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When we visit a doctor or lawyer, most of us make sure he or she is trustworthy and qualified to dole out advice. It is important to do the same when you choose a fitness trainer. After all, you are putting your health into this person's hands.

A bad trainer could leave you with low fitness gains or, worse, health problems like a bad back or weak knees. On the other hand, a good trainer will help improve your health and achieve your fitness goals safely.

The following pointers will help you gauge whether or not your trainer is competent.

i. Check qualifications

Your trainer MUST be certified by a reputable fitness board. A personal trainer/gym trainer should be a certified 'personal trainer', while your group exercise trainer should be a certified 'group exercise' trainer. ACES, ACSM, Reebok and Progressive Fitness are a few examples of good certification standards.

ii. Check continuing education
Fitness is an ever-growing area, with newer trends developing constantly. It is important that your trainer is in synch with trends in international fitness. Check if your instructor does research, attends workshops, offers you a wide range of workouts and gives you access to the latest trends. Continuing education also helps trainers constantly reinforce their fitness basics, which is the very core of physical training.

iii. Is he/she particular about safety?
While working out, safety comes first. On your first meeting with the trainer, he/she should ask about your medical history -- whether you have back problems, heart problems, etc. The next question should be about your exercise history -- what sort of exercise you have been doing, for how long, when the last time you exercised was, etc.

Your trainer should make sure you exercise well within the safety parameters. If he/she overloads you with 20 kilos for a chest press on day one, you'd rather not exercise! A good trainer will ease you into it for the first couple of weeks before beginning to challenge your body. Also watch out for technical cues. Is he/she telling you how high or low to go? How to position yourself?

iv. Is he/she committed towards helping you?

A trainer's job is to help you achieve your fitness goals. Does your trainer concentrate on your workout throughout the session or is he/she busy chatting with you or someone else? Does he/she tend to take shortcuts or allow you to take them? Does he/she call to check on how you are doing? Does he/she guide you on the basics of healthy eating? This doesn't apply to group exercise trainers, of course, as they have to work with many clients at one time.

v. Variety

For your body to constantly respond and show results, it is necessary that your workout has variety. Your trainer should ensure you get as many different types of workouts as possible. For example, if you are on the treadmill for your cardio every session, he/she should make you switch and do a circuit of treadmill-stepper-cycle. He/she should be able to make you do workouts like the ball, some pilates, power walks, yoga and functional training, to name a few.

vi. No stretches?
This is one area you must look out for. Is your trainer making you stretch enough? Good trainers focus on some serious stretching towards the end of your workout. This is extremely important, as it opens up tightened muscles. Tight muscles can result in poor posture and joint problems, and stretching is commonly overlooked.

vii. High risk exercises

There are some exercises that fall under the category of 'high risk'. As a client, it is not likely that you have the knowledge of which exercises these are. But, if any movement feels uncomfortable, or puts undue pressure on your back, knees, ankle, shoulder or any joint, it means your body isn't ready to take on such an exercise. A good trainer will never push you to this point.

viii. Comfort factor

A good trainer is warm, friendly and approachable. At the same time, the trainer should be strict about your workout regime. You should feel at ease conveying your fitness goals to him/her, but the trainer should be firm enough to not get pushed over by your requests of not wanting to workout or not wanting to do a particular exercise. A good trainer will want to build a warm, yet professional bond with you.

These points serve as a good outline while looking for an instructor. Schedule a couple of trial sessions with different instructors before zeroing in on one. Take time to decide. You must feel you can trust your instructor with your health and fitness.