Selecting a Personal Trainer » Oklahoma Sports & Fitness Athlete Blog | Running | Triathlon | Cycling | Fitness | Martial Arts | Powered by Oklahoma Sports & Fitness Magazine

Jun 292013

A common question I get from friends and family is “how do I pick a good personal trainer?”  It is a legitimate question, and I’d like to address it. Those who are looking for help from a fitness professional deserve to have someone that knows what they are doing.  After all, quality trainers can be expensive, and most people want to have the “best trainer.”  The only problem with that is, the “best trainer” is a completely relative term. There is a best for me, best for you, and a best for whoever. I want to take a few minutes and offer some guidance in picking a great fitness professional and the one that is the best for YOU!


There are literally hundreds of certifications for personal trainers. Some are good, some are bad, and most are ridiculous. For instance, I know of a certification that has the course material and the test available to read and take at the same time. You can actually have the test and the material open in different windows and the test even follows the material question by question. Once you have copied all the answers over you can choose to be  a “regular” personal trainer or even a “master” personal trainer. It just depends on how much money you want to pay. That one fits in the “ridiculous” category. These trainers usually train their clients the way they themselves have worked out in the past.

There are some certifications out there that have some decent course material and require the prospective fitness “professional” to take an exam once they have studied for however long. The problem is that the test is taken in the comfort of their own home and there is no one monitoring the exam to be sure the prospective trainer is not just skimming through the book and looking up the answers. While they may have read the book here and there, they may have no idea how to apply the information, and worse, they likely don’t even understand what is actually being asked! This type of trainer, like the one above, will typically train their clients the same way they train themselves. Doesn’t seem so personal does it? These could be categorized as the “bad” ones.

Now we can get into the “good” category of fitness training certifications. A good certification generally has a third party national accreditation that basically states an exam truly tests the competence of the candidate. The course has outstanding material that not only teaches principles of training, but also teaches the application of training. For instance, a lot of the training certification materials that I have read talk to some extent about static stretching. A “ridiculous” course tells the trainer that static stretching is good. A “bad” one will say that static stretching is good and it should be held for thirty seconds or more. A good course will say that static stretching is good under certain circumstances and it needs be held for 15-30 seconds or more because it stimulates a certain mechanoreceptor that allows that muscle to relax. Then it will go on and say what to do after that and give you some progressions, and regressions, and all that jazz.

The testing for the “good” certifications in usually done in a monitored setting where there is zero chance of using the materials to help you pass the exam. If the candidate has studied and knows that material, they will pass the test.

Here are some examples of “good” fitness training certifications. They are NCCA accredited and are widely known throughout the world.

-National Academy of Sports Medicine


-American College of Sports Medicine


-National Strength and Conditioning Association


If you would like to look at more NCCA accreditations you can look here and search the health and wellness option.

Here are a couple that aren’t NCCA accredited, but sill some of the best programs:

-CHEK Institute

-American Academy of Health, Fitness, and Rehabilitation Professionals

Note – There are several other “good” programs out there; these are just some of the ones that came to me at the moment. It is always good to research the credentials of the professional you potentially will be working with.


Experience is a huge part of picking a fitness professional that is best for you. Picking someone with a lot of experience is important, because it means that they have worked with people from all walks of life.

An inexperienced trainer is one that will train their clients the way that they train themselves. This is not always a bad thing, but it just means that they are very limited in what they can do. For example, if they are training for a contest or show, they will probably train you the same way regardless of your goals.

A trainer with a little more experience knows that there are more ways than one to train a client, but maybe they haven’t been around long enough to see what types of programs work and what prorams may not work. I find that they have an open mind and are willing to try new things. They are aware that most of the people they come into contact with are not going to have the same goals and will therefore train their client based around those personal goals. This is the direction that we want to be going toward.

Now we get to trainers that have lots of experience. I would say that these trainers have been constantly training for 5 or more years and have worked with all types of people. Their client list includes people that are in outstanding shape and those that have just been released from physical therapy because of a total hip replacement surgery or other major condition, for example. This type of trainer is the most capable of assessing clients and knowing what is the best approach to reach their goals.


Okay, here is a very important part of picking the best trainer for you. Let’s be honest, you can pick the trainer with most experience, the best credentials, the biggest biceps, but if you don’t click with them - it’s not going to be a good fit. On the other hand, you might pick the newest trainer, with respectable credentials and toothpick arms, but with a personality that meshes with you completely. They motivate you, keep you accountable, and inspire you. This would clearly be the best fit. I have worked with clients that I thought I was absolutely the best trainer for them, but our personalities were just too different. They picked a trainer that fit all the “bad” descriptions, but somehow they just connected. Those clients got great results. Personality is HUGE! Make sure that you and your trainer work well together. It can make all the difference.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on what to look for if you decide to work with a fitness professional. This is not an all-inclusive list, but offers some valuable guidelines. The experience and credentials of a fitness professional are valuable screening tools, if you will, while compatibility is crucial. Have a great week!

Daniel Stephens

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