August 12th, 2008
The Free Encyclopedia
A personal trainer is a professional who educates people about physical fitness. Personal trainers are also referred to as “trainers,” but should not be confused with “athletic trainers”. Personal trainers typically design exercise routines and teach physical exercises to their clients. While some personal trainers work with only one client each session, others also teach groups of clients.
Personal trainers typically work with clients to improve body composition (weight loss or muscle gain). They may also be hired for more specific goals, such as an increase in strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, or flexibility. Some trainers are qualified to improve sports performance, including speed and power. While not as common, some trainers may also be qualified to work with people who need help with physical dysfunction, including the improvement of balance, range of motion, knee and shoulder issues, and those released from physical therapy (please see “applicable populations” below and check the certification of your fitness professional).
Personal trainers work with clients on several time intervals. Some clients meet for a single session to answer questions and to develop an exercise program (or to ensure that their existing program is balanced). Others prefer to work with a trainer for several months for the purposes of motivation, variety, exercise design, or to work toward a specific goal. And still others work with a trainer indefinitely for motivation, accountability, variety, or to ensure consistent progress.
Personal trainers often also have a specific method of motivating clients. Common techniques for motivation include demeanor (some trainers have an aggressive and commanding demeanor; others are more calm and supportive); incentives for reaching goals; and positive re-framing or visualization.
A certified personal trainer is a personal trainer who has met the standards of a particular certifying agency. A Certified Personal Trainer will have the letters “CPT” after his or her name.
Certification shows a minimal standard of knowledge in the area of personal training (citation needed). Personal trainers can be certified with more than one organization. Different certifications may be more fitness focused or sport specific. Often certifications have a particular focus in terms of population, so in some circumstances multiple certifications may expand the ability of a trainer.
Certification is offered by several reputable organizations. Most respected certification programs require that a comprehensive test be taken in person to verify identity. In addition, any reputable program will require both CPR certification and at least ten hours of continuing education per year. A college degree is not the same as certification.
You can locate and compare certified personal trainers using the trainer locator tool found at http://www.personaltrainer.cc. The locator tool allows you to review a trainers certifications, education and experiences. You can also use this resource to compare ceritifcation associations as well as contact any of the personal trainers directly without paying a fee or giving up your personal information.
Target populations in the United States of America
In the strictest definition of a “certified personal trainer” as certified by most agencies in the United States of America, a personal trainer is only qualified to work with healthy populations for the purposes of improving body composition (that is, losing weight or gaining muscle). Most certifications will require that a trainer refer those who do not fall into the category of otherwise “healthy” individuals (for example, subjects with injury, advanced or young age, or with diseases) to a doctor before they work with a trainer.
While there are limitations on which populations a “certified personal trainer” (in the strictest sense) may work with, there are some exceptions. Some programs qualify personal trainers to work with a larger percentage of the population. At the same time, many fitness professionals who have a degree in the field (and are therefore qualified to work with a wider group of people) are often referred to as personal trainers despite their credentials. Some higher-level certifications which require a degree, such as ACSM Health and Fitness Instructor, are able to deal with certain diseases (please consult your doctor).
In the USA, personal trainer certifications are accredited by NCCA, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.
Certification and accreditation in the United States
Prior to 2001, there was little oversight into the certification of fitness professionals in the United States. As a result of both injuries and death due to personal trainers who were considered to be certified, the attention of the fitness industry turned towards the agencies who granted certification. Some of these agencies granted a certification without teaching or testing the knowledge base of the applicant; in other words, many agencies granted a certification in exchange for money, without assessing the applicant’s knowledge.
In 2001, IHRSA, the leader in the commercial fitness club industry, required that clubs hire only personal trainers who have earned certifications with third-party accreditation from a nationally recognized certification commission. Of over 400 certifications in the fitness industry, fewer than a dozen are accredited by a third party. Most accreditors require in-person examinations, CPR certifications and continuing education credits.
Currently, IHRSA recognizes organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies under the National Organization for Competency Assurance, or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education.
