Personal trainers vary widely in skill. Finding the right one for you can be the difference between crushing your fitness goals or becoming discouraged and quitting.

I don’t want you to quit.

If you’re willing to put in the work, you deserve to achieve your goals. And if you’re willing to invest money in having someone help you along the way, you deserve someone capable of actually doing it.

With this in mind, I came up with four tips to help you select a solid trainer.

ASK POTENTIAL TRAINERS HOW LONG THEY’VE BEEN DOING THIS

Experience counts. No matter what we’re talking about. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. Experiential training counts far more than an academic understanding—in any subject.

That said, every seasoned vet was once a rookie. Even Jordan and LeBron. While experience is important, it’s not everything.

A good follow-up question, then, is “How long have you been working out yourself?”

People that have been working out for over a decade should—should—have a good understanding of the technical skills required to affect positive change on the skeletal and muscular systems. They will probably lack refined coaching skills though.

How your potential trainer handles these questions may be more important than the answers he or she gives you. If they seem uncomfortable, defensive, or disingenuous, it’s a red flag.

Trust your intuition.

ASK WHAT THEY HAVE PERSONALLY ACCOMPLISHED IN THE FITNESS WORLD

This is another way to gather information on her or his experience. It also sheds further light on whether this is the right trainer for you and your unique needs.

For example: If your goal is to win a powerlifting competition and the potential trainer is a life-long marathon runner, it’s almost certainly not the right fit. Drilling down on your potential trainer’s accomplishments and fitness philosophy prior to committing can save you a lot of hassle.

A long-term client-trainer relationship is like a marriage. Make sure there aren’t any wedge issues before taking the plunge.

ASK POTENTIAL TRAINERS IF THEY ARE 3RD-PARTY ACCREDITED

Certifications, like trainers, are not created equal. Certs with 3rd-party accreditation are more difficult to attain. This means that at least the minimum baseline knowledge for trainers starting out is higher.

Not having a 3rd-party accredited certification is not a deal breaker in itself. (One of the trainers I respect the most—who worked for bodybuilding legends and was a trainer for Extreme Makeover during the early years—doesn’t even have a cert.)

Lying about it is a massive red flag, though.

To verify, simply pull out your phone and Google, “Is [organization that personal trainer’s certification is through] NCCA accredited?”

A good amount of issuing organizations are accredited. NASM, however, is considered the gold standard when it comes to personal training certifications. So bonus points to your prospective trainer if he or she holds a NASM cert.

MAKE A VISUAL JUDGEMENT

This is probably the only time in life when it’s generally okay to judge a book by its cover. This has nothing to do with discrimination. It’s just practical.

If a trainer is unable to maintain a healthy shape to her or his body, how do you expect this person to help you reach your goals?

Being overweight is the obvious one. But you also want to look for rounded shoulders and poor posture in general. These are signs that this trainer doesn’t know how to get into a safe neutral-spine position while exercising.

Protecting the spine and correcting harmful posture dysfunction are the cornerstones of an effective, functional program.

SYNTHESIS

None of these are cut and dry.

Can there be exceptions to every one of these? Of course.

However, taken in aggregate, these tips will be a great barometer for evaluating potential trainers.

Ultimately, I suggest you trust your instinct. Meet with your potential trainer and get a feel for him or her. Ask these questions and any others you may have. See how he or she responds. Have the trainer take you through a workout and see how you two work together. Any gym and trainer worth the investment will be happy to provide you with this free sample.

Never just allow a gym to assign you a trainer! That’s akin to never seeing or getting to know a spouse.

More information equals better decision. Use your head and trust your gut.

I hope you found this article useful. Moreover, I hope you use this information to get the best possible trainer you can.

Do you have another tactic for finding a good trainer? Please share it in the comments.