Thoughts on a personal trainer

By Andrew Grayson

 Should You Get a Personal Trainer?

          Personal training isn’t just for people who are looking to get perfectly toned bodies. A lot of people (no matter what shape they’re in) can benefit from working with a personal trainer to set exercise goals and accomplish them (in good health and injury-free).

Personal trainers are fitness professionals who work with individuals to teach exercise form and technique, keep clients accountable to their exercise goals, and create customized workout plans based on the individual’s specific health and fitness needs.

          Many exercise institutions, such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certify personal trainers. Once certified, many of these groups require the completion of continuing education credits, holding special insurance, and taking regular CPR-AED classes in order for trainers to maintain their certification and licenses. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the gold standard of accrediting bodies, currently backs more than a dozen fitness professional certifications, including those from these institutions.

          Personal-training certifications include “certified personal trainer” (CPT), which readies someone for general exercise instruction; “certified strength and conditioning specialist” (CSCS), which focuses on resistance training for everyday and professional athletes; “corrective exercise specialist” (CES), which focuses on exercises to help improve movement dysfunctions and imbalances; and “certified exercise physiologist” (CEP), which focuses on training someone on how to analyze people’s fitness to help them improve their health or maintain good health.

          Physical therapists (PT) can also play the role of personal trainer in some situations, as they help people prevent and recover from injuries that might otherwise limit movement and physical activity. (Practicing physical therapists in the United States, however, must have an advanced physical therapy degree from an accredited program, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.)

          Some personal trainers have various certifications, depending on their area of education and expertise, explains Julie Khan, a physical therapist, doctor of physical therapy, and advanced clinician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

          If you decide to work with a personal trainer, ou want to make sure that your trainer has some level of education in exercise.

          You’ll want to consider things like cost, location, and whether a trainer’s availability matches your schedule when choosing whom to work with, too. 

          The rise of virtual personal training has made it even easier to fit a personal training session into your schedule. According to an article published in January 2021 in the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, virtual or online training (which included one-on-one training or a group workout) became the top fitness trend in 2021 as a result of fitness clubs closing around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you go online or in-person, you’ll want to work with a trainer whose expertise matches your individual health and fitness needs.

Personal Trainers Help Tailor Workouts to Your Unique Needs and Goals

          Those most likely to benefit from working with a personal trainer include those who are new to exercise, don’t know how to train for their goals, or may have had trouble reaching their goals or sticking with a program in the past, a certified personal trainer based in San Antonio, Texas, and a national personal training manager for Gold’s Gym.

          For some people, having an accountability and motivational partner is a big benefit gained from working with a trainer. That’s part of the expertise you’re paying for when working with a trainer.

          You’re also paying for the personal trainer’s expertise in human physiology — the body’s movement patterns, proper exercise form, workout programming, and how to tailor specific exercises to people’s varying physical abilities and limitations. Other benefits of personal training are learning proper form for exercises, getting workouts and training plans designed for you and your exercise goals, and learning how to work out safely.

          Ask them what their plan is to help you achieve your goals. A good personal trainer should be able to give you an outline of each step in the process of getting from where you are now to where you want to be.

If You Have an Underlying Health Condition or Risk, Personal Trainers Can Help You Train Safely

          Another big role that personal trainers can play is to help reduce injury risk. Your trainer is working with you to make sure your workout not only will help you meet your exercise goals, but get you there injury-free, too.

If someone is injured or recovering from an injury, they should always seek guidance from someone else who has experience in exercise and rehabilitation. The DIY approach can be quite harmful and lead clients down the wrong path.

          Both acute and overuse injuries commonly occur when people follow one-size-fits-all workout plans that are not tailored to their needs — or someone may be unknowingly using incorrect form, Khan explains. That’s why personal training can be great for people who have previously been injured or have an underlying health condition or chronic disease that increases injury risk.

          Personal trainers can play a critical role in helping people with chronic diseases and underlying medical conditions stay active and healthy. It’s important because for the vast majority of chronic health problems, exercise can often help people manage the condition and reduce symptoms.

          People with chronic conditions that cause pain, other aggravating symptoms, or fatigue might be more inclined to skip exercise for these reasons, even though movement and strengthening certain parts of their bodies might help those symptoms in the long run.

          If you’re unsteady on your feet with multiple sclerosis, for example, you might not even consider single-leg exercise as a safe option. But balance training — tailored to your physical abilities and performed under the supervision of an expert — could help you by improving your balance, coordination, and stability to stay strong on your feet.

          Similarly, clients with diabetic neuropathy may need to avoid high-impact exercises as they work to maintain and improve their vascular and nerve health. And people with different types of arthritis will need to learn how to increase strength and joint stability without causing further damage to cartilage and joint surfaces, explains Todd Galati, an ACE-certified medical exercise specialist based in San Diego.

