Harvard Medical School's special report, "Strength and Power Training: A Guide for Adults of All Ages," published in 2007, points out the importance of hiring a certified personal trainer to help you develop a well-rounded routine.
In addition to suggesting a well-rounded strength-training routine, a good personal trainer can tailor it to your profile and goals. Personal trainers help clients avoid injury by offering guidance on good lifting form and technique and on using exercise machines correctly. And when the inevitable exercise questions arise, they are right there with the answers — in most cases.
A good certified personal trainer can keep you up to date on the latest science on gaining fitness — reminding you, for example, that "no pain no gain" was officially debunked some time ago. They also offer the invaluable service of being a social connection at the gym and serving as a commitment you're more likely to keep. Hiring a personal trainer even for a session or two can prove helpful.
Your trainer should be a member in good standing of a training association, and should incorporate into his or her exercise recommendations your age, risk factors, previous exercise experience, past injuries, current fitness level and goals.
For a longer-term relationship, the choice is more personal. Personal trainers run the gamut from those who work with couch potatoes to those who train elite athletes. You want one appropriate to your fitness level. Your trainer needs to be able to accommodate your schedule and should be comfortable with your favorite sport or activity, be it cycling, dance, lifting or basketball. Some people want a personal trainer who will be in their face, others want someone very supportive. Ask any prospective trainers about their philosophy in motivating people. Ditto for their style: Do they design a program and then leave clients to their workout? Or do they accompany them to every session?
Also inquire about any long-term programs or variety they offer. For example, are they willing to run with you five days a week for five weeks, or to get you into some kind of organized aerobic sport, such as basketball or soccer? Finally, ask to speak with past clients and listen to what they say.
If past clients experienced great success, ask yourself whether it's the trainer who made it happen — or the athlete. A trainer may know how to select people but not how to develop them. Look for a personal trainer with a full range of people he or she has coached to success.
( Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, M.D., and DeAnne Musolf. Visit www.fasterbetterstronger.com.)