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A personal trainer is a health and fitness professional who is hired for private instruction. Generally thought to be a commodity afforded only to the rich and famous, personal trainers are now widely available for a variety of people with a variety of goals (and with a variety of budgets). A personal trainer will help his or her client develop and maintain exquisite physical condition by designing a specialized exercise regimen for said client.
The emphasis on personal training should come from the personal trainer's understanding of what works best for their client. It is not just about pushing someone hard, but more about working out at an effective level to achieve their goals. Many people need only one session to get them on the right track, ensure their program is balanced, and answer their questions.
Personal training is fast moving away from the image of having a personal trainer stand next to the athlete shouting at him/her to work faster/harder, without consideration of the wealth of variables that can be tweaked to ensure quick results.
Certification in the United States
Certification is offered by several reputable organizations. Certification shows a minimal standard of knowledge in the area of personal training. Different certifications may be more fitness focused or sport specific. A Certified Personal Trainer will have the letters "CPT" after his or her name. Unfortunately, anyone can start an "organization" and send out certifications. For some time this was causing significant problems within the industry including in client injuries and the loss of credibility for those within the profession.
In 2001, IHRSA, the leader in the commercial fitness club industry, asked that clubs hire only personal trainers who have earned certifications with third-party accreditation from a nationally recognized certification commission. (It is important to remember that gyms may still have risky personal trainers on staff). Of over 400 certifications in the fitness industry, less than a dozen are accredited by a third party. Most accreditors require a bachelor’s degree in a health field, examinations, CPR certifications and continuing education credits. Currently, IHRSA recognizes those organizations accredited by the National Commission for Cerifying Agencies under the National Organization for Competency Assurance.
Legitimate Certification Organizations
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) sets the knowledge base for the industry, has the most rigorous certification process, is a member of accreditation boards, and is widely considered to be the "Gold Standard" in the industry. ACSM certified professionals are also able to work with the widest variety of populations and must master the most up-to-date information in the field.
Recognized by NCCA
Third-Party Accredited, NCCA-endorsed certifications include:
- National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)
- National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
Legitimate, but Not Yet Recognized by NCCA
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- International Sport Science Assosciation (ISSA)
- Corrective High-Performance Exercise Kinesiology (CHEK) - beyond a personal training program, this requires two to four years; however, it is mentioned here because it is considered to be part of the 8 top personal training certifications.
There are several mail-order "certifications", and several certifications which have low standards of achievement. Clients should always be sure to ask where their personal trainer was certified. Programs which do not require a written test and a college degree or at least 75 hours of classroom instruction should be carefully scrutinized. 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.
Personal trainers can be certified with more than one organization. Doing so with reputable organizations is typically a good sign as different certifications focus on different populations. For example, an ACE or ACSM certification is excellent for those working with the general population. ACE and ACSM help people develop a comprehensive exercise program, lose weight, get healthier, or alleviate medical conditions. However, athletes who are already in peak condition and who are training for serious competition may benefit more from a trainer who has a certification related to athletics, such as the NSCA certification.
Other Fitness-Related Certifications
Being certified as a personal trainer does not entitle one to make any recommendations on diet and nutrition, nor can they make claims of "treating" any health condition. Personal training certifications should NOT be confused with other certifications (both of higher and lower quality) in the fitness industry, including but not limited to:
- Registered Dietitian
- Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist
- Performance Enhancement Specialist
- Health & Fitness Instructor
- ACSM Exercise Specialist
- ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist
- Corrective Exercise Kinesiologist level I –IV
- Nutrition & lifestyle Consultant level I-III
- Performance Strength Coach Level I – IV
- Post-Rehabilitation Specialist;
- Medical Exercise Specialist;
- Medical Exercise Program Director
- Sports Performance Coach;
- Club weightlifting coach
- Group Fitness Instructor Certification
- Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant Certification
- Clinical Exercise Specialist Certification
- Specialty Certification: Peer Fitness Trainer Certification Program
- Certified Athletic Trainer
Typical Personal Training Session
Health and Fitness Screening
Any reputable 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. If a personal trainer skips this step, be extremely wary.
