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Finding a Personal Trainer

Getting personal instruction at least three times is valuable for anyone who lifts weights. If you join a club, you should automatically get a free training session on top of a fitness evaluation. Ask in advance, and you may even get extra free sessions. If you lift weights at home, you can hire a trainer for a couple of sessions to get you up and running. (If a trainer isn't an option for you, a good video or DVD can help, but when you're an absolute beginner, a video or DVD is no substitute for hands-on instruction.)

Finding fitness help: What a trainer can do for you

Personal trainers are famous for performing award-winning actions to firm bodies quickly with amazing results for prizefighters, action heroes, and models, but a good fitness trainer can do that for you, too.

Perfecting your technique

A trainer can offer subtle pointers to improve your weight lifting form. Even if you do your best to follow instructions like, "Keep your arm parallel to the floor," you may not be able to tell whether your arm is in precisely the right position. After you know what it feels like to correctly perform an exercise, you're likely to keep using good techniques when you're on your own.

Showing you alternative exercises

A trainer can help you build on exercises, showing you additional moves that meet your specific needs and preferences. If you're pregnant, a trainer can show you how to perform abdominal exercises without lying on your back and hamstring exercises without lying on your stomach. If you suffer from arthritis, a personal trainer can show you how to stretch and strengthen your muscles while alleviating some pain and fatigue.

Introducing you to the equipment

Each brand of equipment has its own quirks. The seat adjustment for one Lat Pulldown machine may work by a different mechanism than it does for another, even though the machines strengthen your back muscles in the same way. A trainer can tell you about the intricacies of each machine in your health club or home gym.

Designing or updating your program

If you wanted to, you could come up with a new routine every day for the rest of your life. A trainer can help you expand on our workout suggestions and design routines that fit your specific schedule, whether you work out 3 days a week for 20 minutes or twice a week for an hour.

Keeping you motivated

Some people wouldn't even consider getting out of bed, let alone lifting a weight, if they didn't have a trainer standing over them saying, "Okay, Larry, ten shoulder presses, now!" Others manage with a motivational boost every month or two, working out on their own the rest of the time. And then some people rely so much on their trainers for inspiration that they actually bring them along on vacation.

Finding a qualified trainer

Fitness trainer is about as meaningful a term as Internet consultant or marketing liaison. In terms of skills and education, the term doesn't mean a darn thing.

Looking for the certification

Although no laws exist on the books requiring trainers to have any particular training or certification, professional organizations and university programs are certifying more and more trainers. Many health clubs now require their trainers to have at least one certification, and as the personal training profession becomes increasingly competitive, many private trainers are earning certifications in order to stay ahead of the competition.

A number of certifications require several days of seminars taught by fitness experts and a passing grade on a written exam. But beware: Some trainers might be certified by answering a few questions online and paying $90.

The following organizations are among the most reputable certifying agents:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Hiring an experienced trainer

Don't be shy: Ask for references and call a few. Do as good a job screening potential trainers as you'd do checking out potential employees. Ask for a resume.

Making sure that your personalities mesh

Trainers are human beings, which means that they come in all different personality types. Some are enthusiastic. Some are downright perky. Others are drill sergeants.

Interview a few trainers and choose one who makes you feel comfortable. Your trainer doesn't need to be your best friend. In order to act as an objective professional, your trainer — like your doctor or lawyer — may need some distance from you.

Expecting good teaching skills

Even if your trainer has a PhD in physiology and is more congenial than Oprah, there's no guarantee that he can show you how to perform a push-up correctly. The ability to get a point across is a skill in and of itself. Good trainers speak to you in your native tongue, not in jargon. If you don't understand something, a trainer should be able to find another way of explaining the point. Also, good trainers prepare you to venture out into the world alone. They make sure that you understand not only how to adjust the seat on the Leg Extension machine, but also why you're adjusting it that way.

Getting personal attention

Your trainer should shower you with questions about your goals and should thoroughly evaluate your health, strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility. Look for evidence that you're getting a custom-designed routine. Many trainers specialize in certain types of clients, such as seniors, children, pregnant women, multiple sclerosis patients, or ultra-endurance athletes. If you have a specific goal in mind or have special circumstances, it's wise to seek out a trainer who has the training and experience to meet your needs.

Paying a hefty fee

Hollywood stars may pay $200 per weight training session, but you don't need to. Fees vary widely depending on what part of the country you live in, but in many places, you can find a trainer for about $35 an hour. Expect to pay between $75 and $150 per hour if you live in a big city. More experienced trainers generally receive a higher rate. Trainers with additional education in working with people with certain medical conditions or women who're pregnant usually charge higher rates. Yoga and Pilates instructors often charge more, too.

Insisting on liability insurance

Make sure that your trainer carries liability insurance. If you get hurt, you may be looking at thousands of dollars in medical bills, even if you have medical insurance. A trainer's liability coverage may foot the bill if you can prove your injury is a direct result of the trainer's negligence.

Being on your best behavior

Just like you expect a trainer to meet certain qualifications and protocol, you too need to be up to the standard, aligning your behaviors with a willing participant and one that trainers can work with. Follow these tips to get the most out of your training sessions:

  • Show up on time. Trainers are professional people with busy schedules and bills to pay, so show them courtesy.
  • Have a good attitude. Your trainer doesn't want to hear you whine about your boss or your latest speeding ticket.
  • Speak up. The more questions you ask, the more information you're likely to remember.
  • Listen to your trainer. When you're advised to perform 12 repetitions per set, don't say, "My stockbroker says that it's better to perform 40 repetitions." Trust that your trainer has more experience than you do (or your stockbroker for that matter).
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