The people who cut hair and administer acupuncture treatments are regulated in many states, but the personal trainers who minister to our muscles often are not.
"Anyone can put a shingle out and call themselves a personal trainer" in virtually any state, said Barbara Bushman, a Missouri State University exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. "You're responsible for yourself."
Still, there are guidelines that consumers can use to find knowledgeable pros in the still-young personal training industry.
"The hallmark is earning that CPT. It's the initials you can put after your name" that stand for certified personal trainer, said Laura Fast, director of credentialing and certification at the not-for-profit Cooper Institute in Dallas.
Make sure they're accredited
Neal Pire, a New York-based trainer and American College of Sports Medicine fellow, recommends looking for trainers with credentials from organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. There are about a dozen, including the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise and the Cooper Institute.
"You really have to jump through hoops" to secure NCCA accreditation, Pire said. "The litmus test is a nationally accredited certification by the NCCA."
The not-for-profit NCCA requires certifying organizations to use its 21 job-based criteria in their programs. Fast calls the NCCA criteria "the gold standard," and said that although certifying organizations can follow the guidelines without being accredited by NCCA, those that use the criteria typically seek accreditation.
Bushman, who holds four American College of Sports Medicine certificates, said the CPT is merely an entry-level qualification.
Applicants for the Cooper Institute, the CI-CPT, don't need formal training to sit for its CPT exam.
The ACSM only requires applicants for its CPT to have a high school diploma or equivalent; current adult CPR certification with a practical skills component (such as the American Heart Association or American Red Cross); and be 18.
"Certainly the more education and training, including certifications, that one has, the more professional their experiences and knowledge should be," Jim Morrow, a professor in the University of North Texas kinesiology, health promotion, and recreation department, wrote in an e-mail. "That being said, some certifications require little formal training. I would look for a trainer with the most content-related education and experience and wed that to certification to the best personal training experiences."
Bushman recommends looking for a trainer with a higher-level certification, such as the ACSM's Health Fitness Specialist, or HFS, and a bachelor's degree in a field such as exercise and movement science or kinesiology. Trainers with such qualifications are trained to engage in pre-activity screening and to ask about potential clients' medications.
In addition, Pire stressed querying trainers about liability insurance, whether you're in a gym or not. Employees are typically covered under employer's policies; independent contractors may not be, however.
"Also, they should have no problem giving you access to one, two or three clients" they've trained, Pire said. "You need some kind of feedback."
Setting goals with a trainer
Fitness goals are as varied as the people who hire trainers. Although almost anyone could benefit, experts say, highly motivated, knowledgeable folks may not need a trainer.
Morrow agreed. But he said certified trainers can provide expertise, insight and motivation that's lacking in some cases.
"Moving from sedentary behaviors to an active lifestyle is not simply a 'just do it' thing," Morrow said. "As in all areas, having a support system—whether that is a physician, healthcare provider, spouse, loved one or personal trainer—can help make that transition.
"That being said, not everyone is familiar or knowledgeable about how to make that behavior change," he said. "Contact someone who can help you.
That would be a trainer like Pire. He recalls the Wall Street executive who retained him to show up at his front door at 6 a.m. three times a week to train him and his wife in their home gym..
"He chose a trainer to come in at 6 a.m. when he had no excuse," Pire said. "He wanted someone who would be his conscience."
What to look for
Look for personal trainers who are certified through an organization recognized by the NCCA. The American College of Sports Medicine's website, http://www.acsm.org, for example, has an online guide to certified experts.
Do a background check. Verify the trainer's certification with the organization and check with the organization to see if the certification is up to date. They must typically be renewed periodically.
Ask about trainers' insurance. Bushman carries $3 million in liability coverage. Pire said $1 million to $3 million per occurrence is typical.
Check rates. Trainers' rates can vary widely from region to region and depending on whether the trainer works in a gym or has to schlep equipment and/or travel to your house.
Ask about packages. Bushman said many trainers like to offer package deals for a specified number of sessions, because that guarantees them a fee, whether the client comes back or not. Pire recommends starting with a single session. If you like the instructor and sign up for a package, ask the trainer to apply the cost of the initial session to the package fee.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun