I cannot remember a time in my life when health and fitness were not of the utmost importance. As an athletic child, I participated in various sports before settling into competitive gymnastics. Although my competitive gymnastics career ended in high school, I went on to coach it for five years. During this time I also began frequenting my local gym. I hired a personal trainer with the hopes of reaching my fitness goals and soon discovered a passion for fitness. Within a few months I was working at the gym to supplement my income. It was an exciting time in my life, not only was I reaching my personal goals, but I was gaining extensive knowledge on training and nutrition, as well as assisting others with their goals.
Fast forward ten years. I am now a married mother of two, and at 32-years old I have trained with some of the industry’s best pro-bodybuilders and nutritionists. I have run marathons, half-marathons, and regularly participate in 5K’s, and I even did the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (200 mile ride). Having recently received a BA, I have educated myself in nutrition, physiology, anatomy, and even psychology. Eager to learn more, I am scheduled to begin the Master of Science in Nutrition and Clinical Psychology program at Bastyr University this fall.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you have perused gym websites or glanced at the personal trainer information boards, then it is likely the above bio rings a bell. You may even have been sold on the enthusiasm, knowledge, and promises their bios had to offer. Maybe the alphabet soup of certifications which trailed their names is what impressed you. Like myself, it is possible you even purchased a training package, running you roughly $500-$1,000, with hopes of being motivated and pushed to achieve the best you, neatly packaged in the best body, to be sold with newfound confidence. It sounds appealing doesn’t it?
Based on my bio, would you hire me? Some will say no, but why? Others, I am quite confident would pay for my services. This confidence derives from experience. Not only have I been approached by friends and coworkers, but complete strangers have asked if I would help them develop workout plans, assist with weight loss goals, and even provide meal plans and nutritional advice. While I am flattered with the gesture, I am also quite shocked by how many people are willing to place their health in my hands, and even pay hundreds of dollars for these services.
Why is this surprising? If you haven’t noticed, the above bio is an illusion. While everything I have stated is true, I am selling you a product which is masked with confidence. Basically I am portraying myself as someone who has experience, passion, and knowledge—and who doesn’t want a personal trainer with those qualities. The reality is that I hold no credentials. My BA is not in Nutrition or Exercise Science, and I hold not one certification. Yet I could easily sell myself as a personal trainer. Even worse, it’s legal!
While I may not be dishing out weight training and nutritional plans, I have come across many trainers over the years who make a living (really good one) selling their absolutely unqualified selves to the general public. Some have absolutely no credentials and no training history, while others simply had the genetic luxury of being built for the industry. How can these people call themselves trainers? It is quite simple: trainers are not required to meet any federal or state requirements. This means anyone, literally anyone, can wake up one morning and become a personal trainer. This is scary! Nutritionists, massage therapists, hair stylists, people who wax eyebrows and provide nail services all have licensing requirements before they can practice, but not trainers. I find this to be problematic.
It is unlikely one would seek advice from an unlicensed counselor. We wouldn’t take nutritional advice from someone who does not hold a degree (at least we shouldn’t be). For the most part one wouldn’t receive chiropractic care, massage therapy, and acupuncture from an unlicensed and untrained practitioner. Yet many people pay money, a lot of money, for people who know little to nothing about the basic functioning’s of the human body, which can turn out to be a major health risk. If you have past injuries, are diabetic, overcoming cancer treatments, suffer from depression, are overweight, struggle with eating disorders, or are simply aging—you risk a lot by placing your health in the hands of a nonprofessional. The best part, most professionals cost the same or are less expensive than the amateurs, and all it takes is a bit of research to find them.
The process of finding a great trainer can become tedious. We read reviews, we get advice from friends, and we want to trust that the gyms we frequent would demand the best of the best. However this simply is not the case. If you are anything like me, it is a sacrifice and half to pay for 30 minutes of training one day a week, so a little research and some standards can truly go a long way in guaranteeing your success, your safety, and your health.
1) There are no regulations. This means as customers we are responsible for researching and asking questions of any trainer we choose to hire. Personally, I have decreased the amount of research by hiring only those nutritionists and personal trainers who hold a degree in their field. Over the years I have had a number of excellent trainers whose expertise changed my life, and none of them were any more expensive than a certified trainer or health coach. That being said, I understand some people want simplicity and it can be easier to locate a certified trainer than a degreed one, but as one trainer put it, “simply recognize that without formal kinesiology and physiology training, you do assume higher risk of injury” (Zarecki, 2009).