Some clubs – especially private clubs or those in remote areas – do not follow the guidelines established by IHRSA. This is often either because of a limited number of trainers available in the area or because the gym is not aware of the IHRSA guidelines.
Critics of the NCCA mention that more of a practical component should be tested. Still, the NCCA itself attempts to establish a minimal level of acceptable knowledge, and it is difficult to have reliable and consistent means of testing practical ability across the country. However, some organizations have elected to go beyond the minimal level by including practical and theoretical testing.
List of accredited certifications in the USA
NCCA is one of the third-party accreditation bodies for personal training certifications in America. NCCA also serves as the accrediting body for other health professions (see “Role of the NCCA” below) The following is a current list of all NCCA-endorsed certifications as of July 20, 2007. These are certifications that met minimal requirements to receive the NCCA accreditation. This list may be helpful both to potential clients of a personal trainer or to those considering a career in this field. (This list is an alphabetical listing.)
* American Council on Exercise ACE
* American College of Sports Medicine ACSM
* Cooper Institute CI
* National Academy of Sports Medicine NASM
* National Strength & Conditioning Association NSCA
* National Council on Strength and Fitness NCSF
* National Federation of Professional Trainers NFPT
IHRSA’s recommendation for accreditation for fitness certification organizations includes entities approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. There are currently no accredited personal training certifications for either agency.
Many of these agencies also offer advanced certifications to those who hold a degree in the field.
Signs of inadequate certifications
Deaths and injuries due to improperly certified trainers lead to the standard of accreditation for legitimate certifications. Still, there are guidelines which are helpful for identifying inadequate certifications:
There must be some test of the knowledge of a trainer in order to indicate that he or she knows legitimate or safe exercise principles. Potential trainers must provide photo identification during a supervised exam to ensure that the correct person is taking the test and that the person does not consult materials in order to pass the exam. The test must change with each exam (some internet companies allow potential trainers to keep taking the same simple test until they pass.)
Certification must only be granted to those with a CPR certification, and legitimate agencies require continuing education each year.
In general, for those who live in the United States, it is safest to make note of the list of accredited certifications, as these companies have proven their safety and legitimacy to a third party.
Typical personal training session
Health and fitness screening
Typically a personal trainer will first do a health screen to make sure the client is clear for exercise. If necessary, a doctor’s consent may be obtained. A waiver is typically signed to release the personal trainer of legal obligations.
Personal trainers will usually proceed through an intake evaluation, either verbal or written, to identify goals and concerns. Fitness testing may follow, usually measuring indicators of physical fitness. These tests may include tests of strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, and postural abnormalities. In addition, body composition (body fat) is often evaluated. Specific numerical measurements of body fat and cardiovascular health can help clients to set specific goals.
Completing a session
For the typical requirements of a client seeking a change in body composition, a complete routine will include a warm up, dynamic (not ballistic) range-of-motion movement (static stretching is no longer placed before exercise), strength exercises and/or cardiovascular exercise, a cool down, and static stretching. Many trainers will add supplemental exercises.
Most trainers will complete a session by running through the exercises they have selected for that day, selecting how much weight the client should be using, and explaining how many repetitions and sets a client will perform.
Balancing the body
If there are postural issues, a trainer may add exercises for the rotator cuffs, shoulders, etc. These are used to correct existing abnormalities, and at times may be used even up to a month before beginning the more basic exercises in order to prevent injury. Postural exercises include:
* External rotation for the rotator cuff muscles
* Abduction for the supraspinatus (most frequently injured rotator cuff muscle)
* Cap pushups for the subscapularis (holds shoulder blade to torso)
* Gluteal activation exercises, such as supine bridge (maximus), side-to-side x-band walks (minimus, medius).
* Pelvic stabilization (with posterior tilt in spine, leg lowering, dragon flags; in most exercises, however, spine should be in neutral position)
* Lower trapezius exercises (holds shoulder blade in proper, lowered position)
* Posterior deltoid (tends to be weak while anterior deltoid tends to be overworked.)
* For some clients, forearm and gluteal exercises may be necessary to correct imbalances.
