplined in my business endeavors I just couldn’t do the same in a fitness and diet effort,” he said.

Easing into retirement a year ago at age 67, overweight, and out of shape, he enlisted the aid of Jonathan Avalos with Shape Up Fitness and Wellness Consulting.

“While I am still overweight, my fitness has improved dramatically,” says Mr. McGarry. “I still have a ways to go … but I’ve come a long way in just one year.”

Wouldn’t mind sounding like Mr. McGarry a year from now? Here’s some advice, from personal trainers and those who employ them, on how to hire a trainer of your own.

1. Qualifications. A trainer with a four-year degree in a related field is preferable. “A person with an actual degree in exercise science or physiology carries a better understanding of how the body works, how muscles work,” says Melanie Dean with Gateway to Health & Performance in Cary, N.C., who holds a master’s of science. Look for personal training certifications; especially look for certifications that require continuing education, which helps keep a trainer current on trends and research.

2. Experience. While formal education is important, experience with clients is vital as well. Ask to speak with a couple of clients for references.

3. Area of focus. Some trainers focus on specific clients. If, for instance, a trainer specializes in helping high-performing athletes tweak their performance and you simply want to lose some weight and increase your mobility, maybe it’s not a good fit.

4. Curiosity. During your interview, the trainer should ask you more questions than you ask the trainer. “A big part of the process is listening to where they are right now, what limitations there are, what their goals are,” says Ms. Dean.

Knee issues forced Pamela Bennett of Charlotte to abandon her long-standing martial arts practice. She’d fallen out of shape but wasn’t a fitness novice. She was skeptical when she first met Michael Anders, a personal trainer and owner of Shape Up, because she wasn’t sure he’d pay attention to her goals.

“I needed someone to listen to me and work with the goals I wanted to achieve, not try to define goals for me,” says Ms. Bennett. That was seven years ago; she continues to work with Mr. Anders.

“You should feel a comfort level immediately,” says Jessica Bottesch with Empower Personal Training in Durham. “Are they taking my goals seriously and not just prescribing a cookie-cutter program?”

5. Commitment. Most trainers suggest working with a trainer two to three times a week, at least initially. This is especially true if one of your problems has been motivation. The frequent visits can help establish a routine. Once you fall into that routine, you can cut back your visits.

6. Team player? Because healthy living isn’t simply about working out in the gym, check to see if the trainer works with and will refer you to other health care professionals. If you’re diabetic, for instance, the trainer should bring in a nutritionist or dietician to consult. If you have muscular dystrophy or fibromyalgia, you might want a masseuse. “A good trainer should have no problem crossing over lines,” says Ms. Dean.

7. Cost. The trainers we spoke with said to avoid anyone who requires a long-term commitment. “I work on a month-to-month basis with a 30-day money-back guarantee,” says Mr. Anders. Most personal trainers charge by the session.

A one-hour session in a gym will run $45-$65. (Less experienced trainers may charge less.) A trainer with a related degree will run more, perhaps $60-$65. And if the trainer comes to you, expect to pay $60-$100 or more.

8. Flexibility. “Maybe you don’t need three times a week,” says Empower’s Ms. Bottesch. “Maybe once a week or even once a month is good. The trainer should be willing to show you things you can do on your own.” Another option: group fitness. “It’s not quite the same tailored approach, but it is a much lower price point and you still have access to a trainer.”

CERTIFIABLE?

Here’s a quick guide to some of the more prominent personal trainer certifications, including format of courses and recertification requirements.

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE). Nonprofit, online and live workshops, recertification required every two years with 20 hours of credits. www.acefitness.org
  • American College on Sports Medicine (ACSM). Nonprofit, online and live workshops, recertification required every three years with 45 hours of credits. www.acsm.org/
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). For-profit, online and live workshops, recertification required every two years with 20 hours of credits. www.nasm.org
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Nonprofit, self-study through workbooks and CDs, recertification requirements vary. http://nsca.com
  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). For-profit, online and life workshops, recertification required every two years with 15 hours of credit. www.afaa.com
  • American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA). For-profit, online study, recertification required every two years with 16 hours. www.afpafitness.com


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