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  • On Your Mark

How to Pick a Personal Trainer: NYC 2020 Guide

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

If you live in NYC, or more specifically the Upper West Side, there is no shortage of personal trainers. It is important to find experienced and certified personal trainers who can individualize fitness plans for your specific needs. Ideally, personal training also involves knowledge of potential muscle injuries or the ability to refer you to a physical therapy clinic. Check out personal training at OnYourMark.


Everyone always asks, “What makes a great personal trainer? How do I choose the right one for me? Is there a right way to pick one?” New York City has more personal fitness trainers per square mile than any other city in the country, so it’s a particularly pressing issue for New Yorkers wanting to get fit and lead healthier lifestyles.

With over 250,000 personal trainers nationwide – from private trainers to on-line trainers, gym trainers, celebrity trainers, famous trainers appearing on popular TV shows - what separates the bad from the good and good from the great?

Let’s start with the most common misconceptions.

Does it matter if a trainer is on TV? Or trains your favorite celebrity? Should you do the same workout routine your favorite celebrity does?

The short answer to these questions is, no! Remember, TV and YouTube shows are meant for entertainment and often times the workout programs you see on shows like “The Biggest Loser” aren’t practical or applicable to everyone’s lifestyle, body type and time requirements.

Moreover, your favorite movie star or singer, just like the person sitting next to you on the subway or bench press machine in your gym, has his or her own unique needs, abilities and history. Just because a regiment fits them, does not mean it will be a fit for your own needs.

Remember, a fitness trainer will have a direct effect on your own overall health and well being, so make sure they know what they’re doing!

“As a Fitness Professional, I'm a huge skeptic when it comes to massage therapist and trainers. I've exhausted my options in New York City with treatments and practitioners and felt defeated to no avail. After meeting Mark though, he put the trust back into health for me.

He was an active listener who goes way beyond the "one size fits all" mentality that too many gym, and big name trainers carry, and treated my individual injury with an outside approach. He took his time and has the hands of a miracle worker. If you feel you've seen it all - trust me, Mark will be your last stop!!!”


Being a celebrity trainer doesn’t by default make a trainer a great one. That being said, treat every trainer as if they are interviewing for a job. Make sure that, whatever you are doing and whoever you are working with, that your trainer is properly certified, and the program they tailor for you is safe for you and matches your health and fitness goals.

What are things to look for in a personal fitness trainer then?

Certifications: Trainers who are certified by either the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) have performed best on exams that test for basic fitness knowledge. In fact, trainers without these certifications generally score under 45% on these exams, according to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology, so this is a very big point to look for when considering a personal trainer. For example, is a great source to find a certified and qualified personal trainer near your location if you live in NYC.

All of these organizations above, (NSCA, ACSM, NASM) have something equivalent to a ‘find a trainer near me’ or ‘personal trainers near me’ page on their web sites, making it easier than ever to find a qualified trainer fit for you.

Avoid incompetent trainers:

Whatever you do, and whatever regimen you decide is best, be wary of, and avoid inexperienced trainers who lack basic fitness knowledge. Many New Yorkers fail to realize the drawbacks and medical hazards having an incompetent trainer can bring.

Strained and pulled muscles, the breakdown of muscle fibers into the blood stream, and poor dietary advice (especially when the client in question takes specific medications) are all examples of serious conditions that can be caused by a trainer's lack of understanding the nuances of the human body, and how to fine tune a tailored program.

I have worked with many clients in which I had to “clean up the mess”, so to speak, that previous trainers had helped create through improper exercise technique and inappropriate training styles.

Alex came to me with a half dozen lingering injuries and problem spots, including her low back, lower leg, foot and shoulder. Her issues were in part the result of years of dead lifts, heavy squats, kettle bell swings and power lifting. It took us several months to correct the imbalances, compensations and weaknesses that were keeping her in pain. Through corrective exercises, functional training, manual therapy and specific strengthening and stretching of muscles, Alex now has gotten control of her body back and has stopped living with chronic pain.

Philosophy: It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy that can help everyone. If your trainer tries to tell you otherwise, beware! A highly skilled trainer is one who truly understands this and who can adapt his or her knowledge and style to your own situation.

Knowledge: Knowledge definitely comes with experience and through the certification process. But it’s not enough to pass an exam. Having a strong background in anatomy, physiology, exercise science, postural assessment and movement science allows for adaptation, creativity, problem solving and thinking outside the box in a way that translates into real results. Remember that exam of basic fitness knowledge I mentioned?

Even without certifications, a trainer holding a bachelors in any anatomical and sports science major performs better than their non-degree holding counterparts by 10-15%

Experience: Personal training is such a broad field and within it there are so many factors and variables for clients, trainers and setting. A lifetime of experience in the field on a professional level goes a long way in making a trainer great. As with anything, experience makes you better, unless you’ve been doing it wrong the entire time, which is possible in the personal training world.

Track Record: Certifications, confidence, a glitzy web site and experience are all great. But does this all lead to real results for real people? Be sure to check out what past clients of the personal trainer you’re considering have to say, particular about how their individual needs were met.

Here’s an example of a review given by one of my own clients:

"Mark was my personal trainer for 4 years until I left the city. His energy was calming and motivating and his knowledge of the body was something I hadn't experienced with previous trainers before him.

He was able to adjust my workouts and overall program depending on how I was feeling. My goals and preferences changed over the years and Mark was great at reading this and adapting. He pushed me when I needed it, he did such great hands-on work when I needed that and he was a lot of fun to work with. I cannot recommend Mark strongly enough".


Personality: What one client likes and needs in terms of training style and motivational strategies can differ drastically. Some clients need a trainer to yell at them while others need a calmer presence to help them stay focused and determined. So each client has to decide for herself what type of personality she wants in a trainer.

With that said, while there certainly is no universal personality template for trainers to fit into, a great trainer is one who listens to his clients, gets his ego out of the way if something isn’t working, prioritizes client safety at all times and makes client goals the focal point of the exercise program. Be sure they’re willing to listen to your needs, and doesn’t just push you to follow a regiment that worked for them.

Convenience Vs Quality: I see this mistake a lot. People choose a trainer out of convenience, for example because that trainer works at a gym near where one lives or works. On one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Convenience and saving time makes you more likely to stick with a program and be consistent. But if this comes at the price of quality, it could lead to physical harm due to an inexperienced and under-qualified trainer.

So, be selective and don’t settle for a mediocre trainer just to save a little time. It may cost you time, money and physical pain (even a medical bill) later on.

Another question I hear is, “What about online trainers? Do they work?”

The honest answer is that they can, but are better suited to those already experienced in exercising and pushing their bodies, with a clear understanding already of what works for them. In that case, using an on-line fitness coach or workout template may be a cost-saving way to get the professional advice you need to be effective with your workouts and thus reach your goals.

But if you have special needs or current/past injuries, you are best off working in-person with a qualified, certified trainer who has experience in the areas you need help with.

Look outside of the big gym chains:

Whether you are looking for a personal trainer in New York City or in another location, be weary of sticking only with the big gym chains by default. There are a lot of independent trainers in NYC who are just as qualified and often more so than the trainers who exclusively work in big gyms such as Equinox, Crunch and New York Sports Club. This isn't to say that these chains don't have great trainers...many do.

The take-home message here, however, is that many trainers in these gyms are under-qualified, overworked and underpaid. So when finding a personal trainer be sure you ask the right questions, find out their credentials and choose the best fit for you. Remember, a good salesman and large biceps don't mean that a personal trainer is the best fit for you. With that said, good luck!



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