Trainers who do not use machines
Some trainers begin all clients on machines and rely on machines for progress. However, many fitness professionals believe that machines force the joints to work with a fixed axis, which can cause injury over time. They also believe that certain machines lead to injury, especially in people who arrive at the gym with pre-existing knee or shoulder problems. In addition, these trainers also believe that the body should be exercised using its natural movement patterns (instead of machines). They claim that this helps the body to use all the muscles in coordination to promote stabilization and a balance of strength within each muscle group. Proponents of free weights favor the ability to use more variation to change the stimulus on the muscle and the ability to perform certain exercises which are not possible with machines. These trainers typically only use machines with cables.
Body building versus functional training
The traditional body building structure is to work specific body parts on specific days, training every body part once or perhaps twice a week. These workouts typically include repetitions of 12 or more, often performed to failure.
The Functional Theory of exercise emphasizes compound movements instead of training body parts. Functional trainers note that the biceps are involved when a row or lat pulldown is performed, so insist that it is not possible nor necessary to isolate a specific body part. Certain compound exercises are considered basic and primary in everyday life, replicating functional movement.
* Quadricep dominant movements such as the Squat or lunge.
* Hip dominant movements such as correctly performed deadlifts or step-ups;
* The use of the abdomen to resist movement, balanced with lower back exercises;
Functional pushing and pulling with the arms:
* Pushes: up (military press), forward (bench press);
* Pulls: down (lat pull), backward (rhomboid row).
Variations on these basic movements are typically used exclusively for the first year, with the exception of exercises (such as external rotations) used to balance the body. After the first year or so, when the shape of the body trained through compound movements begins to emerge, the workout is typically centered with roughly 80% or more of the foundational exercises, 20% isolations.
Functional trainers also tend to train all muscle fibers, working in the 3-20 range instead of limiting their range to 12 or above.
While many of the main aspects of functional theory are supported with scientific research, many feel that some functional trainers depart too much from the main aspects of the theory with their overemphasis on work for the core (abdominals and lower back) and balancing on unstable surfaces without scientific evidence to support the use of unstable surfaces in otherwise healthy people.
Exercises which are inadvisable:
* Any movement that causes pain – see a trained professional to identify muscular imbalances, soft tissue issues in need of release, or other issues.
* Lat pulldowns behind the head – pulldowns should stay in front of the face. Can cause shoulder damage.
* Upward Row – can cause serious shoulder problems.
* Deadlifts performed with a rounded back. (Gradual damage to spine, resulting in chronic injury).
* Squats performed with the knee pointing in a different direction than the toe. Squats, performed correctly, are a very safe exercise which is excellent for training the body both therapeutically and aesthetically.
* Some Yoga positions: plow pose, “bow” or “wheel”, headstand. There is a strong movement in the yoga community to stop teaching such poses, especially given the injuries that teachers have sustained.
* Standing toe touch – do a seated stretch instead. While acute injury is unlikely, this will, overtime, create chronic injury.
* Bouncing or jerking into stretches, which is called ballistic stretching. A better alternative is dynamic stretching before a workout, with static stretching after.
* Hyperextension (arching) of the lower back during bench press – during a bench press, the shoulder blades should be pulled together and down. The back may curve slightly, but the back should not be curving as a result of using an inappropriately heavy weight.
* Knee extensions: Thorough training of biomechanics, such as a degree in physical therapy is advisable before pursuing this exercise. May create a dangerous muscular imbalance if used without proper education. Many of those with knee pain have existing muscle imbalances including a highly developed rectus femoris (which is trained with this exercise) and weak vastus medialis oblique (which is inhibited in this exercise). Knee extensions are therapeutic exercises for rehabilitation or imbalance and may simple cause knee injury in others. Squats variations, lunges and other single-leg movements, and bent-knee deadlifts can be performed instead.
When in doubt, visiting a personal trainer is the simplest way to design a program and answer questions.
Personal training myths
These are common misconceptions that personal trainers should not subscribe to in designing exercise programs.
