• melinda rocha acsm personal trainer certification


I’m going to be working with a personal trainer!” Yup, it’s that time of year! With the drop of the ball, improving health and wellness becomes a priority, and hiring a personal trainer seems to be on everyone’s agenda.

The Backstory

2011. I was in graduate school for Physical Therapy when a classmate recommended I get my certification to become a personal trainer, “just to have it.” Being competitive, I decided to take the hardest exam with the lowest passing rate, “just because.”

I passed, took my pretty piece of paper with the fancy foil border and lettering and filed it away with no intention of actually using it. Nine months later, after being let go from my job, I put that CPT to work ASAP!

In my first year as a personal trainer, I learned several idiosyncrasies of this industry. The one I found most disturbing was the inconsistency in pay and opportunity for trainers regardless of experience and education. I was also surprised (and in many instances, appalled) at how little the general public knew about screening a personal trainer, paying whatever was asked from them and assuming much from this blind-faith hire. I observed people even pay UNCERTIFIED “trainers” who claimed to know all things fitness simply because they looked the part!

I thought, what other profession works like this, with people dishing out large sums of money for a specialty service and not exercising a higher level of due diligence?

Ergo lies my heart behind writing this article.

Why Hire a Personal Trainer?

The first criteria in hiring a personal trainer should be your purpose. When someone tells me, “I’m working with a personal trainer,” my response is typically, “Why?”

As much as I encourage ANY step towards improving one’s health, clarifying THE ROLE of the personal trainer is important. Sometimes, the answer is not as clear or legitimate as it should be. In some cases, hiring a personal trainer may not always be the first or best choice in achieving a fitness goal. For example, someone who struggles with nutrition may consider starting with a nutritionist or a meal-prep service before focusing on exercise.

In my opinion, good reasons to hire a personal trainer would include:

  • Having little or no prior experience exercising or working with weights
  • Hitting a plateau
  • Needing additional accountability, motivation, and/or support
  • Wanting to learn more about specific types of training
  • Enjoying workouts with a personal trainer

Poor reasons to hire a personal trainer would be:

  • The gym pressure-sold you into working with one
  • You won’t workout unless you hire someone
  • You assume hiring one will motivate you to exercise because you spent the money
  • Because you’re lonely (don’t laugh… it’s true)

These reasons lack accountable to yourself and your purpose in improving your fitness. Without an internal driving force, ultimately you will quit and have wasted energy, time, and money in the process. With your WHY in mind, you can intentionally seek someone who connects with your purpose, essentially making it his/her purpose as well.

Not All Trainers Are Created Equal

The second criteria is the personal trainer’s credentials. I’m not just talking about certification, but that’s a good place to start.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) sets the standards for accreditation, ensuring the health, wellfare, and safety of the public. Nine NCCA accredited programs for certified personal trainers are listed in the Institute for Credentialing Excellence directory. Out of the nine, the ones most recognized in personal training are:

Several others are widely accepted, but these are the top four I endorse.

That being said, being a CERTIFIED personal trainer doesn’t necessarily mean one is QUALIFIED. Sadly, there are many trainers who hold gold standard certifications yet possess little applicable knowledge and demonstrate poor practical skills. In addition, the education standards for the profession as a whole are surprisingly low, with most certifications requiring a minimum of a high school diploma and recertification CEC’s throughout one’s career.

Interviewing Your Potential Hire

As aforementioned, it astounds me how many people pay for personal training BLINDLY. Considering the amount of money invested in something as important as health, I feel a client should be confident in the qualifications of his/her personal trainer.

