Personal Trainers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


After almost 19 years in the health and fitness industry I have seen them all: from the most professional and qualified ones to those that are a downright disgrace to the training profession, and then everybody in-between. And what I see doesn’t really surprise me anymore, but what does is people’s inability to tell the difference. So here are some helpful hints that will not only tell you what to look for if you are thinking of hiring one but maybe make you think twice about the one you already have. And please, don’t tell me that you’ve had them for a while, you are used to them, you don’t like changes, they are your buddies, etc., etc. and that’s why you continue training with them because, trust me, that’s not a good enough reason.

So let’s start with the basics.


1. Although our industry is not regulated just yet (there is no licensing system) there are many educational bodies that insure proper training of Personal Trainer San Diego. Make sure they have a nationally recognized certification from a reputable organization. The best ones in the industry at the moment are:

-American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
-National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
-National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
-American Council on Exercise (ACE)
-Cooper Institute

The above organizations have operated for many years and provide the highest standards in training fitness professionals. There a few others, less known ones but the bottom line is: make sure they are accredited by NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). You can find the list of accredited organizations on their website.

2. A degree in a related field is helpful though not absolutely necessary. I have seen many excellent trainers without degrees and terrible ones with degrees. A degree of B.Sc. or M.Sc. in the field of exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics etc., gives a lot of valuable background knowledge that can be used to successfully train clients but it does NOT prepare one for a training position all by itself as the knowledge gained is mostly theoretical and not practical. Certification from one of the above mentioned organizations is still absolutely necessary.

3. Many universities now offer special certificate programs in personal training*. These are advanced, college level courses that give not only theoretical but also practical knowledge of the exercise field. Many of them count towards Master of Science degree should a trainer wish to pursue one. (One such example is UCLA Extension which for many years has been considered one of the best programs of its kind). Some require a certification as a prerequisite to enrollment.

*Note that the Certificate is not the same as Certification but after completion of a university level certificate program most students are able to successfully pass certification exams as their level of knowledge is a lot more advanced.

4. Is the trainer’s certification current?

Each organization requires a certain number of continuing education units per year. Many trainers take the exam and never renew their certifications when the time comes. Make sure their certification is current. Just go to the website of an organization your trainer is certified from and do your homework. How credible do you think a person is if they took an exam 10 years ago and their certification is long expired?

5. Continuing education – how often do they take classes, attend lectures, symposia and conferences? How much continuing education do they do per year: the bare minimum or more?

They should be able to show you their certificates of completion if requested.

6. Do they have additional certifications or training in other complementary fields like nutrition or lifestyle coaching? These are always a huge plus not only because they show a trainer’s commitment to education in many related fields but also because they will assure your needs are better addressed.


You can go to the websites of the above listed organizations and enter your zip code or a trainer’s name if you have someone in mind and want to check their credentials.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *