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10 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Personal Trainer

Above all else, trust your gut. Look for a knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who feels like the most natural fit. That's the one to hire because she'll not only help you reach your goals, but will also keep you feeling comfortable, motivated and inspired throughout the process.
11/06/2014 09:38am ET | Updated January 6, 2015
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Congratulations! You've decided to take the next step on your fitness journey and work with a professional who can help you reach your health and wellness goals. Not only does having the support of a personal trainer keep you more motivated and accountable when it comes to weekly workouts, but he or she can also play a role in helping you maximize your time at the gym, prevent injury and see more consistent results.

But there's a fine line between making a sound investment in your future fitness success and simply throwing money out the window on something that doesn't work. The difference? Knowing how to choose the right person who will help you set the correct goals to achieve your desired results.

Therefore, it's crucial to do your due diligence as you go about choosing a trainer; all it takes is a little legwork to determine whether or not someone will be a good fit for your needs. After all, it's called "personal" training for a reason -- working closely together creates a bond that will help you to stay engaged and motivated throughout the process.

Still stumped? Take into consideration the following 10 criteria they next time you're selecting a personal trainer.

Credentials. No ifs, ands or butts, a trainer should be able to show you a fitness certification in their particular area of expertise. To become certified, personal trainers must pass an exam through accredited organizations such as The American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). This ensures they've met certain standards of professionalism and competence from a trustworthy organization.

Experience. Practice makes (near) perfect, so a trainer who has been around the block a few times has likely tested and perfected his process for providing the best cues to help you get the most out of every single rep. So unless you're okay with playing guinea pig, it might be best to resist the urge to cut a deal with a freshly-certified trainer in favor of one who has some previous experience.

Personality. What motivates you? Some people do well with positive reinforcement peppered with cheerleading, while others like to get screamed at and scared into doing a few extra squats. Either way, talk to the trainer and get a feel for her style to see if it jives with what works for you.

Philosophy. This is a subtle -- yet critical -- point of differentiation because it can end up making or breaking your experience. How does the trainer develop his program, and on what beliefs will it be based? Is it gym-based workouts or meant to be done outside? Will you be using machines or sticking solely to free weights? Ask about philosophy and see if it makes sense for your goals and preferences.

Specialties. Ever heard the saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none?" Well, if you're looking for something specific -- say, hitting a new 5k PR -- you'll want to work with a trainer who specializes in running over, say, Olympic weightlifting. Not only will they have more expertise in your desired area, but chances are she'll be more passionate about it if she knows the nuances of the sport and has a vested interest in it, as well.

Cost. Just as experience, personality and philosophy can range vastly between trainers so can their hourly rate, depending on certifications, specialty and location (sometimes as much as hundreds of dollars). So before you begin your hunt, sit down and think about your budget. And if hourly solo sessions are currently beyond your means, don't despair; some trainers offer semi-private sessions or a discount for buying in bulk.

Availability. Because consistency is key when working with a trainer, it's a good idea to inquire about his schedule. How many clients does he currently have -- e.g., is he booked solid without much wiggle room? Does he like to book them at the same time each week, or is it more of a floating schedule that changes regularly? How far in advance will you need to book appointments, can you make up missed ones, and what is his cancellation policy?

Location. This is another area of personal preference, so consider your habits and tendencies carefully. Are you willing to drive 20 minutes across town, or do you need something within walking distance to stay motivated? And where do you like to train? Some people get inspired by seeing others in a traditional gym setting, others like the one-on-one approach of a fitness studio, and others prefer to work out in the privacy of their own home. The good news is that there's a trainer for every type of location!

Progress. In addition to a personalized training program based on your goals and fitness level, your trainer needs a method for tracking your progress so you can see, incrementally, that your hard work is paying off. Benchmarks such as PRs, weight loss, strength gains and other achievements can help you not only stay on track, but also ensure that your trainer is doing her job.

Reputation. The best compliment a trainer can receive is a referral, but having people see results of their clients firsthand comes in a close second. Getting people to achieve their goals (especially if those goals are similar to what you're wanting to achieve) is the ultimate proof here, and good trainers will happy to share success stories, testimonials and references.

Although you might be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing a personal trainer, it's important to note that the criteria above are just guidelines -- not hard and fast rules. If you feel strongly about some items and don't have a preference on others, it's not a problem; you can streamline your search by keeping one thing in mind: Above all else, trust your gut. Look for a knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who feels like the most natural fit. That's the one to hire because she'll not only help you reach your goals, but will also keep you feeling comfortable, motivated and inspired throughout the process.