Help me get my booty into shape, without killing my knees!
February 12, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

What qualifications should I look for in a personal trainer? What do the ACE certifications actually mean? I'd like to hire a trainer for a few sessions, but I really don't want to hurt myself or hire a nut. Please help me sort through the options!

I've had some substantial health issues in the past few years. I'm now in a place where my apartment has a gym, I'm healthy enough to exercise on a regular basis, I'd like to lose some (fat) weight and build muscle, lower my BMI, increase cardio capacity and generally not hurt myself doing it. I know that I can do some of this on my own, and I have, but I'd like someone to kick it up a notch and show me some safe ways of working out without aggrevating my problem areas (knees, mostly).

So, I've started looking into local personal trainers - but they have a bewildering amount of acronyms, bogish-looking qualifications and fitness mumbo-jumbo on their sites and ads. I don't know anyone who uses one in the area, so I can't ask for personal recommendations; even then, I'd like to know what *I* should be looking for in a trainer. What kinds of questions should I ask them? What is a good qualifying degree or program, if there is such a thing? I've seen people hire trainers who push them too far too fast, resulting in an injury, and then physical/mental set backs as they recuperate. I'd like to avoid that -- how do I find a well-trained trainer?

More specifically, if I may, I found someone that looks relatively decent with the following qualifications: "Three certifications from the American Council on Exercise (ACE): Personal Trainer, Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant, Clinical Exercise Specialist. Also certified by the American Academy of Health, Fitness & Rehabilitation Professionals (AAHFRP) as a Medical Exercise Specialist." Does that mean anything?

I'm in Durham, NC if anyone wants to recommend a local trainer, but I'd really like to learn how to differentiate among the options for the future, as well. My left knee and my back thanks you in advance, dear MeFites!
posted by barnone to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't tell you much about the certifications, but you should be aware that how a trainer looks on paper is only a small portion of their full qualifications. I've had four different trainers in my fitness quest, and my current trainer is the only one I've trusted and had a rapore with. I feel like that's just as important as the education she's received. She and I work well together; she's able to successfully communicate the form she wants me to keep, the way she wants me to do the exercises, without pushing my body all over the place. She is sensitive to my goals, and frequently checks in with me to ensure that I'm on the path to success.

I know you say you want to work out in your apartment building, but have you considered using a trainer at a health club? Those trainers have been background-checked and vetted by the club already, thus making your decision that much quicker. Some of the high-end local clubs (I don't mean Bally's here) don't even require membership to work with their trainers, but those trainers generally cost more.

Also, don't be afraid to constantly, constantly question your trainer's decisions on exercises to do. There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with that (it is YOUR body, after all) and you might even learn something. A good trainer realizes this and is happy to explain his/her rationale to you. If you don't like it, don't do it.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:42 PM on February 12, 2006

I have an ACE certification in personal training. It means I shelled out some cash, passed a multiple choice test, and am obliged to complete a certain number of approved continuing education credits every two years to be eligible to shell out more cash to continue my certification. (Said continuing education results in further certifications -- I could spout my own bog-ish looking list.)

Generally, I'd count ACE certification as about as good a predictor of someone being a good personal trainer as I'd count a good LSAT score predicting someone being a good trial attorney.

I don't know about the other certifications you mention. There are a zillion certifying bodies. The ACSM is generally considered the most prestigious of them.

Knowing enough about exercise and nutrition to avoid recommending something harmful is the easier part of a trainer's job. But is this person going to be able to work well with you in particular, to listen to your needs and goals, to create an exercise plan consistent with them, to undererstand you well enough to inspire and motivate you to continue? That's the harder part, and you can't get that from paper certifications any more than you could tell from them whether a given therapist would be right for you.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2006

I don't know a whole lot about this but used to belong to Bally's and had a personal trainer there for maybe 3-4 sessions. She was a body builder and probably shot up steroids, judging by her adam's apple, aggressive behavior and insanely huge muscles for a chick. She had some good tips though - she knew a lot of exercises to do to work different muscles, and could offer other options besides the standard routine to work a muscle. She also knew a lot of little tricks like using Preparation H on areas you want to look more toned (for pictures for competitions - I was in a "Rapid Results" 30-day challenge), and also dietary tricks for the point of losing weight. She was pretty crazy, really, but she had that hard-ass kind of attitude that you almost want in order to kick your own butt ;)

So, I never looked at her certifications at all. I think it would be especially helpful if the trainer had impressive knowledge of nutrition & maybe even digestion if possible. I think certifications matter less in the long-run, and compatibility of their style with the way you want to learn and work is probably more important. Also, they should be someone who inspires you, motivates you, makes you want to do better.

I think most personal trainers will offer like a free trial session or maybe like half price session. You can always be frank and say you are searching for the right personal trainer for you and your style (to talk them into offering a free/discount trial session if they don't).

You control what you do.. it's generally common sense to stretch and listen to your body, and you draw your own boundaries. The trainer won't know what you feel if you don't say anything, and you aren't required to do every little thing they tell you if they are pushing you too hard.

Back when I was working out 3-5 days/week at 1-2.5 hours at a time, I got a weekly massage and virtually never felt any pain back then, even after I'd spend over an hour at the gym lifting weights, I barely had any soreness. I also recommend yoga, even if you just do the stretching aspect of it.

As far as the rest goes, good luck to you ...
posted by mojabunni at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2006

I ran a gym for almost ten years. The Certifications mean almost nothing beyond shelling out some cash. See if you can find someone who made positive changes.

I'm not a big fan of 'apartment complex' gyms - but I'm a snob - I think the thought behind the design of the equipment is just as important as the convenience.
posted by filmgeek at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2006

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