Last month I was sitting at my computer when I felt a sneeze coming on. Ah....ah....ah...choooo. Uh oh. As I sneezed, I popped the button on my pants. My button was on the floor three feet from my chair, looking at me as if to say, "Now you've done it fatso."

"That's it! I have got to lose weight and start exercising again," I exclaimed. "I refuse to buy new clothes because I have gained weight." So I called around to several gyms looking for one that offered personal trainers because I needed help.

Anyone, at any point in a fitness program, can benefit from consulting a certified personal trainer. Professional athletes and people like me hire trainers for various reasons and for healthful results.

People may hire trainers for:

  • Program design—build a program to help reach goals as efficiently as possible
  • Motivation—to show up for the workout and to keep the right intensity throughout the workout
  • Safety—learn how to perform exercises correctly with good form
  • Special programming for permanent or temporary conditions such as pregnancy, arthritis, injury recovery etc.
  • Boredom relief—trainers have a vast library of exercises and programs to help you find activities you can enjoy and feel challenged with.

What Should You Expect From a Personal Trainer?

In your initial meeting, the trainer should spend their time listening to your goals, exercise history, likes, dislikes, and barriers. The trainer can then use this information as well as their knowledge of exercise design to build a program specifically for you. If the trainer spends the first session talking about their cookie-cutter program or throws you into a workout without knowing your story, it may be time to look for a new trainer.

"The next step after understanding your goals, is to assess your fitness and agility," says Shawn Thiboutot, CSCS, ACSM, of Brunswick, Maine. "Your trainer may measure your percent body fat, weigh you, check blood pressure, heart rate, measure your strength, your flexibility, and your cardio fitness." The type of measurements will depend on your goals.

These initial meetings will help your trainer assess your preferences, condition, and determine the types and intensity of exercise to prescribe for you. They also give you a way to mark your progress, so expect periodic re-evaluations.

"Your trainer should give you exercises to do, teach you how to perform each exercise properly, vary your exercises regularly, and challenge and motivate you," says Thiboutot. Expect your trainer to watch your exercises for proper technique. Document your workouts so you and your trainer can track your workouts and monitor progress. Careful monitoring and observation will allow the trainer to safely push your limits for the best results.

"If you have any physical condition(s) or are rehabilitating an injury, inform your trainer," says Thiboutot. A trainer will help you adjust your program or design a new program for temporary physical conditions such as injury recovery or pregnancy. Safety precautions and balance will help you stay fit until you are back to full speed.

People with health concerns such as arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes can consult with a trainer to understand what elements of a fitness routine are most effective to them. Trainers can also monitor clients for any adverse effects to exercise common to their conditions and suggest alternatives. A fitness program can help many people with chronic conditions improve quality of life but may require some special guidelines. Always check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise routine.

Climbing Off a Plateau

Basic programming assistance is just one tool a personal trainer can offer. Many exercisers experience the dreaded plateau, a time when after experiencing great results, they suddenly have a period with little or no changes. A trainer can help you push your way beyond a plateau.

"Frequently I am consulted to help someone get beyond a plateau in their exercise routine," says Jeff Stallings, ACE, of San Francisco. "The word 'routine' is a red flag and often variation in the exercise program helps the person move on." The trainer will again use various assessment techniques to determine where the snag may be. "When someone's progress reaches a plateau," says Thiboutot, "it is important that a trainer evaluate the exercise program as well as diet, sleep pattern, stress level, and other daily activities. If the exercise program seems appropriate, it may be diet or lack of sleep that is preventing the body from progressing."

A re-vamped program, minor lifestyle changes, and new exercise techniques can have you back on track toward your goals in no time.

Should Your Trainer Provide Nutritional Counseling?

"Ethically, a trainer should not be giving clients a diet," says Thiboutot, "but should have a good understanding of general nutrition and nutritional requirements." Your trainer should ask you about your diet if your progress is less than you both expect.

"Many people drastically reduce their caloric intake when they begin a fitness program and don't give their body enough calories to lose weight," reports Jarrow. "Your trainer can help steer you in the right direction regarding nutrition or refer you to a licensed nutritionist, if necessary."

Go, Go, Go

Motivation can be tough to find in the early morning hours or after a long day of work. Having set appointments with your trainer encourages you to get up and get going. Not to mention, if you miss an appointment or call to're going to have to explain. Many would rather go to the appointment than try to slip an explanation to their trainer.

While you are working out the trainer will also be keeping any eye on your intensity level. If you are not at your best, the trainer will give you a push so that you get the most benefit for your workout. Some studies have found that people who workout with trainers do tend to see better results. Results are always very motivating!

At Home

The gym environment may not be attractive or convenient for you. Qualified trainers can train you at home if that is where you want to work out. It may be challenging to find a trainer, depending upon your location.

There are many exercise options that can be done without typical gym equipment and a creative trainer can design a program around your resources. When looking for a home trainer, ask about equipment needs and types of exercises that you will be doing in and around your home. You may need to purchase some equipment or your trainer may bring some equipment to your home.

The Right One

Above all, what you should expect from your trainer is a personal program. The trainer should be able to work with you to build a program that moves you toward your goals, suits your interests, and fits into your lifestyle. Now of course, you need to put your effort into the workouts but your program should reflect your preferences not the trainers.

To find your trainer, start by looking for appropriate certifications and education (some respected certification organizations are listed in resources below). Then look for the personality you think best fits you. Are you looking for a drill sergeant, a coach, an ultramarathoner, or a general fitness lover? Finally, talk to the trainer before your first session. During this discussion, the trainer should be listening to you, if you don't feel like you've been heard, you may be better off interviewing another trainer.

It has been four weeks since I began exercising again and I have been making progress with my trainer. I found a good one and I look forward to our sessions. I still have not sewn my button back on my pants, but I will. And I know I will have enough room for sneezing.