July 24, 2012

The truth about personal trainers


---- — With the health and fitness industry growing, personal trainers are everywhere. 

Hundreds of organizations also offer personal training “certifications,” making it easy to jump onto the personal-training bandwagon and blurring the line between qualified and unqualified. On top of that, personal trainers are sometimes making hundreds of dollars per hour when they don’t even know how to set up an effective exercise program. Because of this, clients must do their research to figure out whether their personal trainer knows what they are doing.

First of all, there are several names revolving around the term “personal trainer.” Fitness specialist, exercise specialist, wellness coach and many others can be put in place of the personal-training title, but a title doesn’t mean anything without an education behind it. Many unqualified personal trainers get employed by gyms just because the fitness field is not as well regulated as other professions. It is the gym’s job, as well as the client’s, to figure out if the fitness professional is truly qualified.

Being qualified is a relative term in itself. Some trainers are qualified to work only with clients who are asymptomatic, where certain exercise professionals can work with those who have cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic diseases and/or certain risk factors associated with those diseases. The trainers that are qualified to work with the “at risk” populations always have a higher education, preferably a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and have the appropriate certification. Unfortunately, I have found that many personal trainers who are qualified to work only with the general population are working with clients who are classified as high risk.

Experience is something that many personal trainers boast about when attempting to justify their knowledge, suggesting they don’t need a four-year degree in exercise science or a related field to be able to train clients. I’ve heard personal trainers say they’ve been training clients for more than 10 years so they know what they are doing. In reality, experience doesn’t mean anything if you haven’t been educated correctly to do it in the first place. In a study done by the University of California, Los Angeles’s exercise physiology lab in 2002, it was discovered that trainers who had more than five years of experience but no college degree did poorly on a test of their fitness knowledge. The study suggests that extensive training experience in the health and fitness profession does not always translate into a knowledgeable and capable professional. What makes this even more interesting is that the test was multiple choice, so the answers were literally in front of them. The only group in this study that did reasonably well were those with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and certified by the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditional Association.

When it comes down to it, what really matters is the education that the personal trainer has. A four-year degree in an exercise science or a related field is a must when it comes to becoming a qualified exercise professional. This is where the trainer will learn the basics of human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and the adaptions to exercise. The personal trainer should also be certified by a nationally recognized organization. The top organizations for this category are the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditional Association. Having these qualifications will ensure that the personal trainer is instructing his or her clients based on science and research, and not popular trends in fitness.

I highly encourage anyone who plans on using the services of a personal trainer to ask the trainer what his or her educational background is, what organization they are certified through and how they plan on helping the person reach their goals. I would even go as far as asking to see their credentials for these. By making sure that the exercise professional you choose is well qualified, you can better ensure that you are in safe hands and that you will truly receive a professional service.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.