Assessing a trainer’s qualification beyond the certification may be challenging for someone not familiar with the industry, but these questions will help you make an informed decision:

  • What is your education? This does not necessarily mean a college degree but rather how trainers stay up-to-date on the latest research and improve their practical skills. Do they keep up with their CEC’s? Do they attend fitness conferences? Do they collaborate with other reputable health and wellness professionals in and outside of the area (not just the same facility and the same staff)?
  • Do you have professional endorsements? An excellent personal trainer will be endorsed by other excellent fitness professionals. As competitive as the industry is, the best personal trainers work WITH the best in many areas of fitness. They will not just be focused on growing his/her own personal training business but rather seek to collaborate with others to find the best solutions to help the general public. A good personal trainer should be able to reference other fitness professionals for an endorsement.
  • Can you provide client testimonials? Practically speaking, it is rare for someone to want to work with me based on my certification and professional references. 99% of my new referrals come from satisfied clients who have achieved and surpassed their goals in fitness. Not only have they reached their goals, they remain faithful to their regimen and continue to refer me even years after I have stopped seeing them! Those types of relationships are a sign of an excellent personal trainer who can truly connect with her clients.

Do not be afraid to ask these questions. Be confident with the answers before signing the contract. Remember, the personal trainer works for you, not the other way around.

Personal Relationship With Professional Results

Lastly, this criteria separates the best personal trainers from the pack and that is having an exceptional ability to balance a personal coaching relationship with professional results. You can only assess this over time based on your own personality and goals, but this should be apparent through professional endorsements and client testimonials.

I could write a whole book on what makes a great coach but specific to the personal trainer / client relationship, these particular qualities have helped me grow a successful in-person and online training business:

  • Integrity – I am a walking billboard of my business. I am my own brand and practice what I preach.
  • Honesty – I am not afraid to tell a client the truth about his/her journey. I am also not afraid to receive feedback from a client as to how I am doing as a trainer.
  • Trustworthiness – My clients can depend on me to show up and give 100% every time, even if they are not feeling their best.
  • Ability to Connect – This is an invaluable skill, one I continually work on. I don’t connect with every client, but I recognize when that occurs and refer clients to other trainers who may be a better fit while still maintaining an excellent relationship with that person.
  • Ability to Give Tough Love – I’ve been told this is my greatest character trait. I’m not sure if I consider it a great thing to have because I’ve probably hurt a lot of feelings, but clients come back for more, so I guess if it’s not broke…

A great coaching relationship will ALWAYS lead to great results.


An excellent personal trainer takes the profession seriously. Pay attention to things like how he/she dresses, speaks, and carries themselves in the gym, in the community, and in their personal lives.

Rates for personal trainers vary greatly depending on the area and the facilities. Expensive trainers aren’t necessarily the best nor do cheaper ones mean the quality of training will be poor. I would be leery of any personal trainer charging $15-20/session. Extremely low fees may be a trainer’s way of staying competitive, but think about any person getting paid below their worth… how well will that person really do the job?

My personal philosophy is people will find a way to pay for high quality training if the goal is important. For reference, as a freelance trainer, my charges range from $55-$100 per session, $250-$300/month for online coaching.

If you decide a personal trainer is not for you but you still need guidance and support, consider joining group training classes or specialty gyms. Now is the time many facilities are running membership sales and Groupon discounts. If you can, try several! You may discover you love kickboxing, Tabata, or CrossFit when you had never considered it before.

Online resources can also be a great tool. Many excellent professionals share high quality FREE content on websites and social media platforms. Just remember, the SAME 3 CRITERIA I mentioned apply to whom you follow and take advice from online.

Ultimately, I believe a personal trainer’s job isn’t to keep you forever as a client but rather to help you achieve your goals, teach you along the way how to keep those results for a lifetime, and to inspire and encourage you to become a better version of yourself each and every day. If you decide to hire one, a personal trainer will become a very important part of your journey so make your choice wisely!


About the Author:

Melinda Rocha is a leadership coach and fitness professional based in Washington, DC. She graduated from the University of Michigan with her B.S. in Cellular/Molecular Biology and completed doctorate coursework at the University of St. Augustine Health Sciences. Her passion is helping others overcome obstacles of their past in order to live fully in their present and achieve their fullest future potential.

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