Spot reduction is the belief that a focus of exercises in one particular area will stimulate weight loss in that area. This is commonly misrepresented through television ads claiming to reduce weight around certain areas of the body using particular products. Weight loss is a function of energy expenditure, energy consumption age, sex, and genetics. Therefore, fat will be lost throughout the body based on an individual’s body chemistry. Regardless of how many crunches or sit-ups performed, strength exercises only work the muscles deep or superficial to the fat.
There is a false perception that stretching an area will slim it down. This perception often originates in those who attend yoga classes and falsely believe that yoga is strictly stretching. People lose weight through yoga because of the calories burned through the activity, not the stretches themselves.
Women and workouts
Largely because of exercise trends (especially as advertised in the media), women have been told that strength exercises make them look bulky, that they should do over 20 repetitions, and are given less effective routines.
Women on average naturally start out a with less muscle mass and more fat mass than men. They don’t have nearly as much testosterone. Women who strength train like men will not achieve a bulky physique, as it is physiologically impossible except with the rarest genetics. Even then, years of effort are necessary in order to bulk up. For women who do not weight lift, the bulky look is simply fat. In fact, female athletes who lift heavy weight tend to appear smaller than the average woman.
Without steroids, any effort on the part of women to bulk up will result in a physique similar to the muscle tone of models frequently seen on the front of popular fitness magazines. Natural female bodybuilders attain a look similar to a supermodel, and then severely cut their body fat in order make muscles appear more pronounced and achieve their signature ripped look. This cutting is done within weeks of the competition and cannot be sustained long-term. It requires dangerously low caloric intakes, supplementation, and complete dedication every hour of the day. It is extremely dangerous, and it is not uncommon for women to faint the day of the event. In other words, looking cut is extremely difficult.
For women, getting bulky takes an immense amount of effort and dedication. As a point of comparison: Generally speaking, people who lose weight are not concerned about losing so much weight that they start to look emaciated. Getting cut for women can be compared to the effort that it takes in terms of weightloss to get to the undesirable underweight status.
Higher repetitions stimulate fat loss
The general belief is that by increasing the number of repetitions of a particular exercise performed, the amount of fat loss will be increased as well. This is false. Fat requires oxygen to burn, and the extra 20-30 seconds of an increased set duration is not enough to stimulate significant fat burn. In fact, by decreasing intensity in exchange for extra repetitions, it is possible to burn less fat.
The “lower ab” area is a misnomer, as there is no true “lower ab” muscle. When people exercise the lower abdominals, they are typically using a variety of different muscle groups, including the hip flexors. Many “lower ab” exercises can be ineffective and dangerous. These exercises can focus on the iliposas (hip flexors) as opposed to the lower abdominal region. The function of the lower abs is to curl the spine, bringing the pelvis toward the chest. Exercises which involve lying on the floor and raising straight legs from the floor towards the ceiling not only potentially dangerous for the back, but are less effective for lower abdominal work. Simply keeping legs raised and curling the lower spine off the floor is sufficient. As mentioned, working out the lower abs will not decrease the fat in that area.
Working on pelvic stimulation is a different matter altogether. The abdominals serve to stabilize the spine, counteracting the muscles of the back which pull the hips in the anterior direction (the top of the hip girdle appears to move forward and downward, which makes the abdomen and gluteal region appear larger). By working on stabilization with the hips oriented in the posterior direction (where the pubis appears to move forward and upward) and building strength, the pelvis can be reoriented back to its natural position. As an example, the client may lay supine on the floor with bent knees. The hips are then tilted posteriorly, so that the lower back is flat on the floor. The client then attempts to maintain contact between the lower back and the floor while lowering first one, then both legs down to the floor.
Fees in the United States
Most personal trainers charge either a flat per-session fee or an hourly fee. However some may charge a monthly, or even yearly fee.
It is rare to find personal training services for under $20 per hour except in rural areas. Although celebrity personal trainers charge thousands of dollars, typically charges are closer to the range of $60 to $150 an hour per session.
Many fitness programs and centers offer promotions that include a series of diet and exercise routines, typically involving a few sessions with a personal trainer, and often personalized workout programs.