Choosing a personal trainer

Look for someone who's qualified, registered and with good interpersonal skills.
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01 .Choosing a personal trainer

Personal training should be a holistic, lifestyle approach to health and fitness — not just having someone make you run around for an hour! A good personal trainer can:

  • Help you make the best use of your exercise time. Woman with personal trainer
  • Help motivate you.
  • Help you with technique (efficiency and safety)
  • Monitor your progress
  • Adjust your exercise program in response to your changing fitness level
  • Offer sound information on good nutrition
  • Vary your exercise options to keep you motivated, interested and enjoying your workouts.

Objectives can include:

  • Fat/weight loss
  • Body toning and shaping
  • Strength and endurance training.
  • Fitness training.
  • Flexibility exercises.
  • Specific forms of exercise, such as boxing for fitness, yoga or Pilates.
  • Programs for children, adolescents and older adults (if the trainer is appropriately qualified). 

Training and qualifications

Good personal trainers will have completed:

  • Education in the foundations of good health and exercise, including human anatomy and physiology; biomechanics (body movement), posture and flexibility; nutrition for health and performance; and exercise physiology.
  • Instruction in fitness assessment, designing exercise programs, exercise instruction (including the use of equipment such as exercise balls) and a range of activities.
  • Skills and knowledge updates through continuing education programs, subscribing to relevant professional journals and conducting research.

Many personal trainers have completed a Certificate IV in Fitness qualification, specialising as a personal trainer. Alternatively, they may have done an exercise science or human movement degree at university, which would allow them to register as a personal trainer with the relevant association of fitness professionals if they can demonstrate they have competence in required areas. Without this competency evaluation, though, a sports-related degree on its own doesn’t guarantee a competent personal trainer because they may not have covered all aspects of designing and delivering personalised programs.

A Certificate IV in Fitness also contains elective specialisations in older adults, children and adolescents, and advanced aqua training. It’s not unusual for a personal trainer to have expertise in one or more of these areas — which may be appropriate for you — in addition to personal training.

Registration and insurance

  • Around 60–70% of personal trainers are registered with Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia, which are health and fitness industry associations.
  • Requirements for registration as a personal trainer include a Certificate IV in Fitness (Personal Trainer) or equivalent, and a current industry-approved first-aid certificate; continuing education (or professional development) credit points are required to maintain registration every two years.
  • Some personal trainers choose not to register as one, yet may be just as experienced and knowledgeable as a registered trainer. But unless you’re experienced and knowledgeable enough to judge this for yourself, you’re better off playing it safe with a registered trainer.
  • Personal trainers should also have public liability and professional indemnity insurance. Trainers registered with Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia have access to insurance through these bodies, though it’s optional.


Steer clear of personal trainers who:

  • Can’t or won’t provide proof of professional credentials and insurance.
  • Can’t or won’t give references.
  • Try to get you to commit to a long-term package before you’ve had a chance to see if you’re compatible.
  • Sell or insist you use dietary supplements, such as protein powders, amino acid concoctions or vitamin supplements, or magic weight loss formulas. Occasionally some of these things may be appropriate, but do your own research on them and then buy them from a shop if you’re still interested.
  • Advocate useless or dangerous exercise or weight loss techniques, including passive exercise devices (such as abdominal electric shock devices or vibrating belts) and procedures that cause fluid loss such as saunas, wraps or fasting to give the impression of weight loss (but which in fact will largely make you lose water for a time, not fat).
  • Advise you in areas where they’re not qualified — for example, for in-depth nutrition advice and special diets, they should refer you to an accredited practising dietitian.
  • Promise immediate and spectacular results — realistically you’d expect to see some sort of improvement in around six weeks.
  • Don’t look as though they practise what they preach — a good role model will look fit and healthy.

Whether you decide to go with a registered or unregistered personal trainer, it’s in your interests to check they have appropriate insurance.

  • Fitness Australia is the national health and fitness industry association. It's a not-for-profit, member-based association: 1300 211 311,
  • Physical Activity Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which works with the fitness industry to promote physical activity and active lifestyle. (03) 8320 0100,

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02.Questions and checklists


Once you’ve established their professional credentials — that is, that they’re qualified, registered and insured as a personal trainer — it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Questions to ask

  • How long have they been working as a personal trainer? Woman boxing
  • What sort of clients have they had/do they have, and what sort of results have they helped them achieve? Ask for references and make sure you contact the referees. Ask them about the trainer’s good and bad (if any) points, how the trainer helped them achieve their goals, and their overall experience with them.
  • When are they able to exercise with you, and do these days/times suit you?
  • How much does it cost per hour or session (per person if there are two or more of you)? Are there packages available? If the session takes place in a gym, does the fee include entry to the gym (unless you’re already a member)?
  • How do you pay (cash, credit card, direct debit etc) and how often (by the session, or do you have to commit yourself to paying for a block of sessions)?
  • How much does the initial consultation cost? Is there a complimentary workout session (or a discount on the first week, say) to establish whether you suit each other?
  • How much notice do you need to give for cancellation, and what are the penalty fees?
  • What sort of exercise options do they offer? Is it based in the open air (local park or beach), at your home or in a gym?
  • If they’re not registered, are they qualified in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? (Being up-to-date in these areas is a requirement of registration).
  • How long is a session? What do you need to bring?

The first meeting

Your first meeting will ideally take the form of a consultation and fitness test, not a full-on workout. This is to allow the personal trainer to devise an appropriate program for you. Ask in advance what will happen at this session, but you’d expect something along the following lines:

  • They’ll ask you about your overall health and health history, including illnesses and injuries, family history and diet and nutrition issues; your health and fitness goals; and what sort of activities you enjoy.
  • If you’re over 40, haven’t exercised for a long time, are overweight or have a chronic medical condition, they should recommend you get medical clearance before starting an exercise program.
  • They should assess your current fitness, which may include cardio-respiratory function tests; weight, height and body fat measurements; posture, flexibility and muscular strength.

Personal relationship

Boxing practiseYou need to be able to trust, respect and feel comfortable with your personal trainer, so your personal relationship is an important factor in your success. If they don’t seem genuinely interested in you and your goals, make you feel overly self-conscious or embarrassed or you just don’t click, it might be best to try someone else.

More obvious problems include an intimidating manner, a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality, unreliability (being late for appointments or cancelling at short notice), a tendency to overwhelm you with jargon, or being more interested in your wallet than you.

If, on the other hand, they’re friendly and likable, inspire your confidence in them and in yourself, communicate well, ask you plenty of questions and are happy to answer yours, and are generally pleasant to spend your time with, you’re more likely to get a lot more out of your sessions.

Remember, you are paying them, so it’s your choice as to whether you carry on with them.