How to Select a Fitness Instructor in Four Simple Steps

The Importance of Selecting the Right Trainer

Vet a Trainer
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With new fitness studios and formats popping up all the time, it can be hard to tell if a trainer or instructor is truly qualified to guide you safely through an effective workout. While it's important for fitness professionals to have a passion for the business, they also need credentials and experience to back up their practice. Passion without knowledge could be a recipe for disaster, and the last thing you want to do is put yourself in the hands of someone who doesn't truly understand the intricacies of human performance.

1. Ask Around

Vet a Trainer - Ask a Friend
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Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Before you choose a facility, instructor or trainer by jabbing your finger in the proverbial phone book, seek out recommendations from your friends.

Get specific - if you're looking for a barre studio, and a friend offers a recommendation, ask him which instructors he's tried, and what he thought of each one. You might be surprised at the variation in quality instruction from one class to another, even within the same studio.

You can also dive deeper by looking at facility and class reviews. If someone has a positive or negative experience with a specific instructor, they're likely to use his or her name when writing the review. If someone writes, "As a pregnant woman, I didn't feel like Sue gave me instruction or modifications specific to my needs," that's valuable information if you, too, are pregnant.

2. Scope Out the Trainer's Education and Certifications

Vet a Trainer - Scope Credentials
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These days you may not even need to contact the trainer directly to gain information about his or her certifications. Most facilities, particularly smaller gyms, boutique studios and programs, offer instructor bios on their websites that provide detailed information about each instructor's fitness-related background.

It's important to look for current certifications, any field-related education (for instance, a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Science, Kinesiology, Physical Education or Anatomy and Physiology), as well as class-specific training.

Generally, the more education and certifications an instructor holds, the more qualified they will be to teach.

Here's where I'd like to caution a few things:

  1. When it comes to class-specific certifications (barre, yoga, group cycling, etc.), it's very important that an instructor be certified in that type of class before trusting yourself to his or her hands. Some forms of exercise are more intricate or carry greater potential for injury, so you want to be sure your instructor is qualified.
  2. If an instructor only has a class-specific certification, proceed with caution. While Zumba instructors may not be required to hold any certification other than Zumba in order to teach, wouldn't you rather learn from someone who also has a personal training certification or group exercise certification from a third-party organization? These additional certifications speak to an individuals dedication to the field of fitness and a great depth and breadth of knowledge.
  3. Most degreed fitness professionals (those with at least a bachelor's degree in the field), are likely to have a greater understanding of the human body, the science behind exercise. That said, most schools don't teach students the ins and outs of personal training or fitness instruction. When a person is degreed, make sure they're also certified.
  4. Look for current certifications. Certified fitness professionals are required to perform regular continuing education to ensure their credentials stay up to date. If someone has allowed a certification to lapse, they may still be able to claim, "previously certified in...," but the fact that they didn't bother to maintain a certification may mean they didn't prioritize continuing education. Given the constantly-changing nature of the field, continuing ed is pretty important.

3. Attend a Class and Introduce Yourself

Vet a Trainer - Attend a Class
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Once you've narrowed down your choices, see about attending a class or session to test the trainer out. Most studios and gyms offer a free trial so you won't have to lay out big money to attend.

This is where the rubber hits the road. Vet the class by asking yourself whether it feels like a good "fit." Did the instructor greet you? Were other participants welcoming? Did you like the music and class format? Was it challenging? Did the instructor provide clear modeling and verbal cues? Were modifications provided? Did you feel like you were in good hands?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the instructor, trainer or class is right for you.

4. Go With Your Gut

Vet a Trainer - Go With Your Gut
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At the end of the day, it comes down to your gut feeling about a trainer. If you feel comfortable with the education and certifications he or she holds, and if you liked the class and style of instruction, then you should feel comfortable signing up for more classes.

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