How to Choose a Personal Trainer: Guidelines from the American Council on Exercise

Posted: Jun 30, 1999 in

SAN DIEGO - Would you go to an unlicensed doctor? No. So, why work out with an uncertified fitness instructor?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE), a nonprofit educational organization, stresses the fundamental importance of using qualified personal trainers as the number one way to ensure a safe and effective workout.

According to ACE Chief Exercise Physiologist Richard Cotton, ACE-certified personal trainers undergo a stringent certification process, spending months preparing for an intensive 3-1/2 hour, 175 question exam.

Cotton suggests hiring a personal trainer who is currently certified by a reputable organization such as ACE. That way, consumers are assured that the trainer has met the requirements to design and implement fitness programs. ACE certification means the trainer has proven his or her knowledge in the areas of exercise science and programming-including anatomy, kinesiology, health screening, basic nutrition and instructional methods-as well as in emergency procedures and basic first aid.

Unfortunately, there are many personal trainers who are not qualified, says Cotton. For their own safety, consumers should find out the instructor’s certification status and educational background before embarking on an exercise program with that person.

ACE provides these tips for selecting a personal trainer:

  • First and foremost: Does the trainer have the proper education and credentials? Acceptable qualifications include current certification from a credible, internationally recognized organization such as ACE, and/or a college degree in physical education or exercise science.

  • How long has he or she been doing personal training? Where did they learn their practical skills?

  • Do you get along well with the trainer? You should feel comfortable with, and be able to communicate openly with your personal trainer. Is he or she professional, yet personable? Is he or she non-competitive, fun and genuinely interested in helping you?

  • Be wary of any personal trainer who pushes supplements or diet fads.

  • Is the trainer insured? Many personal trainers operate as independent contractors and are not actual employees of a fitness facility. It is important to find out if the trainer you are considering hiring carries professional liability insurance to protect you in the event you become injured.

  • What are the trainer's rates? And, are the rates within your budget? On average, personal trainers charge between $35 and $100 per hour. Rates vary depending on the trainer's experience, and length of session, and geographic location.

  • Can the trainer accommodate your schedule? Some people like to exercise in the morning, while others prefer evenings. An inflexible or unavailable trainer can lower your motivation level-the more options, the more likely you are to exercise!

  • Does the trainer have experience working with clients in your age group, or with individuals who have specific needs or circumstances similar to your own? For example, if you are pregnant or have never exercised, you want a trainer experienced in appropriate exercise programming for these concerns.

  • Will the trainer give you the names of other clients as references? Just as an employer should check references for any potential new hire, you should contact references for any trainer you are considering hiring. Find out if the clients were pleased with their workouts. Were their individual needs and concerns addressed? Was the trainer on time and prepared?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation's "workout watchdog," ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world's largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at

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