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Hiring the Right Personal Trainer

This trainer is "certified," unfortunately.

Whether you want to look good naked, build your strength or ensure that you do not die of a heart attack before the age of forty, hiring a personal trainer can help you get the job done.  A personal trainer can provide motivation, and accountability through regularly scheduled appointments.  But where do you begin the search for the person that is going to lead you towards the body you have always wanted? The phone book? The Internet?  After all, you’re spending your hard-earned money, and you want the best you can find right? So, you start searching the internet and find numerous articles on how to find the right trainer. After reading a few, you realize they all contain the same information:

• Check for certifications

• Check for liability insurance and CPR certification

• Check educational background

 But, do any of these guarantee that the trainer you are about to hire is the most qualified to make you look good naked, or stronger? The truth is that these articles simply provide a checklist of necessary requirements, which give you no information as to the true effectiveness of the trainer you are about to hire. Let’s take a closer look at each:

 Certifications                                                                                                                                                                                           Worldwide, there are currently over 700 training certifications. Certifications run the gamut from those requiring a college degree in a related field, such as kinesiology or physiology, while others only require a weekend seminar. Surprisingly, some only require that you pass a simple online exam and possess a valid credit card. I have known people who attended a weekend long certification course, and 2 weeks later, were working for that organization as certification instructors. So much for real world experience.                                                                                                                                                    Need proof that training certifications do not guarantee competence? Here’s an article written by a certified trainer, in which she reveals one of her weight loss secrets:

 Losing Weight  Quickly  

“Belly rubbing…rub your hands together for 10 seconds to create some heat on them. When you’re rubbing over your stomach fat, this heat goes from your hand and right past the skin and into the fat cells where the heat helps to loosen up these hard deposits. I suggest you do this…2 minutes each time. I suggest you do this a total of 4 minutes a day. The best times are early in the morning and late at night 2 minutes each time.”

 Apparently, the answer to the worldwide obesity crisis is to rub your belly for 4 minutes a day, in two-minute increments. How could the National Institutes of Health overlook this “expert’s” recommendation? Quick, someone contact the Nobel committee!  I hope you detect my sarcasm, but if your sole criteria for hiring a trainer were a certification, then you could possibly end up hiring someone like this person. Remember, you cannot teach common sense.

Insurance and CPR Certifications

Liability insurance and CPR certification, while important and necessary from a business perspective, tells you nothing about the trainer’s ability to help you accomplish your goals. It would be like judging the quality of the food at a restaurant by asking the chef if he knows the Heimlich maneuver.

Education                                                                                                                                                                                                               While education is important in any profession, in the fitness field, I do not place a high premium on college degrees.  In most instances, the curriculum at universities is outdated by 5-10 years, and primarily focus on the cardiovascular system, with very little time spent on the most efficient means of making one strong and lean. I have seen some of the most horrendous and ineffective training programs designed by trainers with multiple degrees.

 In the following weeks, I am going to share with you criteria that are essential for any trainer to be successful. Finding a trainer who displays these behaviors will greatly increase your chances of finding a competent, talented, and dedicated trainer, one who will keep you from wasting your time and hard-earned money.  Here’s your first criteria to look for…rest periods.

Rest Periods

Rest periods are the length of time taken between sets and exercises, and are the most neglected aspect of program design among personal trainers. Rest periods help dictate the goals and design of a training program and are just as important as the exercises, number of repetitions and number of sets performed.  In general, when training for strength, between 1 to 6 reps, rest periods of up to 5 minutes are required. When training with higher reps, rest periods between 30-90 seconds are adequate.  Strength training requires considerably longer rest periods because the nervous system takes up to 6 times longer to recover than the muscular system. The longer rest periods prevent excessive fatigue from accumulating, which can affect proper exercise form, thereby reducing the risk of injury.

Trainers and Rest Periods

If rest periods are so important, then why do the majority of personal trainers neglect them? Laziness. Tracking rest periods requires the trainer to be fully engaged with their client.

  • Is the client struggling excessively before the prescribed numbers of reps are completed?
  • Did the client stay up all night with a sick child?
  • Does a client, who normally displays correct exercise form, suddenly perform as if it is their first time doing that particular exercise?

Tracking rest periods also requires the trainer to have a system for tracking and recording their client’s rest periods.  Again, most trainers cannot be bothered to retain a $10 watch, and a sheet of paper on behalf of their clients. You might be asking yourself “If trainers do not track rest periods, then how do they gauge the amount of time spent between sets?” They tell you a story. Sometimes the story entails what they did last weekend, which might take 45 seconds, at other times it might take 5 minutes. Either way, it spells money down the drain for you, because inconsistent rest periods, day after day, are going to give you inadequate results, regardless of your goals. Most trainers would prefer to just count reps, hold their clip board, and daydream versus taking an active interest in their clients.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                To be fair, I must state that in most instances, trainers are unaware of the importance of rest periods because their training certification organization failed to impart their importance.                                                                                                                                                  Over the past years, I have read some of the educational training manuals from different certifying agencies. At best, some organizations offer a few paragraphs of information regarding rest periods. At worst, others do not mention rest periods at all.

When I design a training program, I use up to 12 different principles to guide me when designating rest periods.

What to Ask

When meeting with your potential trainer, ask if they record rest periods. If the trainer is not willing to invest in the cost of a wrist watch and a single sheet of paper, should you invest your hard earned money in them?

Next week, I’ll post a second installment to help you find the right coach for you.

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  1. March 26, 2010 at 18:22

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