You have decided that you are ready to improve your health and lifestyle. You have decided that your health is worth the cost. You’ve realized you may need help to reach your fitness, lifestyle goals and you are ready to invest in a personal trainer or coach.

But did you know that there are many different types of certifications and that there is no governing body to make sure that your trainer is certified to a standard?

Anyone can literally call themselves personal trainers or coaches just because they have decided that that’d like to train people and get paid. Or they can take an eight-hour course online, complete an open book test and voila! “Certified!”

This means that you, the consumer, must do the work to be sure you are not going to get injured and you are getting the most bang for your buck.

A personal trainer should hold a current NCCA-accredited certification (NCAA is the U.S.-based National Commission for Certifying Agencies).

Current, as in not expired. Current means that the trainer is keeping up-to-date with current research, has taken courses within the last year to maintain certification credits.

This will give you the assurance that you are working with a professional who has the knowledge and skills to provide you with a safe and effective workout. ?The NCCA has 26 years of experience accrediting allied health professions such as registered dieticians, nurses, athletic trainers and occupational therapists.

Most certification renewal periods run between two and four years and require personal trainers to keep up-to-date on the latest information and training techniques.

Canada is currently in the process of developing such a national standard, but it has yet to be completed. ?Never be afraid to ask to see a copy of a personal trainer’s certification to ensure that it is current. You can always contact a certification agency to verify a trainer’s status.?After checking certification, there are a few other criteria you should consider.

Ask how many years of experience a personal trainer has working with clients, particularly those with your needs or limitations. Does he/she have expertise in a certain area of fitness, or prefer to work with certain types of clients? Examples could be sports conditioning, pre-natal fitness or post-rehabilitation.

If you have a medical condition or a past injury, a personal trainer should design sessions that take this into account.

If you are receiving care for a medical or orthopedic condition, a personal trainer should obtain your consent to discuss exercise guidelines and contraindications with your healthcare provider. Your personal trainer should also ask the doctor for medical clearance.

Ask the personal trainer for names, phone numbers and even testimonials of other clients he/she has worked with, particularly those who share traits and goals similar to yours.

If possible, call previous clients to see if they were satisfied with their training experience and results. Ask whether the personal trainer was professional, punctual and prepared, and whether the client’s individual needs were addressed.

Talk to fellow members of your health club, or friends who are currently working with trainers, for their recommendations.

Trust your instincts. Ask yourself if you think you could get along well with the trainer and whether you think the trainer is genuinely interested in helping you. The personal trainer you select should motivate you using positive, not negative, reinforcement. Importantly, that trainer should be someone you like.

Personal training fees vary based on a trainer’s experience and reputation, facility prices and geographic area, but they are well worth the investment. You may meet with your trainer frequently at first, but your financial investment should decrease as you become more independent, knowledgeable and fit.

Many personal trainers operate as independent contractors and are not employees of a fitness facility. Find out if the trainer you want to hire carries professional liability insurance.

A reputable personal trainer should make sure you understand the cancellation policy and billing procedures. The best way to avoid confusion and to protect your rights is to have those policies in writing.

The knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who fits your style is the one to hire – because that’s who will help you achieve your best results.

This column is provided by Mrs. Lee Randell, independent fitness consultant, who is an ACE certified advanced health and fitness specialist and personal trainer. You can reach her at www.mrsleerandell.com.