"A plethora of personal trainer certifications exist with varying degrees of validity that fail to ensure qualified trainers and, therefore, protect the consumer. It is argued that the potential consequences of this lack of regulation are poor societal exercise adherence, potential injury to the client, and poor public perception of personal trainers. Additionally, it is not known whether personal trainers are meeting the needs of their clients or what criteria are used in the hiring of personal trainers."

— National Strength and Conditioning Association, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research volume 22, number 3, May 2008.


Watch out for phony trainers with phony certifications

In the fitness industry today you are bombarded with tons of information. The industry has grown and expanded rapidly over the last 10 to 15 year with some in the industry believing the information doubles every 18 months or so. It has gotten to the point where one doesn't know what to believe and is often left confused.

The personal training industry is a microcosm of the fitness industry as a whole and in a nutshell, it's a cesspool. In personal training one of the major problems is the field is totally unregulated. There are many different personal training certifications that are out there. They range from a quality certification (very few) to a complete joke.

Some certifications are no more worthy than if you got it out of a cracker jack box! There are some you can take online where you can look up the all the answers to the questions or even have someone take the exam for you and no one would know. There are others that are take home exams where you have several weeks or more to complete it and once again one can look up all the answers in the book. The problem is there is no differentiating from the best certifications to the worst. Since the industry is unregulated gyms will hire anyone with any type of certification. The problem this creates is a profession littered with tons of totally unqualifed trainers. I came across a study on the personal training industry in a journal from 2008 by the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). This organization just so happens to be one of the few good certifications. In the study they came across 200 different fitness certifications!

What happens if I pick the wrong trainer?

Another problem is the clients don't know the difference between a good certification and a bad one. Unfortunately a lot of clients also have no clue the difference between a good trainer and a unqualified one. This is not their fault. This is why they are hiring the trainer in the first place, to learn how to exercise correctly so they can get in better shape/health.

But the differences between a good trainer and a poor one can be as enormous as the difference between my 11 year old niece who plays basketball and Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant plays basketball and so does my niece, but that is where the similarities end. I have seen huge differences, like the comparison of my niece and Kobe Bryant in basketball, in personal trainers too many times to count.

I actually once knew a trainer who I could honestly say that every single one of my clients knew more about exercise and nutrition than her, WOW! She even used to charge $500 a month for a nutriton program that consisted of just some pages she printed off the internet and put in a folder and then gave to her clients.

What should I look out for when picking a personal trainer or re-evaluating my current trainer?

I decided to write this article and make a list of some of the top things to look for, or not look for, in a qualified trainer so I can better help people who are trying to find a trainer. I got tired of seeing people taken advantage of by unqualifed trainers who would misinform their clients, waste their time and money, and very unfortunately injury them. Hopefully my tips can help a person to find a good trainer so they can protect themselves from a bad investment, not get injured, and reach their fitness goals. Since there is not one sole thing to look for in a qualified trainer I have compiled a list. In no particular order here they are:

