Wayne L. Westcott and Rita La Rosa Loud
You may be at a point where you where you would like to begin an exercise program but, are not sure who to see for professional guidance. For many people, especially older adults, personal trainers provide a professional service that is essential for them to exercise safely, effectively and regularly. Qualified personal trainers provide a high level of education and motivation for their clients. They also ensure proper and productive exercise performance of the strength training, flexibility exercises, and aerobic activities.
Certified personal trainers can also perform fitness assessments, set realistic training goals and develop appropriate exercise programs for their clients. They can establish gradual training progressions that maximize fitness improvement and minimize injury risk.
Although personal trainers must stay within their scope of practice, they can frequently consult with medical professionals and registered dieticians to provide pertinent information in these areas. Good personal trainers typically have an excellent network of health care providers to assist you with an overall wellness program.
Given that personal trainers can be the difference between exercising regularly or remaining sedentary for many seniors (especially those who may be overweight, physically frail, non-exercisers, time-pressured, or post-rehabilitation), what should you look for in an ideal personal trainer? Some very basic decisions depend on your personal preferences. Do you feel more comfortable with a male or a female trainer? Do you relate better to a younger or an older trainer? Do you prefer to train at home or in a fitness facility? Do you want a trainer to supervise all of your sessions or periodically check in on you?
Once you make these decisions, you should carefully examine the professional characteristics of a potential trainer. In our opinion, the starting point should be a nationally recognized personal trainer certification. Although Boston has some excellent local certifying agencies, the two top levels of national certifications are as follows:
Most Prestigious: National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM); American Council on Exercise (ACE); Cooper’s Institute.
Highly Respected: International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA); National Strength Professionals Association (NSPA); National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM); and Aerobics and Fitness Association of American (AFAA).
Regardless of educational background and experience, first class personal trainers make the time and effort to pass a nationally recognized personal trainer qualifying examination. On the other hand, educational background and experience are the most valuable personal training attributes. Personal trainers who have completed at least a 1 year exercise science/personal training certificate program or a related college degree are likely to be better prepared in the areas of exercise physiology, performance bio-mechanics, motor learning, injury prevention, cardiovascular conditioning, musculoskeletal development, and exercise modalities than those who have not had formal academic training in the fitness field.
Of course, training experience may be just as important as book learning. Most people don’t want to be a surgeon’s first patient and most exercisers don’t want to be a trainer’s first client. Ideally, your personal trainer should score high in all three areas: (1) current national trainer certification; (2) formal fitness education; and (3) several years of practical training experience.
After establishing these benchmarks, the next step is to obtain recommendations from a few of the trainer’s present or previous clients. Ask specific questions to determine the depth of the trainer’s knowledge base, personality characteristics, professionalism, and program individualization based on client needs and abilities. Find out what clients like most and like least about their trainer and the exercise programs. If possible, observe the trainer working with a couple of different clients. Try to evaluate the entire training session from start to finish, especially in terms of personal attention and positive interactions. Watching a trainer in action is perhaps the best gauge of your compatibility in a trainer/client relationship.
Once you identify one or more trainers you would like to work with, two critical questions remain. These are time availability and financial affordability. Matching schedules can sometimes be problematic, particularly with top personal trainers who typically have fewer openings. Then there is the cost factor. Some of the best Boston trainers charge well over $100 an hour for their services, and they may be well worth every penny. At the other end of the price scale, many YMCA and fitness club trainers charge closer to $40 an hour to facility members. Of course, this is a personal matter, and a consideration that should be addressed after identifying the right trainer. If price is a barrier to getting the trainer you want, consider that one or two personal training sessions a week with the ideal trainer might be better than three sessions a week with a less motivating mentor. You may also partner up with a workout buddy or two who can share the expense of small group personal training. Another solution is to communicate with a trainer on-line between sessions for updates of workout regimens.
Keep in mind that you may not need a personal trainer indefinitely. However, for the time that you do need guidance and support, we advise you to enlist the best personal trainer available.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches Exercise Science at Quincy College and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has written 28 fitness books.
Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S., directs the community health and fitness center at Quincy College.
Article reprinted from November issue of the South Shore Senior News.