2) Certifications. In the end, if you choose a trainer with certifications, be sure to research their cert programs and verify they have obtained a well-rounded education. When I was working at one of the larger chain gyms I was offered the opportunity to become a trainer and it startled me that all it required was a few hours of my time, 10-12 lectures and a test with about 100 questions. The best part, my manager offered to have someone else take the test for me, this way we could speed up the (already easy) process. Do not be alarmed, not all gyms are the same and not all certification programs are alike. Some certification programs are technical and difficult to obtain, such as National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Council on Strength Fitness (NCSF). When in doubt, simply look it up and do not be afraid to verify credentials either.
3) Most trainers are not qualified to provide nutritional advice. One of my biggest pet peeves: trainers who call themselves “nutritionists.” They promise better outcomes with their meal plans and will even blame your inability to lose weight on your failure to follow their program. This program, I might add has not changed in over ten years and typically involves: egg whites, chicken breasts, steak, dark green veggies, protein supplements, and the likes. To add to the nonsense, trainers have suggested I cut carbohydrates out of my diet (or significantly limit them), and I am expected to consume no more than 1500 calories per day (max). I have two words for this: NOT HEALTHY.
I eat all of the aforementioned foods. I consume carbohydrates, as they are a source of energy, fueling the body, brain and nervous system. As for consuming 1500 calories, that is absolutely insane. I consume at least 2000 calories on days where I am sedentary (fancy word for lazy), and 2500 on workout/active days. Not only will maintaining a low caloric diet slow down your metabolism, but you are taking away our body’s main source of energy and fueling system, which if you have ever had your car run out of gas, is not good. To make it worse, you are making it more difficult to maintain a healthy dietary lifestyle which is about balance and what you eat, not counting calories and being hungry. Your best bet, walk away from any trainer attempting to change your diet and provide nutritional advice without the proper education (bachelor’s degree & license). Following nutritional advice from an untrained or improperly trained individual can have dangerous side effects. If you are looking for both, find an individual who possesses both credentials, they do exist.
4) When it comes to supplements, be on the lookout for dealers and pushers. Bottom line: be wary of a trainer selling supplements. Far too often trainers increase their profits through these sales, and some facilities even require their trainers meet monthly quotas. Personally speaking, I would walk away from a trainer who puts you on more than one to two supplements per day and only recommends the kind sold at their gym. Just like people, not all supplements are alike, some are better than others and some should simply be avoided. Unless I am training for something specific, I try to stay away from most supplements and focus on consuming wholesome, healthy foods—and sometimes a protein shake on those days when I am too lazy to make breakfast.
5) “Lose 15-25 lbs,” “drop four sizes,” and do it all within the next 30 days! Sounds amazing, right? Of course it does. We see these same promises on magazine covers, we watch as celebrities boast about their weight loss plans, and we of course want in on this action. So when our soon to be trainer makes these same promises, we start to imagine our new lives, in our new bodies, and how amazing we are going to look on our next vacation. Before we know what hit us, we are sold. We bought into the illusion of confidence and didn’t think about the aftermath. These are not empty promises. Can one lose 25 lbs in 30 days? Of course. However it is not safe, it is not permanent, and it can have horrible lasting side effects (hormonal, eating, etc). If your goals are to change your lifestyle, develop an exercise regimen that works with your schedule and needs, create the healthy physique that is meant for you, and create positive healthy changes—then say no to the salesmen. An educated and experienced trainer has worked with people like you, understands individual limitations, won’t risk your health, knows there is no one size fits all weight loss program, and will provide the tools necessary to make a healthy lifestyle an attainable goal.
10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Personal Trainer. (2012, January 11). Retrieved June 2013, from Jonathon’s Fitness : http://jonathonsfitness.com/2012/01/11/10-things-to-know-before-hiring-a-personal-trainer/
Douglas Zipes, M. (2004). Hiring a Personal Trainer . Neighborhood Heart Watch: Medical Update 30.5 , 5.
Ekdahl, K. (2004-2013). The 10 Things YOU MUST KNOW Before Hiring a Personal Trainer. Retrieved June 2013, from Personal Best Personal Training: http://www.personalbestpersonaltraining.com/fitness-articles/10-things-you-must-know-before-hiring-a-personal-trainer/
McDowell, D. (2010, October ). Dangerous Personal Trainers . Retrieved June 2013, from Women’s Health Magazine : http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/dangerous-personal-trainers
Zarecki, R. (2009, June 5). 10 Things you Need to Know Before Hiring a Personal Trainer. Retrieved June 2013, from Personal Exercise Fitness Training Expert : http://ftmsp.blogspot.com/2009/06/10-things-you-need-to-know-before.html