  • Trainers who do not track/record or journal their clients workouts. You would be surprised with how many trainers do not track their clients workouts. It's simple, if one has no measure of progress how can they ever expect to progress. In my opinion a trainer who fails to track his or her clients workouts is lazy. It takes time and effort to track a clients workout and some trainers are just plain lazy. Some trainers will claim that they remember each clients workouts, that is nonsense. Unless you are Rain Man remembering each clients exact workout and the changes that occur from workout to workout it is impossible.
  • Trainers who do not have a workout plan or program. This goes hand in hand with number 1. If a trainer does not have workout written up for their client and is just training them on a whim off the top of their head they are unqualified. Now there are times when a trainer can leave some things in a workout open to change and therefore have just sort of an outline of a program in place. This is fine, not every single detail of a workout always has to be in place. There is an art to training as well as the science to it and being able to leave parts of program subject to change is part of that.
  • Trainers who brag about their certification or number of certifications they have. Like I stated earlier, most certifications fail miserably in qualifing someone to be a trainer and if a trainer is bragging about his or her certification or how many certifications they have chances are they are unqualified.
  • Trainers who are out of shape. This should be a given but you would be surprised with how many trainers I have seen with huge clienteles who are ridiculously out of shape. I am not saying someone needs to look like a greek god but a trainer should at least look like they exercise. This can also work the other way too. I have seen many trainers who were blessed with great genetics and looked great naturally with very little exercise but knew very little about exercise and nutrition. These trainers got many clients just based on how they looked but were extremely unqualified.
  • Trainers who train their clients with poor form or let their clients train with poor form and technique. If you ask any of my clients they will tell you that poor form is my number one pet pieve. If you walked into any gym in the country today you would see a minimum of 9 out of 10 people exercising in poor form and using poor technique (this includes those working with a trainer). Most unqualified trainers either don't know the definition of proper form and technique on each exercise they do or they just don't care. Some trainers I know know how to train their clients in proper form but let their clients do whatever they want anyway. They are just lazy because it requires time, effort, and practice to train clients in proper form and technique.
  • Trainers lifting the weight more than their clients. This usually refers to the point of a set where the person begins to fail or fatigue and the trainer then begins to push their client through more repetitions even though the client cannot do the rep in complete form. I am all for using forced reps (having someone assist you to achieve more repetitions) occasionally but when the trainer is lifting more weight than the client there is a major problem. Not only do I see this often I usually see it totally abused. I see many trainers pushing their clients through several more reps this way on every set they do in the workout.
  • Trainers who spot or assist their clients during negative repetitions. This goes back to the previous one. The body can handle anywhere from 101% to to 175% or more on just the negative (eccentric phase) alone. This means if my one rep max on a bench press was 200 pounds you could actually do up to 375 pounds just on the negative alone. If a client is able to lift the weight (do the concentric phase or positive) there is no excuse to not be able to do the negative or to have your trainer or someone else spot you or assist you through the negative. If you need your trainer to lift the weight through the negative phase then the weight is too heavy.
  • Trainers who can't explain what they are doing or what they are having their clients do in a workout. If you are having your clients do something in a workout you should be able to explain the rationale behind it. A trainer should be able to explain the reason behind what they are doing and why they are doing it. This may sound like common sense but you would be surprised with how many trainers have no clue as to why they are doing something. They may have heard from another trainer or a bodybuilding friend of theirs that such and such exercise was good or that such and such program was good but when asked to explain why they have no clue. Some trainers have no explaination for what they are doing or very little explaination. In the words of sports nutrition expert Dr. Michael Colgan "A health "expert" who fails to relate the basis of his or her statements by providing specific scientific citations is owed little deference."
  • Trainers who don't track rest intervals between exercises and sets. Sets, reps, exercises, rest intervals, and rep tempo are all basic training variables that need to be accounted for in EVERY workout program. Tracking rest intervals and knowing why you should be resting a certain period of time between exercises and sets should be pretty basic for any trainer. Sadly though some trainers would have no idea of why you would need to rest a certain amount of time between exercises and sets based on number of reps, type of exercise, etc.
  • Trainers who adopt one style of training or one system of training. Every training program has it's strengths and weaknesses. No training program is perfect. Even the best systems and programs of training have flaws. The best trainers learn a bunch of different training programs and styles of training and incorporate them into the programs they design and use with their clients. For example, I like the way my good friend Reggie trains (he is a great trainer, and I don't give out compliments to trainers often) his clients but I wouldn't adopt his style alone and use it solely. I would use parts of it. Every good trainer should learn as much as they can about the human body, exercise physiology, etc. and incorporate it all. Knowledge is power.
  • Trainers who think the more they punish their clients the better trainer they are. They also think the more they yell and scream at them (a certain group of, in my opinion, unqualified trainers on a popular reality TV show are guilty of this and many of the others on this list) the better trainer they are. I can get anyone to come in the gym and yell and scream at my clients and tell them to do "more, more, more". This doesn't mean they know a thing about the human body and exercise. There is a time and place to push someone in a workout program but yelling and screaming at someone all the time and pushing them to the limit every single rep in every workout is stupid. The best trainers realize this and know how properly vary a workouts volume, intensity, rep/set scheme, etc. to ensure their clients don't plateau and continue to reach their goals.
  • Trainers who think they know it all. From my experience those who know the least think they know the most and those that know the most realize how much they actually don't know. It is like the person who brags about how tough they are. In my years working security in nightclubs the bully is usually not nearly as tough as the one who is quiet and humble. The bully and the guys that talk tough are usually not the ones who are actually tough. A true tough guy doesn't brag, he doesn't need to. It is the same with personal training. The more I research and learn about fitness, exercise, nutrition, etc. the more I realize I don't know.
This is by no means a complete list, and is of course just my opinion, but hopefully it will help people in their attempts to find a good, quality personal tainer. Also, there are some certifications that I believe are good, credible certifications. Here is a list of some of them:

  • The NSCA (national strength and Conditioning Association)
  • The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)
  • The NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)