How to Choose the Right Personal Trainer for You

Don't Get Caught with the Wrong Trainer

Personal Training
Personal Training. (c) Getty Images

Personal training is much like sports coaching: you have to have a good mix of skills to be successful, and that means technical qualifications, sports and exercise experience, and excellent personnel management and psychological skills. Here's what to look for and what questions to ask a prospective personal trainer.


Personal trainer qualifications vary in different countries, and the education qualification that designates a personal trainer can vary from certificate level in fitness to a doctorate (PhD) in sports and exercise, or even sports medicine.

It makes sense to ask about qualifications, and most certified trainers should have a card they can show you. If you need more, you could ask where they trained, the qualifications of their teachers and so on, but this might be a little extreme. Even so, cheap, online qualifications can be obtained with little stringency, so it's worth being aware of sub-standard qualifications.

Questions to Ask

  • What qualifications do you have?
  • Where did you learn?
  • Did your course include practical training of clients or was it only theoretical?
  • Did your training include personnel management and health and safety considerations?
  • Is your qualification current and up to date, including your first aid certificate?
  • What is your own personal practical exercise experience and training level?
  • Can you provide references from clients?

The word 'personal' is important in this discipline, and you might expect more than you would from a team sports coach.

Next, if you have a medical condition you may need to seek out a trainer who is qualified to train individuals with such complications. Exercise physiologists are generally trained and qualified to attend to people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and other chronic conditions. However, this does not mean that personal trainers with lesser formal qualifications and considerable experience and short-course training in this area would not also be competent trainers for you.


Training many clients may be useful for understanding how to manage clients of varying ages, gender and fitness circumstances. Even so, the best personal trainers are likely to have this background plus wide experience in sports and exercise in various disciplines over time. The best trainers have done it themselves. Such background is important in knowing how hard to push individual clients according to their needs and circumstances, and how to vary training modalities according to situation. For example, if you prefer to run or cycle outdoors rather than spend time mostly in the gym, you will probably do best with a trainer who specializes in that compared to a gym trainer.

Trainers who have made the mistakes, suffered the injuries and exhaustion and learned how progressive exercise training works across varying disciplines are more likely to be attuned to the needs of individual clients.

Venue and Accessibility

Where will your personal trainer train you? Some PTs work from within established gyms, some have their own small, personal gyms, while others specialize in bootcamps in outdoor settings or utilize streets and parks for training.

Some PTs even visit your place and work with you from there. Be sure you select the right place for you.

Summing Up

There are exceptions to these general rules, naturally, and personal trainers, like doctors or lawyers or builders, tend to range widely in competence and ability. Ask around and shop around, and don't be afraid to change up. And one word of caution; the most academically qualified trainer may not be the best for you. You need to weigh up theoretical, practical and personnel skills and abilities.

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