Five Questions to Ask a Personal Trainer

“Personal trainers don’t have to be good at what they do. They just have to show up.”

Photo by Leon Li Noteware

Hiring a personal fitness trainer (PFT) nowadays are much more common and accessible than it was in the 1990s. However, unlike other health professionals, there are no national standards that mandates or licensure  in the United States that qualifies one to become a PFT. According to fitness professional Anthony Carey of Function First Exercise Studio in San Diego,  a PFT can have a master’s degree in exercise science with several years of experience or have an online certificate overnight with no formal education, experience, or internships. So what should you look for in a qualified PFT?

1. What are your qualifications?

Qualifications can mean three things: education, training, and experience. A minimum requirement for a PFT is a national accredited certification, such as ACSM, NASM, NSCA, and PTA Global, CPR and First Aid certificates, and at least one year of work experience in sports and recreation field, preferably in physical education or athletic training. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in exercise science and related fields from an university often ensures that the PFT had extensive training and has a good understanding of human movement and critical thinking. Also, a great PFT should belong to a recognized and reputable organization, such as IDEA Fitness Association.Keep in mind that a certification is the MINIMUM requirement for a personal trainer to perform their work.

Photo by Nick Ng

PFTs must have quality communication and people skills and should listen and pay attention to you when you exercise or answering any questions that you have. They should also dress and act professionally when they work with you.

2. How is my progress monitored?

Like a physical therapist helping a patient recovery from a back injury, all exercise programs must have a logical and progressional approach for each client. A good PFT should:

a. Assess your physical condition and goals: Every PFT must identify your goals and physical capabilities before starting any workouts by using methods such as a health questionnaire, posture assessment, body fat test, and movement screening. This provides a foundation and a starting road map for the PFT to determine what is the best exercise strategy for you.

Photo by Nick Ng

b. Implementation: Once your abilities and goals are identified, the PFT should guide you through the workout and give you any pointers and tips necessary. This does not mean rep counting or pep rallying.

c. Re-assess: How else would you know if the exercise program is working or not? Re-evaluation is an essential step in determining how close you are to your goals and where you want to progress from your current training level.

d. Education: Throughout the entire training, a good PFT must educate you in being health savvy, much like a great financial advisor helping his or her client to become wiser in money management.

3. Who are your current clients?

Ask the PFTs current or past clients about their experience with their trainer. How was the trainer’s attitude and approach? What did they like about the trainer? Did they achieve their goals? This usually ensures an honest answer about the person whom you may be hiring. If the trainer refuses to give references or has none, look elsewhere.

4. What is your training philosophy?

Like martial arts and dance, exercise training has many varieties and disciplines and no single method can help all needs. Be sure that your values and goals match with the PFT. If your goal is to look like Ah-nuld, then you should work with a trainer who has the experience and knowledge of bodybuilding. If your goal is to play better in golf and alleviate some chronic back pain, then that same trainer may not be the best for you—unless he has also has a background and training in both fields.

5. What are your professional goals in the future?

This may seem like a personal question and unusual to ask, however, this gives you an insight about the professional goals of the prospective trainer. Because this field is very easy to enter, anyone can claim themselves as a fitness professional. Some of these people may be doing this as a part-time gig and do not take this profession seriously which may result in lack of professional development, continuing education, and commitment to you, as a paying client. How would you feel if you know your doctor or dentist does not keep up with up-to-date information or regularly work in his or her practice? How competent would that professional be?

Overall, use your common sense when shopping for a PFT. This ensures that you are getting what you are paying for with your hard-earned money.

Questions? Contact us at or 858.722.5216.

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