Personal Trainers

Keys to Hiring Personal Trainers

By Meghan Mowers & Peter Titlebaum

Personal trainers can come from a variety of backgrounds—from self-declared gym rats to elite athletes to trainers with a formal college education. Hiring personal trainers has become a necessity to keep up with clientele demand and competing businesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fitness trainer and instructor job openings are projected to grow 13 percent by 2022. But who is best for the job and the future of the company? With thousands of individuals all vying for the same position, narrowing down the application stack can be tedious. What is important to keep in mind is that while they all claim to be able to do the job, who can do the best job for you?

Here, you'll find key facts to assist with hiring a reliable and educated personal trainer. Applicants may call themselves personal trainers, but they may not really have the credentials. Facilities need to be aware that the lower the recognized level of certification a personal trainer possesses, the further the company opens itself to the dangers of negligence and misconduct.

Signing waivers is a common practice for most fitness industries before entering into a contract with clientele. Each waiver includes an exculpatory agreement that, when written in an unambiguous manner and stating the inherent risks, should release a company and employees from liability for negligence or wrongful acts. While these help protect the company, they aren't foolproof and don't always hold up in court. The answer to keeping a situation from going to court is simple: avoid the situation. Hiring certified personal trainers can help.

  1. Know what you want. It sounds simple enough, but this is a fact that can be overlooked. What you need dictates who you should hire and their qualifications. If you're looking for an instructor to assist in power and strength gains, hiring someone who specializes in weight loss or balance training isn't ideal. A selection of common specialties includes strength and conditioning, weight loss, balance and functional movements, and geriatrics. Depending on the trainer's certification and history, they may not be qualified for more than one focus.

  2. Hire personal trainers with acknowledged and respected certifications. Certifications for personal trainers vary depending on the host. Some lower-ranked certifications don't require follow-up education, while the more highly ranked ones require a specific number of CEUs (continuing educational units) within an allotted time to show that the trainer is current with recent material and still learning. The education requirement to be permitted to sit for the certification test also differs.

    It's important to remember that the lower the tier of certification, the lower the standard of knowledge. A retired athlete or fit individual doesn't necessarily have the know-how, either, and that can easily open a company to legal ramifications.

    Note that a single certification doesn't cover training of all individuals. Trainers possessing one of the lower ranked personal training certifications are frequently taught intervention strategies for health programs that are intended for recreational athletes. Special population training is another category all itself. Unless qualified by a highly recognized association such as the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) or American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), trainers should not be training individuals who suffer from chronic disease, are recovering from injury, are morbidly obese or have other special circumstances. Inquire as to the prospective trainer's education and work background.

  3. Set parameters for the job they are qualified to do. Even with the best of intentions, things can take a turn for the worse. In regard to the case of Capati v. Crunch Fitness International, a 37-year-old woman on hypertension medication was the client of a personal trainer working for Crunch Fitness International. She was encouraged by her trainer, who acted outside her realm of expertise, to take a variety of dietary supplements. While exercising, Capati lost consciousness and died 14 hours later due to brain hemorrhaging. Capati's trainer had failed to advise the client of possible negative health complications of the supplements while on hypertension medication. The case resulted in Crunch Fitness International and the trainer paying a settlement of $1.75 million. The trainer acted beyond her qualifications, in this case as a nutritionist, and the consequences were dire. Be sure trainers understand how to handle a similar situation to keep themselves, their clients and the company they represent safe.

  1. Insurance for reassurance. The health and fitness industry faces risks around every corner. Accidents happen, and it only takes one to ruin a company's good reputation. It is crucial that the company and its trainers have liability insurance for protection from possible claims. Trainers may obtain differing levels of liability insurance through their certification host. For example, members of the NSCA can receive coverage for $5 million against general and professional liability claims including bodily injury and property damage.

  2. A personal trainer's plan for future growth. The health and fitness industry is expanding at a rapid rate and with it, our understanding of exercise science. Does the personal trainer have plans for furthering his or her education? Revered organizations will require continual education to maintain certifications, wielding benefits for not only the trainer, but also the clients and company. However, it's important to also inquire if the trainer is pursuing alternative certifications. For example, a trainer may have attained a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the NSCA but is looking to pursue their Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS) certification as well. This added certification can prove promising in the future to train students or community members who have specific restrictions or training needs.

Hiring certified personal trainers adds not only growth to a company, but it should also aid in risk management and reduction policies. Employing just anyone as a trainer is unacceptable, even if their appearance and personal athletic background are impressive. To keep the company and clients safe, a personal trainer needs to be supported by an accredited organization to show expertise.

Editor's Note

For more discussion on certification for fitness instructors and the importance of hands-on assessments, see the article "Certifiably Safer in the Fitness Industry," on the website at

Meghan Mowers, CSCS, is a graduate of Ohio Northern University and a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) with her Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification. Currently, she is pursuing her Master's of Science in Education in Exercise Science at the University of Dayton.
Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, has more than 25 years' experience in management in the profit, nonprofit, private and public sectors. He speaks and writes on areas of networking, organizational and personal development, educating audiences to be their own advocates.

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