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, and cardiovascular endurance. They rarely test for coordination. In addition, body composition (body fat) is often evaluated. Specific numerical measurements of body fat and cardiovascular health can help clients to set new goals.
Completing a Session
Not every personal trainer will match perfectly with every client, so it is important not to judge the profession based on one individual. Personal trainers have different styles, some more aggressive, some more supportive. It is therefore important for clients to "shop around".
Personal trainers will teach clients a regime, emphasizing proper form and posture to prevent injury. Good personal trainers will show clients which exercises are helpful and which are dangerous or a waste of time (such as outdated abdominal routines). They will also help the client figure out how much weight the client should be using. Be wary of a personal trainer who uses only machines. Most machines are appropriate for rehabilitation or auxiliary purposes, and only in rare cases should a program be centered strictly around machines.
- Squats, correctly performed deadlifts and lunges for legs;
- A balance of safe abdominal and lower back exercises;
Functional pushing and pulling with the arms:
- Pushes: up (military press), forward (bench press), and down (dip);
- Pulls: down (lat pull), back (rhomboid row). The "shrug" or upward pull is another exercise, however it is not recommended for beginners as it may exacerbate existing imbalances.
Auxiliary/isolation exercises can be added once a base of muscle is developed. It is impossible to see if these exercises are even advisable for at least three to six months. Functional exercises work all these body parts and significant development will be seen with functional exercises in proportion with the rest of the body. Isolation exercises may not be necessary. Still, some people naturally will find one part of their body lagging behind the rest aesthetically. Isolation exercises may include:
- Calf exercises. Bent-knee and straight-knee lift.
- Anterior and posterior deltoid exercises (shoulders)
- Bicep/Tricep exercises.
- Exercises for the glutes.
- Grip/Forearm exercises
Exercises which are inadvisable:
- Knee extensions/hamstring curls: Are more likely to create a dangerous muscular imbalance than anything else. These are therapeutic exercises for rehabilitation. Squats, lunges, and deadlifts, performed correctly, are all that is necessary without physical therapy.
- Squats performed with the knee pointing in a different direction than the toe.
- Deadlifts performed with a rounded back.
- Lat pulldowns behind the head – pulldowns should stay in front of the face.
- Hyperextension (arching) of the lower back during bench press - back should be kept against seat.
- Some Yoga positions: plow pose, "bow" or “wheel”, headstand. There is a strong movement in the yoga community to stop teaching such dangerous poses, especially given the injuries that teachers have sustained.
- Standing toe touch – do a seated stretch instead.
- Bouncing or jerking into stretches.
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 / Six Pack
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 beneath the fat.
Weight gain tends to center around the hips for women and around the belly for men. Both groups are anxious to combat the issue. In both cases, diet and exercise are the only solution. Unfortunately, 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 fads, certain forms of exercise have gotten a bad rap. Recommendations were paternalistic, treating women as if they were too delicate to do real exercises. Women were told that strength exercises would make them look beefy, were told to do over 20 repetitions, and were 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 work out like men will never 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.
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 that look and then severely cut their body fat in order make muscles appear more pronounced.
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 bulky for women can be compared to the effort that it takes in terms of weightloss to get to the undesireable 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 fat burn, which takes closer to 30 minutes of aerobic conditioning. In fact, by decreasing intensity in exchange for extra repetitions, it is possible to burn less fat. Circuit Training has been discredited. Increases in blood pressure during circuit training are artificially high and do not relate to energy expenditure.
Many “lower ab” exercises are simply ineffective and dangerous. These exercises in fact focus on the iliposas (hip flexors) as opposed to the lower abdominal region. Since the abdominals contract isotonically (together), it is impossible to focus on one single portion of the abdominal muscle group. 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.
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 $100 an hour per session. Many fitness 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.
- Accreditation for personal training certification programs at International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association
- National Commission for Cerifying Agencies
- Exercise Prescription on the Net Great Resource for Exercises
-  Certifications
- Free Personal Training Community On Line
- Exercise Club for Professionals
- Personal Trainer Toronto Area, Ontario
- UK Government-backed registration scheme
- Qualified and insured UK personal trainers directory
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