Hiring a personal trainer is one of the best steps you can take to increase your health and fitness. If you’re just starting out, a trainer can develop a workout plan specific to your goals, and make sure you’re learning exercises with correct form (which is very important for not only getting the most out of your exercise, but also for preventing injury).
If you’re new to exercise — especially strength training — see a personal trainer 2-3 times per week for at least a month to build a solid foundation and establish good habits. You can then decrease the frequency of coaching sessions as you do more workouts on your own. If you’re already a workout pro, a trainer can take your fitness to the next level and show you moves you may not have tried before. All the best athletes in the world have coaches — they must be on to something!
A Guide to Finding a Personal Trainer
Now that we’ve convinced you about the benefits of working with a personal trainer, what should you look for? What about issues that might be specific to older adults?
We’ve got you covered in this step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Find prospects in your area.
Convenience is key when it comes to fitness. Search online for gyms and community centers in your area that have personal trainers available. More and more dedicated personal training studios are cropping up as well. They boast a wide variety of independent trainers, all with different specialties. You can visit studios and ask to be put in touch with a few trainers who fit your criteria, or you can first do a search online for independent trainers in your area.
Step 2: Meet prospective trainers for a consultation.
Aim to meet with a few trainers for a consultation. Each trainer will have a different process, and some might offer a free session so you can get a sense of their coaching style. Leave your credit card at home so you don’t feel pressured to buy and make sure you’re armed with questions (see the next steps for what to ask).
Step 3: Check qualifications and education.
Credentials aren’t everything. There are some world-class coaches out there with the minimum required qualifications, and some with all the credentials in the world who aren’t skilled at coaching. Make sure your prospective trainer has the basics. A degree in kinesiology or exercise science is a good place to start. They’ll also need a professional fitness trainer certification. In the U.S. there are several different certifying bodies; the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports and Medicine are two of the most well-known. Ask your prospective trainer about the last few books they’ve read, and the last course they completed. You want to make sure your trainer is committed to lifelong learning.
Step 4: Be confident a trainer can tailor a program to your specific needs.
We each have different things potential trainers might need to take into account when designing programs for us. If you have conditions like osteoporosis, if you experience low back pain, if you’re recovering from an injury, or if you have any other concerns that might relate to exercise, ask about them and see what your trainer would do to work with them. Your trainer should also be willing to work with other health professionals like your family doctor or physical therapist.
Step 5: Make sure your trainer has experience training older adults.
This might be obvious, but do look for a coach who has considerable experience working with adults over the age of 50. Many trainers even specialize in working with this population. You want to hire someone who knows how to work with the normal processes of aging (bone density decreases, menopause, possible joint issues, etc.), and someone who understands your lifestyle and priorities (even if they’re not in your own age bracket).
Step 6: Find out about the trainer’s nutrition knowledge and scope of practice.
Make sure your potential trainer can provide you with diet information like pre- and post-workout nutrition, healthy meal ideas that support your fitness and physique goals and habit-based nutrition coaching. Personal trainers are not licensed to provide meal plans or sell supplements to their clients (though many of them do these things anyway). Prescribing meal plans is out of our scope of practice as fitness coaches; only registered dieticians are legally entitled to do so. If your potential trainer suggests following their meal plan or sells supplements, find someone else.
Step 7: Ensure your trainer has an evidence-based approach.
Unfortunately, the health and fitness industry is not well regulated. Many trainers and other professionals in the field promote things that aren’t in any way supported by research (e.g. cleanses and detoxes). Look for a coach who knows how to seek out and interpret real research in peer-reviewed journals, and does so regularly to keep up with current knowledge. Ask what scientific journals they keep up with, and from where they source their health and fitness information. Googling doesn’t cut it; look for information that comes from peer-reviewed journal articles or major professional organizations like the American Council on Exercise.
Step 8: Ask for references.
Ask your prospective trainer for the contact information for a few older adult clients they currently work with (they’ll likely need to ask their clients for permission first). After your consultation with the trainer, talk to their clients. Ask whether the trainer is dependable, strives to continually improve and takes the client’s specific needs into account. Also ask about what results the client has experienced and whether the client feels the trainer caters to the needs of older adults.