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Other Qualifications continued...

It is also crucial that your personal fitness trainer have liability insurance. While many trainers are actual employees of gyms and get coverage through their employers, others are independent contractors who are responsible for getting their own insurance. According to Hagerman, Klinge, and Bryant, you should not work with a personal fitness trainer who does not have liability insurance.

There are other things to consider. One qualification that many of us tend to look for in a personal trainer is objectively superficial: do they look fit themselves? But is that a legitimate way of evaluating anybody?

Hagerman thinks so, up to a point. "I have no respect for a trainer who's out of shape," he says. "But that doesn't mean that a male trainer has to be big and muscular or a female has to wear a size zero. Good trainers come in all shapes and sizes. They just have to practice what they preach."

He also suggests that you don't get seduced by the appearance of personal fitness trainers who dress in muscle shirts and spandex. After all, why should they be dressed in work out clothes when they're just instructing you? "It's one of my pet peeves, but a trainer should really dress professionally," he says.

Knowing the Limits

A great personal fitness trainer should offer more than just recommendations about how many reps to do on a weight machine or how to press buttons on the treadmill -- he or she will give you a general picture of how to live a healthy life, according to Klinge.

But it's important to resist the temptation to treat a session with your trainer as one-stop shopping for all of your exercise, nutritional, psychological, and medical needs. Bryant, Hagerman, and Klinge say that overly relying on personal fitness trainers is pretty common and that it is the trainer's job to establish the correct boundaries of the relationship.

"A properly trained personal trainer will know how to deal with that and how to establish the scope of their practice," Klinge tells WebMD. "They'll know when to hand off a client to a registered dietitian, physician, or physical therapist."

By the same token, be careful if you feel your personal fitness trainer is offering suggestions on topics that he or she isn't trained in.

"If a trainer starts giving specific dietprescriptions or a lot of advice on ways of treating medical conditions, that's a problem," says Klinge. "That sort of information should only come from a medical professional."

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