When to Start Training for a Trip

When to Start Training for a Trip

You’ve started thinking about where you want to go and the activities you want to do – a summer trip to the mountains with some hiking, or maybe a fall getaway with a few days of biking. Then you start to wonder if you’ll be physically ready for what you want to try.

One of questions I’m asked most often is how far in advance of a trip or activity to start training. Usually the question comes up for a “bucket list” trip, like hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu or a multi-day bike trip through wine country. It’s worth considering for any trip where you’ll be doing more physical activity than normal, though.

By training to get ready for a trip where you’ll be spending more time and effort on physical activity than in your day-to-day life, you’ll have the strength and stamina to make the most of the experience.

You’ll feel more comfortable throughout the day and have more energy at the end of the day. You’ll be able to focus on what you’re seeing, who you’re with, and what you’re learning, rather than worrying about keeping up with your partner or group, or if your legs are going to give out before you reach your destination.

Having a big trip coming up can be a great source of motivation to get more physically active <link to motivation post>. To figure out when to start specifically training for a trip, take into account these factors:

  1. What activities you’re doing on your trip
  2. Your current activity level
  3. How much time you can realistically commit to training

Your Trip’s Activities

Back in 2013 my husband and I hiked the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu. Although we live in Colorado and usually get out for at least one hike on summer weekends, we rarely hike more than 2 days in a row, and most of our hikes are 4-8 miles.

The Inca Trail route we chose involved 4 days of hiking 7-10 miles per day with up to 3,000 feet of elevation gain and loss on a couple of the days. Could we have just kept with our normal hiking routine and gotten through it? Probably – but we may not have been able to enjoy it as much as we did.

I injured my left knee in my mid-20s doing a 26-mile hike, and now if I hike a lot more miles than I normally do, my knee tells me about it. I’ve learned that I need to add mileage gradually and build up to longer distances. I also need to hike several days in a row to build up my muscles for a multi-day trip.

So we started training in late spring, about 3 months before our trip in mid-August. We picked hikes with more elevation change than we normally would to get ready for the ups and downs we’d experience in the Andes. We hiked both weekend days, and took longer walks in our neighborhood during the week.

When we met up with our group for the Inca Trail trip, we looked around and realized we were the oldest ones. Yet on the first day, we were the first ones to camp, and among the first to make it to the highest point on the second day. Our training paid off – no knee issues for me, and we had plenty of time and energy to explore the amazing Inca ruins along the way.

So step 1 is to evaluate your trip’s activities. Are you doing one “big day” where you’ll be spending hours on a hike, bike ride, paddling or other physical activities? Do you have multiple days in a row of more activity than you’re used to? Do you have rest days in between active days?

By looking at the length, duration and number of days you’ll be active, you have the “end goal” in mind as you consider how much time you’ll need.

Your Current Activity Level

In my Inca Trail scenario, my husband and I started with an existing base of activity for what we were planning to do. So we were able to start from there and add to it.

This fall we’re doing a trip where we’ll be biking for 5 days in a row in Croatia. I try to get out on my bike periodically during the winter and spring, but honestly, it can be tough to do that where we live. And my husband only bikes periodically, even in the summer.

So guess what we’ll be doing this summer – getting on our bikes and riding at least 2-3 days a week as our trip gets closer!

Be honest with yourself about your current activity level, and how it compares to what you’re planning to do on your trip. If you’re going to be walking 5+ miles a day, and right now the only walking you’re doing is to your car and back for work and shopping, you’ll need a bit of time to build up to 5 miles.

Time Available to Train

Commitments for work, family, community and more fill our days and weeks. Finding some time for training may be a challenge.

If your schedule is already pretty tight, you may need to allow for a longer timeframe for training in advance of your trip. For example, if you can only set aside half an hour twice a week, and limited time on the weekends, then you may want to begin six months before your trip.

Another reason to start sooner rather than later is if you anticipate a period between now and your trip when you’ll have more than your usual time commitments.

When I was in my corporate job, I was heavily involved in an annual meeting that required extra work, which also aligned with an especially busy time in our marketing cycle. During the weeks leading up to the conference, I didn’t have extra time for anything new!

If you can keep doing at least some activity during those busy times, that’ll help you maintain momentum.

Calculating Your Timeframe

Now that you know a bit more about the three key factors, let’s look at some examples of how they combine to figure out your timeframe.

Example 1: Multi-day hike or bike, periodically active, 2-3 hours a week to train

In this scenario, I’d aim for at least 3 months to prepare since it’s a multi-day stretch of activity. With a few hours a week, you’ll be able to add activity amount gradually to build up to longer distances. Ideally, as you get closer to the trip, you’d be able to carve out a bit more time and be able to do back-to-back days of hiking or biking to simulate your trip experience.

Example 2: One “big activity,” not currently active, 1-2 hours a week to train

For this situation, it may be better to take 4-6 months to get ready. That gives you more time to add small increments to your activity level – I usually recommend adding 5-10% in distance per week.

If you currently walk a few blocks at the most (less than half a mile) a couple of times a week, and you want to be able to walk up to 10 miles, I’d suggest starting off adding a block or two each walk. In a few weeks you’ll be up to a mile, and in 2 months you’ll be up to about 2 miles.  

As your stamina builds, you’ll add more distance. By increasing distance gradually, you’re less likely to get an injury. And if you have to take a week off, you have time to make up for it.


