A personal trainer is a professional who educates people about physical fitness and designs and recommends general and specific workout routines and workout techniques. Personal trainers are also referred to as “trainers,” or “PT’s” — not to be confused with athletic trainers or physical therapists, who are the original “PT’s. Personal trainers typically design exercise routines and teach physical exercises to their clients. While some personal trainers work with only one client each session (One-on-One), others also teach groups of clients (Buddy Sessions or Group Sessions).
With an understanding of exercise physiology, sports biomechanics and nutrition; personal trainers are often called upon to help with three general goals of individuals: improvement of body composition (usually involves gaining muscle mass while losing fat weight), improvement of health and exercise safety, and sports performance enhancement (usually by improving strength, speed, endurance, power, balance and agility). Experienced trainers may also be qualified to work with doctors and physical therapists for people who need help with physical dysfunction and rehabilitation, including the improvement of balance, range of motion, low back issues, knee and shoulder issues, and those released from physical therapy. A personal trainer can often act as an extension of the physical therapist outside of the medical office by continuing to manage the objectives and action plan of the physical therapist on the practice field.
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 to also include motivation, variety, exercise design, or to work toward a specific goal. And still others work with a trainer indefinitely for motivation, accountability, variety, distraction, or to ensure consistent progress. People who meet regularly with a trainer usually meet with a trainer one to three times per week and then workout on their own on the non-trainer-supervised days.
Personal trainers often also have a specific method of motivating clients. Common techniques for motivation involve attitude and personality, such as an aggressive and commanding demeanor or a more calm and supportive — always monitoring for correct technique, safety issues, incentives for reaching goals, action plan adherence 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. Personal trainers can be certified with more than one organization. Different certifications may be more fitness focused, sport specific or supportive of special populations in health and medicine. Some trainers have multiple certifications. Some trainers have advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science Degree. Even some Chiropractors and Physicians have doubled as Personal Trainers. An advanced degree develops research skills and a knowledge base that certifications do not offer in one or two-day seminars. A personal trainer with an advanced degree is better equipped to glean through research and understand individual issues and design exercises and routines, than a trainer that does not have an advanced degree. Certifications are also usually easier to pass when a personal trainer has a fitness degree or advanced degree. Although that does not mean that advanced-degree personal trainers can just walk up and pass a certification test without preparing.
Certification offers evidence of continued development of knowledge and skills as a Personal Trainer. Certification is offered by several reputable organizations, such as NASM, NSCA and ACE. 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.