By Valorie Ness
Catalyst Fitness Midtown

Hiring a personal trainer to help you start a fitness regimen is a good investment in your health. Few other investments generate the guaranteed return of improved health and greater quality of life.

Among other benefits, trainers can teach you the correct way to use exercise equipment, design individualized training programs for losing excess weight, adding lean muscle or meeting other health and fitness goals, and help motivate you to incorporate exercise into your daily schedule.

However, uneducated and unqualified trainers can incite trouble. If they have limited knowledge of human anatomy and exercise physiology, their clients may experience a variety of problems; these problems range from the annoyance of unattained fitness goals to potential injury or other health complications from unsafe workout programs.

Knowing the Facts
When you begin searching for a qualified personal trainer, don’t be fooled by the numerous official-sounding certifications. Most certifying organizations are represented by acronyms, so for those who are unfamiliar with the industry, finding a qualified trainer can be a confusing task.

“The world of fitness professional certification is an alphabet soup,” says Bill Howland, director of research at the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association (IHRSA), a trade group that represents nearly 4,000 health clubs around the nation. “Not all certifications are created equal,” he notes.

Howland says many of his group’s members have complained that with so many certification programs, it’s difficult to know which trainers are truly qualified and which aren’t, who can safely work with members and who poses a big liability risk. In response, IHRSA is working with the five preeminent certifying groups to develop a system for verifying that certification standards are up to par.

Those groups are the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and Personal Trainer Academy Global (PTA Global). Only trainers who possess one of these certifications have the necessary foundation to work as knowledgeable fitness professionals.

Choosing a Trainer
The leaders of the fitness industry are confident that these measures will lead to higher qualified trainers and enable consumers to make more knowledgeable decisions about who they’re hiring to help them stay in shape.

“The shift toward a more educated body of fitness professionals is underway,” says 2007 IDEA International Personal Trainer of the Year, Bill Sonnemaker, founder of Catalyst Fitness, “but unfortunately the majority of today’s consumers cannot distinguish between qualified and unqualified personal trainers.”

Bill is helping to pioneer this movement in Atlanta by providing educational courses to trainers who desire greater knowledge and expertise.  Bill requires all trainers at Catalyst Fitness to possess a college degree and maintain at least two certifications from the five organizations mentioned above and requires them to complete an extensive internship with him to ensure proficiency.

If you are currently shopping for a personal trainer, Bill suggests adhering to the following criteria:

  • Ask if the trainer is certified by a medically recognized and accredited organization (NASM, NSCA, ACE, ACSM, PTA Global).  Good credentials and a solid educational background indicate a knowledgeable trainer.
  • Ask about the trainer’s experience. Passing an exam is only the beginning; a good trainer has experience working with clients. Has the trainer completed an Internship?  Have they worked with other people with goals or issues similar to yours (i.e. high blood pressure, diabetes, back pain, or injuries)?
  • Ask when and where the trainer last completed their continuing education; this ensures they are abreast of advancements in exercise methods. Trainers should complete at least 20 contact hours of continuing education every two years.
  • Check references to verify that other clients were satisfied.
  • Ask yourself if the trainer seems sincere. A good trainer will attend to your individual needs and goals, rather than using a cookie-cutter approach; trainers should conduct a thorough assessment (including both Static and Dynamic Postural evaluations), ask about your medical history, including past injuries, and then develop a program designed specifically for you.
  • Consider the trainer’s personality; does it complement or clash with your personality.
  • Ask what the trainer charges. Rates vary from $60 to $125 or more an hour based on location and the trainer’s level of experience.
  • Don’t automatically judge a book by its cover. It is more important to speak with trainers to determine their knowledge and ability rather than focusing on physical appearance.

For more about Catalyst Fitness, visit

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.