Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Congratulations! You’ve finally made the decision to hire a personal trainer to help you reach your fitness goals. It’s of the utmost importance at this point to carefully do your research. Personal Training is no less important than being a dentist, teacher, veterinarian, or a counselor. All these professions require some sort of certification or college degree. Unfortunately, personal training is not regulated, nor is giving nutrition advice as a personal trainer. Here are some important factors to consider when hiring a personal trainer.
Nationally Certified. As mentioned above, personal training is unregulated. It’s been my experience that the majority of people don’t care too much about a trainer being certified and I personally have only been asked a few times in my entire career. However, when someone goes to their dentist, they assume that dentist has in fact, been to dental school. This IS a regulated field, but even if suddenly it wasn’t, I suspect people would still want to know their dentist had education and didn’t just teach themselves. Not being certified as a personal trainer, in my opinion, does a disservice to the profession. If personal training is just as important as any other profession, trainers should be certified REGARDLESS if it’s unregulated or not.
Here is a list of the top nationally recognized and most popular personal training organizations. I highly suggest asking your trainer, before you hire them, which of these they are certified through.
- NASM– National Academy of Sports Medicine
- ACSM– American College of Sports Medicine
- NSCA– National Strength and Conditioning Association
- AFPA– American Fitness Professionals and Associates
- NFPT– National Federation of Personal Trainers
- IFPA– International Fitness Professionals Association
- ACE– American Counsel on Exercise
- ISSA– International Sports Sciences Association
- Cooper Institute
Education. Being a personal trainer doesn’t require a college degree but it certainly is impressive! Your trainer may have a degree in Kinesiology and be certified through one of the above organizations. A kinesiology degree may be required for jobs other than just being a personal trainer in a gym such as teaching, working for a sports team, or working in a corporate wellness facility.
Liability Insurance. Unless a trainer is working for a gym, they should have liability insurance. Trainers such as myself who are contractors at various gyms are required by each facility to have insurance. Regardless of how close the relationship between client and trainer, everyone should sign a liability waiver provided by the trainer in addition to any gym waivers.
CPR/AED. This is usually required by each nationally recognized personal training organization so it should just be assumed that your personal trainer is CPR/AED certified.
Nutritionist/Dietitian. Being a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s Degree in Science, I take this qualification a bit more seriously because most people don’t know the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist.
- Dietitian: A health professional who has a B.S or M.S from a university and has gone through internships in various hospital and community settings. They are Licensed though a state medical board and are able to ethically translate their knowledge of nutrition in order to help those with serious medical problems. They are versatile in their knowledge and are able to assist people with their personal health and fitness goals.
- Nutritionist: This is someone who may be a dietitian but refers to themselves as a nutritionist for general marketing purposes because the majority of people are more familiar with this term. A trainer calling themselves a nutritionist is non-accredited but may have taken a short course in nutrition. They are not protected by law and so anyone can give themselves the title of “nutritionist”.
Bottom line: make sure your trainer is actually a trainer. This is an ethical issue, so you may not be concerned if they are actually qualified or not. Many trainers who aren’t dietitians are very knowledgeable with years of experience, just as many educated dietitians have little real life experience. Since there is no regulation for a personal trainer calling themselves a nutritionist, just be sure you know the facts before making a personal decision. This is an ethical issue and will vary on personal preference.
Experience. I would like to emphasize my belief that fitness professionals need to be certified in what they do. This maintains a level of integrity necessary to be taken seriously, just like any other profession. It is true that knowledge and experience don’t necessarily come from a college degree. There are many great personal trainers with a vast array of knowledge about nutrition and exercise science. Hands-on is the best way to learn, but having continuing education and being credible is just as important. People do not normally ask whether a trainer is certified or what education level they have attained because it’s assumed they have the education, just like they don’t ask whether their dentist is in fact, a dentist. Ultimately, the decision is up to the client, depending on their personal convictions.
Relationship. I’ve always compared a relationship between a personal trainer and a client to that of a hair dresser and a client. You could try ten different trainers and they could all have the same knowledge and guide you to the same results. Sometimes it comes down to price, but usually it’s the client-trainer relationship. If someone finds value in their trainer and feels comfortable trusting the trainer with their health, price is not an issue. I have clients who started with me at the very beginning, ten years and counting. These are not just clients, but friends who have been with me through ups and downs, and vice-versa.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to interview your trainer and make sure they have the qualifications you are looking for. You are putting your safety and finances into the hands of someone you trust so consider the ethics and legalities of this decision.