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IMG_0693Before I met my husband Dan I naively assumed that all “trainers” working in fitness clubs had degrees in the field.  I’ll never forget a conversation we had in Janesville, Wisconsin, that changed my perception.

Dan trained clients at a facility there while getting his Master’s degree, and one of the perks was that we both got to work out.  It was a great facility framed with big windows facing the Rock River and stocked with the right amount of machines and space.  A number of trainers were on staff, and one in particular seemed to have a following of his own.   He was fifty-ish, worked at GM full-time, and did personal training on the side.  I observed him doing small group training with clients almost every day.

One day Dan and I began talking about him, and I was shocked when Dan told me that this popular trainer had no formal training or education in the field. I was baffled.  I thought that if I walked into any health club, they would have to provide me with an educated, certified trainer.

Not the case.  Not even close.  It’s quite the opposite.  It seems anyone with the right personality or gym experience can call themselves a trainer (Look up some of the celebrity trainers and see if you can find their degrees).

I can’t help but ask:  Shouldn’t people be educated in anatomy, physiology, and exercise science before working with something as intricate and important as the human body? Do I really want to entrust my health to a weight-lifter with no training and/or no certification?  Does winning a weight-lifting contest, playing football in college, and/or just being pretty and fit qualify you as a trainer?

For me, the answer is a firm “no.”

So how does one find a qualified personal trainer?  One you can trust?  One that can prevent injury?  How can we raise expectations in our local gyms and in the fitness industry as a whole?

Here are 5 things to ask before deciding who you want to trust with your body and health:

  •  Does the trainer have a degree or degrees in the field?  If so, what are they?
  •  Does the trainer have certifications from reputable organizations like American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American  Council on Exercise (ACE), or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)?  Not all certifications are equal!!
  •  Does the trainer have experience?  How many months/years?
  •  Does the trainer have a mentor?  Is he or she be coached and advised in the field?
  •  Lastly, is the trainer continuing his or her education?  Is she working on a Master’s degree?  Is he attending conferences?  Is she getting on-line training or reading top journals in the field?

To some people, this may seem a little extreme, but why do we expect so little when it comes to this field?  Why do we look up our plumber or electrician on Angie’s List, but when it comes to our own bodies, we don’t ask questions or raise our expectations?

If anything, raise the bar for yourself.  Ask questions.  Don’t settle for less.  Your health, fitness, and well-being are worth it!

2 Responses to “Raising Expectations: What Kind of Trainer Do You Want?”

  1. Lisa Hudson says:

    I generally like your blog post, but be careful, you don’t want to generalize in the opposite direction when it comes to a degree. I whole heartedly agree with points 2-5, and they tend to make a great trainer. The number of years of experience coupled with the trainers desire to learn from books, seminars, certifications, etc can give a trainer without a formalized degree from a university the knowledge he/she needs to become a great trainer. The other thing that they need is a true compassion and caring for others. I have personal experience employing a trainer with an advanced degree, numerous certification acronyms after his name and he was the worst trainer I ever hired. He didn’t like people and although he had a wealth of knowdge, he always chose not to share it. I have had other trainers that stopped learning after they got their degree (not good), while others that never got their degree – never stopped learning (preferred).
    I think we both agree, that whether or not the trainer has a degree, they still have to learn from books and continue to learn from books, experience, and visiting proven professionals in this field. Being able to pass a test doesn’t automatically mean that you understand principles or can adequately apply them. Just be careful. Thank you. (our personal training business was established in 1989)

  2. Jen says:

    Lisa, thanks for your good points and relevant example. I still believe that a trainer should have a degree from the field along with a desire to work with people and help people change their lives. Of course, if a trainer does not like people and cannot interact with clients, he or she should not be hired or out on the floor. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but the fitness industry as a whole could step up its game. It is trusting too many personalities and individuals who are passionate about fitness but they may not have the depth of knowledge to prevent injury and sustain a lifetime of fitness for their client. Thanks again and best wishes.