Finding a Fitness Pro
27 Dec

Finding a Fitness Pro

 So, you’ve decided that you want/need to get expert fitness help. That’s great! Deciding to seek health expertise can be an important step in being proactive with your health. So it’s equally important to be selective in who you get to help you.
     The intent of this post is not simply a shameless plug for the services that we offer at OPEX - even though there is some of that. It’s mainly to help you make the best choice for your needs, desires and budget. My sincere hope is that you find the information useful.

Things you should know...

Fitness Expertise in the US

     This may come as a surprise, but there are no legal regulations on who can be called a “fitness professional,” in the United States. Outside of internal rules of an individual business, there are no government regulations requiring gyms to actually check whether someone is certified or maintaining their certification through continuing education, nor are there rules governing independent fitness experts. There are also dozens of different certifications that can be obtained with varying degrees of effort and knowledge needed to obtain them - some certs take a few hours online effort like the ASFA, some can be obtained in a single weekend like CrossFit L1, others like the NASM CPT is theory only requiring no practical/in-gym experience, while others take months of apprenticeship and practical experience like OPEX. But on the legal side of things, the US has more stringent regulations governing hair stylists than fitness experts.
     This isn’t meant to necessarily impugn the fitness industry. Nor is it meant to denigrate the many thousands of passionate people (more or less qualified) who strive to help others become more healthy/fit/well in the US. However, for what I hope are obvious reasons, I feel that it’s important for the consumer (you) to be informed. Especially since it’s been left up to the fitness industry to self-regulate.

Pro vs Enthusiast

     Within the fitness industry, there’s a difference between what I would term a “fitness enthusiast” and a “fitness professional.” A fitness enthusiast has a passion for fitness and (probably) has some sort of certification: They spend a few hours a week training/coaching clients, they may do some continuing education by reading fitness blogs or spending time with a professional mentor, and have a regular day job (which may even include being the owner/manager of a gym). A fitness professional is someone who is a coach/trainer full-time: They probably don’t have a side hustle outside of their fitness career, and they spend 40+ hours a week dedicated to their profession, which includes continuing education and research, as well as training/coaching and programming.
      There is nothing wrong with being or hiring a fitness enthusiast over a fitness professional. There are plenty of fitness enthusiasts who are excellent at teaching classes, coaching, and personal training. And fitness enthusiasts can cost less to hire than many/most fitness pros. However, just like hiring an inexpensive “handyman” off of craigslist to do some plumbing work, you might get what you pay for instead of what you want, and you may not be able to identify the proverbial “leaking pipe” until the damage is already done.

Things to consider...

What are your goals: 5X Why?

     Wanting to lose weight and look great are great goals, but what’s more important than what you want to do is WHY you want to do it.
     So, ask yourself “Why?” 5 times and answer it honestly 5 times.
     No one else is looking, so just do it. It doesn’t matter what your answers are and the process of answering the question 5 times will help you clarify your deeper reasons for the goals that you have, which will help you with your motivation and keep you on track.

Where do you want to exercise?

      Deciding whether you want to go to a large gym, a studio, a boutique gym, or have a trainer come to you is an easy choice for some people but hard for others. Comfortability is a HUGE factor in staying motivated, so make sure whatever your choice that you feel good about the environment, the other gym goers, the cleanliness of the facility, safety of equipment, the price point, and even the billing procedures.

Do they assess you?

      Do not waste your time and money on a trainer/coach that doesn’t begin with an assessment of where you are right now. Any good assessment should begin before you even step into the gym for your first workout with a detailed intake form to go over your fitness history, your goals, medications you’re taking, and a medical history. And at a minimum they should do a movement screen at your first session to make sure that the exercises you’re doing in the gym are safe and aren’t pushing your development in the wrong direction. If either of these elements is missing, walk away.
     At OPEX we go much further by diving into your fitness capacity, lifestyle habits, nutrition, body composition, and even your motivation to ensure what you do in the gym aligns with goals and your life from the very start.

What value can you afford?

     Finally, obviously you’ll want to consider this factor but it’s also important to consider the value of what you’re paying for:

  • Standard gym
    • No trainers with this option. Just you in a space with a bunch of equipment.
  • Group classes
    • CrossFit, Orangetheory Fitness, Kickboxing Classes, Yoga Classes, etc.: Classes that have set times and dates where everyone in the class does the same basic exercises under the watchful eye of an instructor.
  • Individual design (I.D.)
    • A professional coach designs a unique workout program that includes nutrition and lifestyle modifications suited to your needs to achieve your goals. After which you’re guided through the process of executing that programming so that it fosters your independence in the gym.
  • Personal training
    • Hiring a person with fitness expertise to spend an hour (or so) exercising you. I say “exercising you” as opposed to “training/teaching you,” because most of the time personal trainers simply lead you through the exercises and cheer you on.

Hopefully, this visual guide will help illustrate the differences.

Shameless self-promotion incoming.


     It’s my sincere hope that you found this information to be useful and I wish you good fortune in your fitness endeavor. Please feel free to contact us for more information about what we do here at OPEX Baltimore South.

About the Author:

     Adam is an OPEX CCP coach at OPEX Baltimore South with 15 years of fitness experience ranging from Yoga to CrossFit. He’s also a Certified Nutrition Coach (PN1), specializes in corrective exercise (FMSC) and is a parkour trainer/practitioner.

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