7 Steps for Choosing and Keeping the Right Personal Trainer

You feel like an octopus on roller skates in the gym, and you're certain everyone's looking at you. Or maybe you know what you're doing but struggle with the follow-through – setting fitness goals with vigor, but never achieving them. When you need help, deciding to hire a personal trainer is only the first step. Actually choosing one and making the relationship work is the hard part.

Approximately 8 million people use personal trainers in the United States, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. But while these millions have gone before you in choosing a trainer, there isn't a single accepted tool or source to amass and evaluate your many options. Instead, the footwork of finding the right trainer is entirely up to you.

Get Focused on Your Goals

What do you want to get out of your training: weight loss, muscle mass, a marathon medal?

"It's essential you match your goals and needs with a trainer that specializes in that area," says Rocky Snyder, a personal trainer and gym owner in Santa Cruz, California. "Most trainers have niches they work within, so it doesn't make sense to hire a trainer that works with bodybuilders to get you ready for your first triathlon."

Make a Short List

This is easier if you live in a big city with gyms and trainers at every corner, but use the Internet, friends and family and your local gym to find a few personal trainers in your area. While making your list of potentials, keep your fitness goals in mind.

Check Credentials

If you want to make sure your trainer's knowledge is vast and up-to-date, look for certifications. There are many certifying agencies, all with different requirements. Both Snyder and Christine Kwok, trainer and owner of Balanced Strength in Los Angeles, suggest you look for those that are nationally accredited. There are several of these agencies, including the National Strength & Conditioning Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sports Science Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, to name a few.

"These nationally recognized certifications generally must meet a minimum standard of education for their particular certification – like strength and conditioning, group fitness, corrective exercise or the like," Kwok says. "Also, these credentialed trainers will need to attend further education workshops and lectures to earn continuing education credits throughout the years."

Check Prices and Know Your Budget

Prices for personal trainers vary depending on everything from your geographic location to where you plan on training (your gym versus your home) and, of course, the experience and level of expertise of your trainer. Kwok says you don't necessarily get what you pay for, however.

Set Up a Consultation

Before you make any commitments or final decisions, meet with a few of your prospective trainers to get a good idea what they have to offer, their training philosophies and whether you'll get along. Is this trainer of the drill sergeant type or the nurturing supportive type? Which would fit your goals and personality best?

"Try not to get locked into a contract or multiple sessions with a trainer until you know for certain that they are the right professional for you," Kwok says.

Many trainers are amenable to a trial session; they may even offer you a cheaper rate for a test-drive. If so, don't be afraid to meet with a few trainers who have passed your other criteria and are vying for the opportunity to whip you into shape.

Keep Communication Open

Once you've selected a trainer and you're seeing him or her on a regular basis, issues may arise. Perhaps he or she isn't pushing you as much as you'd like, or you feel like your trainer is pushing too hard – something that could be a serious concern in light of certain medical conditions. Regardless, “honesty is the best policy,” Snyder says. Tell him or her how you feel.

"If the trainer is really a person of worth, they might ask if there is anything that they can change to make the experience better or more effective,” Snyder says. “They may even offer to help connect you with another trainer. Trainers should have their clients' best interests at heart, and this is definitely one way of finding out if you're with a good one."

Know When to Move On

If the time comes to move on, there are right and wrong ways to break up with your trainer. Kwok says don't just stop paying or stop showing up and returning calls.

"Although you’re paying us for a service and for that time, we expect you to respect our time as well," she says. "In short, if it's necessary, break up with us gracefully, please."

More than likely, your trainer will understand. He or she has no doubt gone through it before. And this time, when you’re ready to put yourself out there again and find a new partner in fitness, you’ll have experience and lessons to draw from.