When it comes to working with a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor, you have to feel comfortable establishing a relationship with that person, and most of all, you have to be able to trust that he or she has the experience, skill, and ethics to help you work toward your goals effectively and safely. With so many people on social media touting themselves as fitness professionals, how do you know who is legitimately a professional, and who has just claimed the title because they look good in their Tik Tok leggings? Is the fitness instructor in your community licensed to do what he or she is doing? Is the personal trainer you're working with allowed to give you a meal plan? The fact is, fitness professionals (both certified and "self-described") are acting outside of their scope of practice, and it's up to you to sort out who is working ethically and safely and who is just looking to make a buck or to boost their Instagram follows.
The first thing you need to determine is whether or not your fitness instructor or trainer is actually a certified professional. There are a few different things to look for here. First, ask for their professional certification. There are a number of different accredited certification organizations, and some are more widely recognized than others. Widely considered the top-rated programs are NASM and ACE for personal training, and AFAA and ACE for group fitness (recently, NASM acquired AFAA, so in a sense, the top two certification programs are the same for personal training and for group fitness). If your trainer or instructor is certified by an organization other than ACE, NASM, or AFAA, does this mean he or she isn't as good? Not at all. Plenty of fantastic instructors and trainers received their certification from other organizations, but it does pay to be aware of the different organizations and to investigate who certifies your trainer. Some gyms won't hire anyone other than ACE, NASM, or AFAA certified instructors.
Please note: a license is NOT the same thing as certification. For example, I have multiple Zumba® format licenses, and I have a MixxedFit® license. However, these simply give me permission from those organizations to teach their format. I do not have to have professional certification to receive a license even though those organizations recommend it. No reputable gym will hire a licensed instructor for any format who is not also certified by a professional, accredited fitness organization.
There's one more thing to check when you're looking at your instructor's credentials: are they current? Every professional certification organization requires its instructors to maintain and renew certification through continuing education. For ACE, renewal takes place every two years. If a certified professional completes the required number of continuing education credits (CECs), then he or she is able to pay the renewal fee and remain certified. If he or she does not complete required the CECs within the two year period, then the certification expires, and he or she must complete the full certification program again. Ask your instructor if he or she is current on CECs, and check to see what he or she is doing to earn those CECs. Another critical component of certification is CPR/AED certification. All personal training programs and group fitness certification programs require an individual to complete American Red Cross or American Heart Association CPR/AED certification. If your trainer has let his or her fitness certification lapse, there is a good chance the CPR/AED certification has lapsed as well. Regardless of fitness certification status, it is imperative that your instructor or trainer is CPR/AED certified for your safety and protection.
Which leads me to a final component: personal liability insurance. There are several companies that offer insurance specifically for fitness professionals. Is your trainer or instructor insured? If not, he or she is putting both of you at risk.
Those are all things that you must consider in looking at your trainer or instructor's qualifications, but there is much more to be aware of--like your fitness professional's scope of practice. Certification programs outline very clearly what a certified professional is and is not allowed to do. For example, a personal trainer CAN lead small group fitness, but a group fitness instructor CAN NOT give specific, individual training. A personal trainer CAN give general, widely recognized nutrition information (like what you would find on the USDA website and "MyPlate"--formerly the Food Pyramid), but CAN NOT prescribe a meal plan or assign macros. This is one of the hardest ones because so many people want nutrition information from their trainers. Even though I am an ACE-certified Weight Management Specialist, giving you a meal plan or assigning your calories and macros is outside of my scope of practice. I will give you suggestions based in science and based on what I have seen work in my experience, but I cannot give you a meal plan or tell you exactly what to eat. This is frustrating because I see other trainers do it all the time, and while I want to offer you that service, I feel it would be unethical for me to do so. In Oklahoma, it is illegal for anyone who is not a Registered Dietician to prescribe meal plans, specific calories, or specific macro targets. When you work with me, I will give you a recommended range of calories, let you set your own target, and we will work together to adjust based on how you feel and your results. Since I'm telling you to check all of these things, I'm just going to lay mine out for you here:
ACE-certified Personal Trainer
ACE-certified Weight Management Specialist
currently working toward AFAA Group Fitness certification with an expected completion in June (I do not need this to teach my group fitness classes, nor do I need the CECs right now; I'm doing this because it is important to me to bring you the very best in all of my classes)
Licensed Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba Kids/Kids Jr.®, and Aqua Zumba® instructor (these are all separate licenses, each requiring additional training)
Licensed MixxedFit® instructor
currently working toward STRONG Nation™ license (I have passed the e-learning section and will complete the live training on May 28)
Valid CPR/AED certification through the American Heart Association
Fitness and Wellness Insurance through Philadelphia Insurance Companies
ASCAP music license (which is not something I discussed above, but your fitness instructor or trainer, or the gym in which he or she works, must have an appropriate music license through ASCAP and/or BMI in order to legally play licensed music--in other words, all popular music)
It may seem like a lot to look at, but your health and safety are worth it. Care enough about yourself to ask. You deserve a fitness professional who does everything in her power to bring you the very best. If they aren't, then ask yourself what they are in it for if not for you.