          Personal trainers with the right background and expertise can help with all these needs. Every week, most personal trainers are working with a number of clients with considerations such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.

          All trainers with a NCCA-accredited certification will have a basic knowledge of how to modify and customize exercise routines for those with chronic health conditions or recovering from health events such as surgery, heart attack, or stroke. Additional certifications, however, can make trainers more knowledgeable about how to help populations with more specific health needs stay active.

          ACE offers its certified medical exercise specialist (CMES) certification, for example, and the ACSM offers its registered clinical exercise physiologist (CEP) certification, each of which provide more in-depth instruction on how trainers can help clients with health considerations. To earn these certifications, trainers must demonstrate a more robust knowledge of exercise programming for special populations, such as those with diabetes, nerve disorders, heart conditions, musculoskeletal considerations, and more.

How to Find (and Afford) Personal Training

          Personal trainers work in myriad settings, according to their areas of expertise and who they are best prepared to help. Most gyms employ multiple personal trainers and work to pair trainers with clients based on exercisers’ needs. Some hospitals, sports medicine clinics, and rehabilitation facilities also have personal trainers on staff; and if you are coming off an injury, surgery, or other procedure, your doctor may refer you to one.

          Meanwhile, many personal trainers are increasingly offering online-based services. Online training has definitely increased during the pandemic.

          You can find trainers with NCCA-accredited certifications online through the U.S. Registry of Exercise Professionals. You can also run a search through individual organization websites, such as those from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.

          Though personal training can be pricey, researching your options and some flexibility on your end can help make services more affordable. Here are some tips to help make personal training fit your wallet.

Check Your Gym’s Prices

          If you belong to a gym, chances are that you already have a lot of personal trainers available to you. See what personal training rates (and deals!) your gym offers. Even at the same gym, different trainers can have different fees, so ask the personal training manager for the least costly options.

Some gyms may offer their members a complimentary personal-training session, which you can use to pick up tips and decide how much training you actually want or need before you commit to a larger purchase.

Shop Around

          If you do not currently belong to a gym — or even if you do — it can be worth comparing the cost of working with personal trainers at various gyms near you. Costs can vary widely between facilities. Don’t feel like you have to go with the first one you look into, he adds.

And do keep in mind that personal training costs are often paid in addition to your regular gym membership.

See if There Are Any Independent Trainers Near You

          In most gyms, personal trainers are employed by that fitness facility, and have to pay a certain portion of their personal-training fees to the gym. This can drive up costs. But some cities have gyms for independent trainers who are not employed by the gym. They may instead only have to pay a small membership or per-session fee to the gym in order to train there. Because these trainers tend to have fewer overhead costs factored into their fees, they can often be less expensive.

          And some independent trainers do home visits or train clients out of their home gyms. To find an independent training gym or independent trainer near you, try running an online search for your city and independent personal trainer.

Opt for Programming Only

          If you are someone who has a bit of experience and understands how to use the majority of the equipment in the gym, then maybe what you need is more programming than anything else. A better (and more affordable) option might be to book just a single session per month, which is spent doing a progress check and adjusting your workouts as needed. Then you keep up with the workouts on your own (following the trainer’s plan) for the rest of the month.

Inquire About Off-Peak Hours

          Most gyms experience a lull in the middle of the day — but that could work to your advantage if you’re trying to knock down the price of a personal training session and available to train at that time. The National Federation of Professional Trainers says many gyms offer discounted prices for these in-between hours (such as between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 2 and 4 p.m.).

Consider 30-Minute Sessions

          Half-hour personal training sessions are about half the price of a full-hour session. Half-hour sessions can be effective if you are willing to get into the gym before your session and get in a quality warm-up and then do a quality cooldown on your own afterward. Then during the 30 minutes you spend with the trainer, you focus on the workout itself and only the specific needs you have.

Ask About Small-Group Training

          Many personal trainers offer partner and small-group training to clients who are willing to split the cost of an in-person session with one or more people, If you and a friend or significant other have similar fitness levels and health goals, you two might be able to perform the same workouts together, with the trainer prescribing individualized variations for each of you.

          Keep in mind, however, you’re not going to get the same personal attention. If you have injuries I wouldn’t recommend it.

Go Online

          Online coaching is becoming much more popular because of the flexibility to do workouts at your own pace and time, as well as the fact that they cost 50 percent or less per month. 

          One more affordable option is offered by a fitness app called FlexIt, which offers one-hour sessions for $60 to $70. Users can decide how long they want to exercise (in 15-minute increments) and the trainer will put together a workout based on the equipment you have available.

          Downsides to online training include that it may not be the best fit for those exercisers who are new to exercise or just learning form, and is generally a better option for those who are confident in their ability to safely perform preprogrammed workouts on their own.


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