Personal Training vs.Training Alone (CFC Spotlight Thursdays)

With spring right around the corner, we’re all thinking about ways to get into better shape! As the specter of spring dresses and muscle tees approaches, this post will give you the inside track on how to get fit-whether you’re using a personal trainer or you’re flexing solo!

Minerva Huang is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is earning her credential in becoming a Registered Dietitian after completing her dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is also finishing her Master’s in Clinical Nutrition at New York University. You can follow her on Twitter at @minervahuang

Considering Personal Training

1. Okay first things first. How do you know if personal training is right for you? When do you think a personal trainer can be helpful to a person’s fitness goals? 

Everyone can benefit from working with a personal trainer, including personal trainers. Trainers can monitor form/technique during exercises, motivate their clients to push themselves harder, and create workouts that their clients wouldn’t otherwise do. Trainers can develop a fitness program geared towards their client’s goals, as one workout doesn’t work for everyone. Also, a major role of a trainer is to motivate and encourage their clients to keep going. When exercising alone, it is easy to take breaks or slow down when the workout starts to become a bit tough. A trainer will keep pushing clients to continue. But a trainer needs to also know their clients’ limits, as they shouldn’t push their clients to the point of extreme exhaustion. They should push enough to encourage, but also know when to ease back, as they would otherwise harm their clients.

2. What professional certifications and qualifications should a potential client look for in a personal trainer (eg. nutritionist certifications, PT-specific certifications, etc.)? What are the benefits of a PT having these qualifications/certifications?

It’s best to look for personal trainers with certifications from nationally accredited organizations or with a degree in kinesiology and/or physiology. Some well-known organizations that most fitness facilities look for are from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Council of Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). There are many more, as well as programs that offer a curriculum for trainers-to-be before providing certification, so do some research if you come across a trainer with a certification you’re unfamiliar with. Accredited organizations also offer certifications in other aspects of health, such as nutrition, weight management, corrective exercise, etc. These are all just bonuses, but do not qualify the trainer as an expert in these fields. If you are looking for more guidance, it’s best to find someone with that specialty, such as a registered dietitian or physical therapist. The benefits of having a trainer with qualifications is that the trainer had to study and pass an exam in order to attain their certification, and they have to complete a minimum number of hours of continuing education credits to maintain their credentials. Which means the trainer is educated in some science of the body and understands some kinesiology. There are many trainers who are not certified and either don’t provide any benefits to the client or is likely to cause harm instead. There are some who are very knowledgeable and don’t have qualifications, but those are rare.

 3. Often trainers/gyms will offer training sessions in a package format. In your judgment, what factors should be considered when picking a training session package (number of sessions/duration)? When should someone consider individual sessions over a packaged deal?

Packages are often provided at fitness facilities, but private trainers also offer them. When you are beginning a relationship with a new trainer, it’s best to start with a small package, or even a single session, just to see if you like working with that trainer. Many facilities also offer complimentary sessions with a trainer, so you can ask about that. If you like the first session, start with a small package to see if you still like working with your trainer. The
larger packages are best when you’re comfortable with your trainer and know you are likely going to stick with him/her for a while.

4. What are two criteria that you think every client should consider when selecting a personal trainer?

Before working with a trainer, observe how that trainer works with his/her clients. See what types of exercises are used (and if the trainer uses the same exercises for all clients or customizes different routines for every client) and observe the trainer’s behavior and personality. Chemistry is important between the trainer and client. If your personalities don’t complement each other’s, it’s a good idea to find someone else, even if you have very qualified trainer. If you don’t like working with your trainer, how will you be able to continue working with him/her?

5. Based on your experience training clients, why are some clients more successful in achieving their fitness goals than others?

A trainer can push, motivate, and come up with great exercises, but it is up to the client how much effort and commitment he is willing to give. The trainer can’t be with the client all the time. If a client’s goal is for peak performance, the trainer will help with drills and exercises, but the client needs to be willing to push himself during sessions, and be able to practice on his own. If a client’s goal is weight loss, he can’t work hard with the trainer 1-2 times a week and be sedentary the rest of the week and keep unhealthy dietary habits. Some clients expect trainers to be able to change their lives, but that is unrealistic if clients don’t make lifestyle changes themselves.

