Finding the Right Personal Trainer

By: Bobby Moseley

In part 1 we learned how to determine and document some realistic personal fitness goals and how to round up a list of potential personal trainers. In part 2 we're going to take a look at how to determine whether or not the trainers on your list are qualified.

Personal Trainer Qualifications

The very first thing you need to realize is that, unlike doctors, lawyers, or nurses, there is no official government standard for who can call themselves a personal trainer. There's no single test or criteria, although the fitness industry seems to be slowly moving in that direction. Because of this lack of an official standard, you have chance to come across a huge range of trainers, ranging from someone who has absolutely no business training people, all the way to highly intelligent, educated, and certified individuals on par with any doctor or nurse.

Personal Trainer Certifications

The biggest, most confusing thing to understand is what different certifications mean and how they compare against each other. Because of the lack of a widely accepted standard or minimum requirements, and partly due to the Internet, there are a vast number of very low quality certifications. Many require little in the way of real knowledge, education, or experience, and could rightly be called 'certification mills'. They only exist to earn a fast dollar by convincing trainers-to-be to become certified through them. Beyond that they provide very little value.

There are, however, some very good certifying organizations. And some are obviously better than others. I'll discuss certification in three groups; organizations that have obtained a 3rd party accreditation, those who have joined together to form a standard, and everybody else.

3rd Party Accredited Organizations

A handful of organizations have obtained accreditation from a 3rd party called the in order to validate the quality of their certification. I would consider these few certification organizations to be the top ones available, due to the more stringent nature of their certification processes. In order for a trainer to pass these certifications they have to prove that they have at least a intermediate level of knowledge and training skill. That's not to say that all trainers that pass these certifications are the right fit for you, but you can at least be somewhat confident in that individual's ability to teach you and structure an appropriate program. The following is a current list of the certifications that have been accredited by NCCA:

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

The Cooper Institute

NBFE Affiliates

There are a number of other certification organizations that haven't received accreditation, but have instead created a central certifying board called the that administers what they consider to be a standard exam for trainers to pass. The trainer must first be certified by one of these 'affiliate' certifying organizations before sitting for the NBFE exam. I think this standardization adds a bit to the legitimacy of these trainers, but I still think it's a step below the organizations listed above that have been accredited, because no independent 3rd party has looked over the certification process to validate its quality. The following organizations are NBFE affiliates:

Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE)

Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)

American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

National Association for Fitness Certification (NAFC)

National Endurance and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

National Exercise Trainer Association (NETA)

Professional Fitness Instructor Training (PFIT)

World Instructor Training Schools (WITS)

International Association of Resistance Trainers (IART)

U.S. Career Institute

Everybody Else

Instructors with certifications outside of these two groups, or those with no certification at all, should be scrutinized much more carefully. I'm sure there are a number of excellent trainers that fall into this category, but you would have to do additional homework and find alternate ways to be assured of that excellence. Or even for you to be assured of a minimal level of competency. Some trainers may have college degrees, or potentially even advanced college degrees, in a field like exercise physiology. This would likely be a sufficient stand-in for certification.

In the 3rd and final part of this series we'll take a look at getting to know your trainer and having your trainer get to know you. Depending on their interest in where you're at and where you're headed, you can then make a pretty good decision about whether or not they're going to be the right fit for you.

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