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Working one-on-one with a trainer used to be the province of elite athletes, or the rich and famous. No more. Personal training has been rising in popularity of late, with the fitness training market predicted to grow 14% from 2022 to 2032, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That growth is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations, the agency said.
The popularity of personal trainers isn’t limited to the United States, either. The global personal fitness trainer market was worth about $41.8 billion in 2023, and market research firm Future Market Insights predicts it will soar to $65.5 billion by 2033.
Why is personal training so widespread today? Experts say it’s due to a variety of factors, including rising obesity rates, the growing awareness of the benefits of being fit and the large number of people who find it difficult to maintain an exercise regimen on their own. A growing body of research also suggests working out with a personal trainer has a variety of benefits.
Gym members who trained under a personal trainer rather than solo saw significantly greater improvements in lean body mass and other aspects of fitness, according to one 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Older veterans with numerous diseases and medical conditions reduced their medication usage while under the tutelage of a personal trainer, according to a 2020 study published in Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. And a 2017 study found that participants in small-group exercise led by a shared personal trainer — who also provided individualized training — reported more energy, better health, greater self-confidence with exercising and improved life satisfaction.
The two biggest benefits from hiring a personal trainer, though, whether you’re an exercise newbie or a pro, are accountability and motivation, said Mary Wing, a certified personal trainer and performance coach with the fitness app Future.
“Having someone there to motivate you and hold you accountable to show up and complete your workouts is huge,” said Wing, who is based in Sanford, North Carolina, but trains her clients virtually.
Note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
How to get started
Intrigued? Before rushing to sign up for some sessions, do your research. Personal training can be done in a gym, outdoors, in your home or virtually, so think about which option works best with your personality and lifestyle.
Gyms require a membership, for example, and personal training is typically an additional charge. Outdoor or home-based training may be more to your liking and convenience, while virtual training offers the most flexibility, as it can be done anywhere, even while traveling.
The trainer you select should be certified through a reputable credentialing agency, such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the American College of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise. These groups require several weeks of education and training, after which you must pass a test. Lesser-quality organizations may simply require a few hours of reading, followed by an online test.
“Double-check their certifications and do some diving into their background,” Wing said. Many coaches are certified in multiple areas, for example — think nutrition or prenatal and postnatal fitness — providing an extra benefit.
It’s also wise to inquire about a coach’s experience. “If you’re older, have diabetes or have issues with your joints or heart, it’s worth asking if they’ve trained anybody like you,” said Allan Misner, a certified personal trainer in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Misner, who specializes in training older adults and is host of the “40+ Fitness” podcast, said it can be challenging to find a personal trainer in a big-box gym who has a training specialty. “That’s because they have to work with whoever walks in the door,” he said. “But people over 40 might have achy knees or backs, or muscle imbalances, that take care and understanding.”
You’ll also need to feel comfortable with your trainer, as the experience is somewhat intimate. Interview a few before selecting one. The trainer should always ask about your goals and listen carefully to your responses. Someone hoping to run a marathon, for example, will need different coaching than someone who is hoping to sit on the floor and play with a grandchild.
It’s also important to know your training style. Are you looking for someone who will hold your hand through your workouts, or someone who is more of a drill sergeant? You, in turn, need to be clear about your preferences and expectations.
“These are customized programs, so clients have to let me know what they’re looking for,” Wing said. “I can’t guess. Do you need more motivation? A daily check-in? You’re paying the money, so you should be open about it.”
Weight loss is the top goal for most of their clients, said Wing and Misner. If that’s yours as well, you’ll need to be realistic. It’s not healthy to attempt to lose, say, five pounds a week, Wing said. And exercise alone won’t cause you to lose weight, Misner added.
“I can’t exercise the weight off of you, especially if you’re in your 50s or 60s,” he said. “If weight loss is your goal, it’s better to see a nutritionist.”
Beware of these red flags
Once you’ve selected your trainer, there are a few red flags to watch for. While you want a trainer who will push you, it has to be within reason.
“Gentle nudges that get you slightly outside your comfort zone are good,” Misner said. “But if they’re trying to push you harder and harder, that can be a problem.”
Wing said a good trainer will always listen to feedback, too. If clients say an exercise was uncomfortable or they just didn’t like it, the trainer should not keep prescribing that exercise.
In the end, though, hiring a personal trainer can be a safe and effective way to achieve a healthier life, which is the main goal.
“Real fitness isn’t about how much you can lift or how fast you can run,” Misner said. “I want to be able to open my own jars, wipe my own butt when I’m 105 and do all of the things I enjoy doing for the rest of my life. Real fitness is about living the life you deserve to live.”
Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who specializes in hiking, travel and fitness.
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