For just a moment, let's talk about life. If you take away all that you own, the only things you’ll have left are your body, your mind, and your soul. Exercise enhances all of those, so it stands to reason that having an exercise expert in your corner is a good idea.

If you don’t believe me, just ask the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA):
The benefits of exercise are indisputable … Physical inactivity has been labeled a pandemic due to its increasing global prevalence and it’s health, economic, environmental, and societal consequences.
JAMA. 2015;314(18):1915-1916. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.10858

Considering how important proper exercise and nutrition are for your well-being, it makes sense to seek out a professional on these subjects.

However, since exercise science is so new, the subject and its practicing professionals are thus far unregulated by state and federal bodies, making it very difficult for the general observer to find a great exercise trainer.

Given that having a great trainer is so important, and the fact that it can be very difficult to find the right one, here are some questions to ask yourself and your potential trainer to find the right fit:

What is this trainer’s certification?

Having a certification means a fitness trainer has studied at least basic exercise science knowledge.Even if the person you want to work with has been an athlete their whole life and working in exercise for if they are not certified, they are missing out on vital information – and you will be too.

Look for a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) in one of these recommended certifications:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

There are also some specialist certifications that can be helpful if you are seeking specific goals in your exercise:

  • International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB) – as the name implies, these pros work hard on the stage-ready aesthetic component in fitness.
  • USA Weight Lifting (USAW) – this certification teaches Olympic-level weight lifting and power lifting.
  • CrossFit (CrossFit Lvl 1) – these certified individuals work primarily with high-intensity interval training and CrossFit competitive athletes.
  • Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT ###) – These are your yogis! They are particularly adept at this eastern art of stretching, body weight resistance, and mindfulness. The numbers at the end of the certification tell you how many hours the instructor was required to teach before earning their certification.
  • Pilates Instructor (CPI) - Pilates is the meticulously cued brand of movement fitness designed by Joseph Pilates in the 20th century. It has become a popular method for joint health/safety and movement control.

Tip 1: Training certifications usually require less than a year to obtain, so a highly dedicated trainer will have studied the material from multiple institutions and will likely hold multiple certifications.

Tip 2: Many certifications will have websites with listings of their certified trainers, searchable by zip code. You can search the internet for the certifications mentioned here, or go to for more local info.

What is the trainer’s education?

There are three primary bachelor’s degrees professional trainers will often seek:

  • Exercise Science
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Kinesiology

Other degrees also pop up regularly among strength trainers including:

  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Coaching & Sport Science
  • Other human science

In addition, quite a few coaches will have Masters or ’s in similar fields.

Post – high school education is very useful for trainers to obtain better foundational knowledge of the human body and systems.

However, because exercise is such a relatively new science, it is still imperfect. All the class time and book learning in the world doesn’t yet compare to real world experience for making great strength and fitness trainers.

The best trainers will have both a good educational foundation and several years practical experience working with people that have similar goals to yours.

What are your goals?

As Dr. Keith Lawhorn says:

There are several characteristics to look for in a strength and conditioning trainer. Knowledge, experience, and the ability to relate to the client or athlete. These strength trainers need to be motivators and need to display not only a passion for helping develop strength but also in a safe but friendly manner. Strength trainers who relate to their athletes and clients, while placing their health and well-being first and foremost, earn their trust and confidence, making the athlete more committed to the success of the program.

The various certification and educational classifications don’t define the training experience you will receive. Different trainers specialize in different fitness components. Here are some common trainer types and what experience you should look for from these classifications.

Note: These are not official trainer classifications and many trainers will tell you they are good helping people with any of these goals. In this case, just remember the general rule that someone who claims to be good at everything is usually not the best at anything.

Strength & athletic performance

This type of trainer will be very scientifically minded. They will have a consistent and calculated approach to making you better/faster/stronger. Seek a Performance Coach who has specialist certifications in:

  • USAW
  • Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES)
  • Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CCS, CSCS)

Weight management

The best weight management trainers have great motivational personalities. They are lively, exciting, and offer experiences that make workouts fun and engaging. Specialist certifications include:

  • Health Coach (HC)
  • Weight Management Specialist (WMS)

Mind – body connection

Sessions with these trainers tend to be particularly warm, nurturing, great for stress relief, and will give a sense of relaxation. Training sessions will usually be lower intensity than performance training or weight management. You’ll find that more yogis and Pilates instructors lean toward practicing the mind-body connection, but will not do that exclusively.

As Dr. Lawhorn explained, ultimately you want a well-qualified trainer with whom you feel you can make progress and enjoy your exercise programming. Making life changes and achieving goals can be challenging, so you’ll want to be with someone that makes the experience more enjoyable.

What does the trainer charge?

As is the case with most goods and services, you get what you pay for in the training world.
In most metropolitan areas, trainers will charge around $90 to $130 per hour for one on one training. Anything significantly less than this should make you question their ability to successfully reach client goals.

To mitigate training costs, potential clients can look for different ways of engaging with a good trainer – namely, training in groups or small groups.

Semi-private or small group training

This training method usually has 2-6 individuals working together with one trainer toward a common goal.

The advantages include a lower cost than personal training, as well as extra motivation from other participants in the group.

The trainer will still have some flexibility to individualize exercise programming, but the guidance as specific as a one-on-one setting.

Group Training

Group training includes one trainer with 6 or more individuals.In some you may find more than 30 participants with one trainer.

The advantages include sociability and good group motivation, as long as the trainer helps build the group’s energy.Group training is often the most inexpensive way to engage with a trainer.

Most group training sessions are pre-determined and minimally individualized for the clients involved.A good trainer may make small adjustments to movement patterns or exercise choice as needed, but the ability to advance on specific goals will depend more on the client’s commitment and persistence.

Considering the benefits, employing a great trainer is just as important as finding a great doctor, dentist, or mechanic. Also, like these other professional services, you don’t necessarily need your trainer all the time. You may just need a boost to get things going for a specific goal, or simply the occasional “check up” to help you change your fitness priorities or continue to advance.

The fitness and training industries are booming, and considering the lack of industry regulation, it is getting more and more difficult to find the right person to help you reach your goals. Asking yourself and your trainer these four questions above will help you find the right professional for a happy and healthy future!

Learn more about OrthoVirginia Sports Performance.