Should You Hire a Personal Trainer? What You Need to Know.

A new year brings new fitness goals. When coupled with the pandemic, some of us may need motivation to get back to or start a workout routine.  I’m reaching out to two personal trainers to ask them why you should hire a personal trainer, what you should know, what you should ask, and what results you can expect.

Photo courtesy of Brigid Richardson

Brigid Richardson is an ACE certified personal trainer (more on ACE in a minute) who works with clients at a private fitness facility, in her home, or a client’s home. David Leard is also is an ACE certified trainer, in addition to holding orthopedic specialty and weight management certifications. David trains most of his clients at a local YMCA, but also at some client’s homes. (For more on David, click here, to revisit a post from 2018.)

Photo courtesy of David Leard

What are the top reasons that an older adult should consider working with a personal trainer?

“Engaging a personal trainer shows a commitment to improving your health,” says Richardson, and “hiring a trainer makes you vested and keeps you accountable to an exercise routine.” And while the experts recommend that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (that breaks down to about 30 minutes each day), we also need muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. But Americans are woefully short on meeting those recommendations; only about 1 in 5 adults meet these minimum guidelines.

Richardson adds working with a personal trainer can reduce the chance of injury during exercise. “A trainer is able to safely demonstrate correct form and spot a client when needed.”

What qualifications or certifications should someone look for when working with a personal trainer?

“Look for a nationally, recognized, education-based certification that is approved by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA),” advises Richardson. Leard agrees and adds that some of the best certification organizations are the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Both Richardson and Leard are certified by ACE. Richardson says it is also important that a certified trainer be insured.

How has COVID-19 affected the ability of people to get and/or stay fit?

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“The fear of COVID has affected people emotionally as well as physically,” says Leard. “While the YMCA where I train has added the recommended cleaning, disinfecting, and social distancing protocols, I’ve had a few clients decide to stay home after we reopened in May. Several of my clients reported they were not exercising at home like they thought they would. With that in mind we posted many videos demonstrating home exercises. We’ve also found success in small group training such as TRX classes.”

Richardson reports that “technology has empowered many people to look for exercise options at home.  There are a wide variety of virtual workout classes that are accessible with a computer or phone if you have an internet connection.  Many classes promote “body weight” training so you can exercise without any equipment. Staying home has allowed some folks to squeeze in an exercise session and many of my clients have used quarantine to improve their health.”

The at home fitness trend may well continue. A recent Washington Post article reports the sale of in-home exercise equipment, from treadmills to yoga mats, boomed in 2020 and may be the future of exercise.

When a new client hires you, what do you want to know about them before you start training?

“It is important to ask a client what type of exercises they enjoyed and what time of day they prefer to exercise.  Using that information to develop a workout, then it can help keep them motivated,” says Richardson.  On the flip side, she likes clients to seek her advice on exercise routines that she endorses.  “While I focus on the client’s desires in planning a workout, I think it is important to incorporate strength training and low impact cardio exercises into most workouts.  Muscle strengthening activities provide many health benefits including preventing muscle loss that comes with aging and helping increase metabolism.”

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Leard encourages clients to “ask about my credentials as I very proud of the work and study I’ve put in to be the best trainer I can be. I also enjoy responding to questions about successes I’ve had with other clients. I ask clients questions about their motivation, past experiences, and chronic health issues.  I want to know what has worked and what has not worked for them in the past. I also want to understand their goals so I can formulate a plan to reach them. One of my favorite examples of goal setting is with a client who had a new grandbaby. Her goal was to be able to safely bathe the baby by lifting her in and out of the bathtub. We worked with the goal in mind keep them both safe and you can imagine how happy she was when she reported her success.”

What can an older adult expect when working with a trainer?

“A good trainer assesses a client based on their goals for posture, movement, balance and flexibility. Depending on the assessment, the trainer may focus on stability and mobility training at first. Later the trainer may focus on movement and resistance training and moving to more functional movement with increasing loads. Given that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” I focus on a client’s weakest link. I feel this approach gives each client their best chance to succeed,” says Leard.

Richardson likes to show clients how each exercise affects they body. “A trainer should encourage the client throughout the workout, correcting posture while helping them get the maximum benefit out of each movement.”

Given that 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 60% have at least two, how does that change you train a client?

“A trainer should always ask appropriate questions about the client’s health, specifically if they have been cleared by a medical doctor to participate in an exercise program.  This information and doctor’s approval will allow the trainer to customize a workout that is safe and effective for the client,” according to Richardson.

Leard’s specialty certifications in orthopedics “allow me to work confidently work with clients with chronic conditions. I have several friends who are Physical Therapists that I use as a resource when I have questions. In addition, I hold a Weight Management Certification from ACE. This certification gives me a good base for helping clients focus on healthy eating habits rather than fad diets.”

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Both Richardson and Leard emphasize functional fitness for older adults; the ability to do the things you like to do while staying safe. Gardening, playing with grandchildren, walking the dog, and hiking in the woods require stamina, strength, agility, and balance, and working with a personal trainer can help you continue to enjoy activities.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.