7 tips to pick a personal trainer to help you be more fit in 2012


When resolutions for new fitness goals kick into gear, it can mean some daunting choices for those who seek to get healthier, especially by finding the personal trainer best suited to their needs.

Alexis Peraino, MD, a physician at the Cedars-Sinai Weight Loss Center who also has a degree in exercise physiology, is uniquely qualified to offer advice on this issue, as she selects the personal trainers for inclusion on the center's referral list.

"I see again and again in my practice that patients often don't choose the right workout routine for them," she said. "The result is often injuries or boredom – both of which lead to less physical activity rather than more. A personal trainer can be a wonderful asset to kick-start a workout routine, to reach new levels of intensity and to keep you accountable for getting in those workouts. However, trainers are not one-size-fits all and it's important to know how to pick the right one for you."

As an expert in exercise and weight loss, she offers these tips to those who would hire a personal trainer:

  1. Interview candidates in tough-minded fashion. Don't be afraid to delve into a potential trainer's background, credentials and clients. Also, know your own fitness goals – is it losing weight or increasing lean body mass? "Match your trainer's past experience to your current needs," Peraino said. "If you have a specific health issue – like arthritis, a back injury or you're overweight or obese – ask how they address those issues in their workouts." Ask if they can provide references, then follow up and speak with their past clients. Experienced trainers possess multiple techniques and can tailor a workout to a client's specific needs and fitness level. They're also supposed to help avoid injuries – so "no pain, no gain" should never be your mantra – or your trainer's. Also remember practical logistics questions: Does the trainer's availability match yours? What's their cancellation policy?

  2. Ask about their certifications. Those aren't just pieces of paper. Current certifications are proof of training, qualifications and a commitment to keep abreast of the latest science and trends in fitness. Among the groups whose credentials are most respected: American College of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise.

  3. Maximize your training time. Your trainer should assist you with a proper warm up and cool down, as well as with exercises to build flexibility. These steps are critical to avoiding injury and you shouldn't push your trainer to spend all your time together working as hard as possible.

  4. Do you get homework? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend at least two, non-consecutive days of resistance exercise per week – and ideally three to four such workouts depending on an individual's fitness goals. This schedule clearly exceeds the time an average person can spend with a trainer, which is why "homework" becomes so vital. "The best trainers provide you with an education, suggesting workouts you can do on your own and that will be sustainable beyond your sessions together," Peraino said. Your personal training should go on long enough for you to change your habits but few people employ trainers long term. Keep this in mind when developing your routines with them. Running the gym stairs might be OK with a trainer but less fun on your own. Be sure your trainer gives you exercises you can make into healthy habits.

  5. Trainers should be skilled in various exercise disciplines. Boredom is the enemy of fitness. Trainers who know many ways to work the same muscles can banish those workout doldrums. They also can ramp up a workout's intensity – a critical aspect of their role in pushing clients constantly to improve. Find someone who can vary the regimen with fun and different activities like pilates, yoga and martial arts.

  6. Combine cardio and resistance training. No workout is truly complete unless you've raised your heart rate and challenged your muscles. The best trainers combine cardio and resistance training to maximize your workout. While circuit training offers one path to a complete workout, perhaps you will want to tackle some cardio on your own before or after a session. "Even if weight loss is your goal and you're focused on the calorie-burning power of cardio, don't underestimate the need to build muscle with weight lifting and other resistance exercise," Peraino said. This approach builds lean body mass – key to the body's metabolic rate - and is important to protect when losing weight.

  7. Beware the salesman. It's common for clients to need to change their diet to meet their fitness goals. When resistance training gets added into a routine, clients often need to boost their protein intake, which they also may need to increase when dropping weight so as to protect from loss of muscle mass. While trainers can offer counsel on dietary topics, be wary of those too eager to ignore the exercise regimen while promoting specific supplements, protein drinks or fat burners. There are no "miracle" products or pills on the market – fitness requires old-fashioned, hard work.

"When you screen carefully, personal training can be an excellent investment in fitness," Peraino said. "Remember that investment doesn't need to break the bank. The most expensive trainers aren't necessarily the best. Many trainers will consider semi-private sessions so you can split the cost with a friend. Just be sure that friend has needs and goals that are similar to yours."

The Cedars-Sinai Weight Loss Center offers a multi-disciplinary approach in which patients are evaluated by a physician, surgeon, dietitian and social worker to determine which weight-loss intervention is best for them. The center offers the most leading-edge surgical techniques available to address issues of obesity as well as non-surgical comprehensive plans for weight loss that address medical, behavioral and nutritional issues related to weight loss.

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