There's a trick to finding the right one. It's like choosing a doctor

Suffering with elbow tendonitis and recovering from a dislocated shoulder, Richard Green was beginning to feel old and run-down at 37. He wanted to get back to something like the excellent physical shape he enjoyed in high school and college, when he played football and lacrosse. So he decided to hire a personal trainer.

Green was lucky. Because he followed some simple guidelines, Green chose a trainer with whom he could form a lasting and productive relationship. Now, 15 years later, Green, 52 and the president and CEO of Firstrust Bank in Philadelphia, still exercises with his trainer, John Haviland, at 6 a.m. four mornings a week. "I don't know if my workout adds more years to my life, but I do know that it adds more life to my years," says Green.

Hiring the right trainer takes some sweat. To do it right, you should undergo the same "effort you would when you choose a doctor or a lawyer," says Mike Niederpruem, national director for certification at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). These tips can help:

MAKE SURE THE TRAINER'S EXPERIENCE MATCHES YOUR GOALS Green knew he wanted a trainer who would be sensitive to sports injuries. Green chose Haviland, in part because Haviland had also played football in college and had suffered shoulder injuries. Haviland's physical therapy training was critical. Green credits Haviland with saving him from shoulder surgery, recommending cortisone shots for his elbow, and rehabilitating a broken hand. "He helps me endure the nicks and bruises of modern life," says Green.

GET A MOTIVATOR The ability to "connect with your trainer and have compatible personalities" is also very important, says Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. Request a trial workout, or at least try to observe the trainer in a session or two with another client. "A good trainer should be able to get you to identify and commit to your goals, but not everyone can do that," says Davis. Haviland makes sure that Green's workouts are varied so that he does not get bored.

REQUIRE FITNESS ASSESSMENTS Every client should have a fitness screening before going ahead with the initial workout. The trainer needs to ask you specific questions about medical conditions, the medications you may be using, your aches and pains, and previous injuries and surgery as it relates to exercise. Green knew from the friend who referred Haviland that he provided continuing fitness assessments and would keep track of Green's workouts and chart his progress.

CHECK THE CERTIFICATIONS Ideally, you want a trainer with certifications from at least one of the internationally recognized organizations. Haviland has certification from the American Council on Exercise. Ask whether the trainer is certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's also imperative that the trainer have at least $1 million in liability coverage.

CALL REFERENCES Because Green got Haviland's name from a friend, he had a good idea of how the trainer worked with clients. But in other cases, when you get a referral from a health club, doctor, or certification Web site, you'll also want to get feedback about the trainer from someone who works with him or her. If you're lucky, you could forge a long-term relationship like Green's. He has been with his trainer almost as long as he has been with his wife.

By Toddi Gutner

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