You find the gym daunting, boring, or both. You can't find a group fitness class or time that works for you. You think swimming sucks and jogging is for jokers. Meanwhile, you're not getting any younger or fitter. Don't give up on exercise yet! There's another way, one that Hollywood celebrities have been using for years – the personal trainer.

Let's get physical, physical

Personal trainers can help with a range of health and fitness objectives, including weight loss, improved strength and endurance, a body toning and shaping program, or learning specialised activities or techniques.

A good fitness trainer can:

  • help you make the best use of your exercise time
  • motivate you
  • improve your technique (efficiency and safety)
  • monitor your progress
  • adjust your exercise program in response to your changing fitness level
  • offer sound information on good nutrition.

Sadly, too many trainers are a waste of time and money and you'll get no closer to achieving your objectives.

So where do you start to find the right one for your needs?

Check the qualifications

Anyone can call themselves a personal trainer, so make sure you find one who's qualified.

  • Certificate IV in Fitness – Personal Trainer is the minimum qualification. A personal trainer may also have a specialisation: older adults, children and adolescents, and/or advanced aqua training.
  • Diploma of Fitness – some Certificate IV personal trainers go on to complete this more advanced qualification.

People with an exercise science or human movement degree can register as a personal trainer if they can demonstrate they have competence in required areas.

What else to look for in a personal trainer

Registration

Registration with the health and fitness industry associations, Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia, is not essential for a personal trainer but it is a useful gauge for the client. To be members, personal trainers must be qualified, have a current industry-approved first-aid certificate, and continue their professional development. Around 60-70% of personal trainers are registered with these industry associations, which means around one in three are not.

Insurance

Personal trainers should have public liability and professional indemnity insurance. Trainers registered with Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia can access insurance through these bodies, but it's optional. Whether or not you go with a registered personal trainer, still check that they have appropriate insurance.

Putting the 'personal' in personal training

Your relationship with your trainer will be an important factor in your success. You need to be able to trust, respect and feel comfortable with your trainer.  If they don't seem genuinely interested in you and your goals, they make you feel self-conscious or embarrassed, or you just don't click, try someone else.

Questions to ask before committing to a personal trainer

  • How long have they been working as a personal trainer?
  • 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?

Run a mile ... in the other direction

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
  • want you to commit to a long-term package before you've had a chance to see if you're compatible
  • 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 dietician
  • promise immediate and spectacular results – realistically you'd expect to see some sort of improvement in around six weeks
  • don't practise what they preach – a good role model will look fit and healthy.

Cost

You can hire a personal trainer one-on-one for about $50-$90 an hour. If the trainer is happy to work with a small group, you could split the costs between a couple of friends.