Building a Regimen On Your Own

 1. Say that I can’t afford a personal trainer, but I want to get into shape. Where should I get started? Diet? Exercise? Are there any resources you’d recommend (besides 😉 )?

Research has shown again and again that weight loss occurs best with diet and exercise. Diet is probably the primary factor in weight loss, with exercise secondary. The USDA has replaced the traditional food pyramid with MyPlate ( The idea is the make sure half of every meal is made up of vegetables (starchy veg like peas, potatoes, and corn don’t count!), ¼ protein, ¼ starch. Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate” also has its own version of healthy eating ( Food journals are great, are there are some apps that can help you track your intake, such as “LoseIt.”

For fitness, I would recommend keeping an active lifestyle every day. This doesn’t mean working out 3 hours every day, but it does mean taking the stairs instead of the elevators. Or walking (fast!) instead of taking the bus or car. You can walk around town doing errands while carrying heavy bags – maintain good form and make sure you’re not hunching or arching your back! Physical activity doesn’t need to be about gyms or marathons, it’s about moving around and not allowing modern comforts do the work for you. has good tools to help people with fitness and diet. I also like Women’s Health Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, and Competitor magazine, as they have lots of useful information. Just remember, these sources can guide you, but you’ll need to do the work!

2. What are the two BIGGEST mistakes you see being made by people working out at the gym on their own? What resources would you recommend to fix these mistakes?

Where do I start? One is poor form. When you exercise using poor form, you’re not working on the intended muscles and are instead using your already over-exerted muscles. I see lots of people at the gym who do bicep curls by throwing the free weights, using their rotator cuffs and momentum to lift the weights instead of their biceps. Or people who do crunches by tucking their chins in, working out their necks instead of their abdominals. A trainer at the gym can fix your form. The other is monotony. Some people go to the gym often, but always do the same exercises at the same pace. If your goal is to improve instead of maintain, you’ll want to constantly challenge your body by switching up your exercises every couple of weeks.

3. What are the two BIGGEST mistakes you see being made by people who diet? What resources would you recommend to fix these mistakes? 

One is people avoiding carbohydrates. Carbs provide energy in the form of glucose that is essential to all your cells for fuel, especially your brain cells. But when people say they are “cutting carbs,” they often mean starches. Carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy. Unless they are increasing their fruit + veg intake, they are likely displacing the “carbs” with extra fat and protein, which is unhealthy and can be harmful.

The other is following fad diets (Atkins, detox diet, juice cleanse, etc). Many who attempt these may lose weight, often because they’re eating less than usual or the weight loss is attributed to water weight. But some diets also have severe calorie restrictions, causing people to be famished and binge eat. And when they do eat, it’s often calorie-dense and without any nutrients – junk food. Diets don’t work and aren’t sustainable. If someone wants to lose weight or be healthier, they need to make changes to their intake that they are willing to live with. For example, don’t just eliminate sugar (besides, that’s nearly impossible because most foods have some sugar in it), but you can snack on foods without processed sugar (plain yogurt with fresh fruit) and share desserts with friends instead of eating it yourself. Small changes can make big differences, don’t expect diets to do it.

4. Is there any other advice you would give to someone considering personal training or who’s building a health/fitness plan?

Find a trainer or friend you like working with to motivate and help you. Don’t be complacent in your workouts and challenge yourself. If you’re new to fitness, don’t start too fast because you will get frustrated. Start moderately and build your endurance and strength up!

***I’ve trained with Minerva and she kicked my butt!! Are you considering using a personal trainer? Building your own diet/exercise regimen for the first time? Be sure to post comments on what questions you’d like to see answered here at ChicFitChef!*** 


About ChicFitChef

My "deserted island" checklist: a BCBG dress, a healthy & diabetic-friendly meal and a few workout DVDs. ;-)
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3 Responses to Personal Training vs.Training Alone (CFC Spotlight Thursdays)

  1. Great post! Also, I can attest to the fact that Minerva is a kick-butt trainer….

  2. Pingback: Outdoor Fitness Bootcamp in Washington Square Park (NYC)! | ChicFitChef

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