Get Personalized Help

Want an estimate based on your specific situation? Just email me at becki@trailblazerwellness.com and I’d be happy to help you figure out when you should start training for an upcoming adventure!

Find Your Motivation Matches to Keep Moving

Find Your Motivation Matches to Keep Moving

It’s so nice and warm here in bed, snuggled under the down comforter with the cat curled up next to me. I don’t want to disturb the cat. I don’t want to wake up my husband. The furnace hasn’t kicked on yet and it’s still chilly in the house.

And yet I slip out of bed and put on my workout clothes, strap on my iWatch, grab my phone and turn on my wireless headphones.

What gets me out of bed on those cold, dark mornings? Why do I lift weights, run outside when it’s cold, and swim laps in the pool when I’d rather be doing something more fun?

At the heart of it, I exercise so that I can really enjoy the “more fun” stuff I’d rather be doing when I can do it, including exploring the world by foot, bike and boat. I want to be able to keep doing those things for many more years, and I know that staying fit through consistent exercise is part of that equation.

I’ll be honest though, on those cold winter mornings, it’s tempting to justify staying in bed and tell myself that skipping a day isn’t going to matter. And some days I do stay in bed longer and give myself a break.

To keep that from becoming a pattern, though, I turn to more immediate motivation to stay on track.

Everyone has a different “motivation match,” though I’ve found a few common themes for what keeps my clients consistently motivated as they pursue their goals.

Upcoming Event

This could be a big “life event” like a reunion or wedding, an annual event like a vacation or family visit, or a fitness-focused event like 5K run or a multi-day bike ride. The deadline is coming, so it’s time to get going!

Of course, starting in March 2020, this motivator evaporated for a lot of people. I had signed up to do a triathlon in July 2020, and was just about to figure out my training plan when it was cancelled. Darn, no laps in the pool!

As I write this in March 2021, though, the triathlon is back on, so I need to book my time at the pool. The percentage of people who have been vaccinated increases daily, and events are getting back on calendars.

Many people have a renewed appreciation for events, and are looking forward to making the most of FINALLY being able to participate in them!

One of my clients is gearing up for a summer trip to a “dude ranch” in Wyoming with his family, including his pre-teen grandson. Several years ago he was inspired to get into better shape for a trip to Glacier National Park, and ended up hiking 6 miles on the High Line Trail.

After a rough winter of staying inside due to COVID and weather, he’s gotten back into his strength training routine and started increasing his walking distance. He now exudes energy, excitement and confidence.

He acknowledges that getting into better shape will help him more fully enjoy his retirement in Colorado for years to come, which was why we worked to develop an exercise routine for him last fall. But it’s been his short-term motivator of hiking at the dude ranch in a few months that has really sparked him to get back on track.

Competitive Streak

As much as I enjoy participating in athletic events like triathlons and bike rides, I’m not a competitive person. But I know a LOT of people who are!

Some are competitive with themselves – they track their “personal best” for a specific route or type of event, aim to add distance, or set other specific goals to achieve.

Then there are those who push harder when they’re up against others head-to-head. They have the drive to win, and keep their eye on that prize.

Group Accountability

The power of accountability works motivation wonders for some people. The “group” be just one other person – a coach, a workout buddy, a family member – or even a dog, horse or other animal!

It’s a partner you’ve committed to exercising with or for, and you’re going to keep that commitment even on the tough days. One of my clients struggled to reach her daily step goal walking by herself. When she walked with a friend, though, she blew through it.

If you’re drawn to being part of a larger team working toward a common goal – at work, with your family, in your community – you can use the team approach for fitness too. Whether it’s a soccer team that plays games or a team of individuals training together for an event, the dynamic and energy can be similar.

The times that I rode the Bike MS through 100+ miles in Colorado’s brutal late June heat as part of Team Jude are some of my fondest memories. We trained together in the months leading up to the event, raised a ton of money, and our team’s “mascot” Judy was there at the end, smiling and cheering us on.

Social Accountability

This is similar to group accountability, though a bit broader and social media has definitely upped the ante.

How many posts have you seen on Facebook or Instagram about a friend or family member’s goal to run a marathon, complete a hike or some other athletic achievement?

Your proclamation doesn’t have to be that big and bold to provide motivation though. Even telling just a handful of supportive friends can be enough to get through those days when procrastination is rearing its tempting head.

Rewards and Incentives

Gold stars, medals, cash, t-shirts – it’s part of human nature to be motivated by rewards big or small. You can set a reward for yourself, such as buying something or doing something, or aim for an incentive from an external source, such as an employer’s wellness program that offers a gift card.

You can use small and frequent rewards – $1 for every workout completed goes into a jar, and soon you have enough to buy that sweet something you’ve been eyeing online.

You can also use a big reward for reaching a larger goal – a full day at the spa after completing a multi-day hike (my husband and I did this after our trek to Machu Picchu).

What’s Your Match?

Think about which of these resonate most, and how you might combine them to stay on track in case your “go to” falls through. Are you a “go for the gold” type of person? The dependable friend who won’t miss a group exercise class? Are you looking forward to a big vacation with family after a year of limited or no travel?

Once you figure out your motivation match, get specific about how to use it to fuel your fitness practice. And on those days when it’s a struggle to get out of the warm, cozy bed, you’ll have that extra push that keeps you moving forward.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Tap Into Your Strengths to Reach Your Health Goals

Tap Into Your Strengths to Reach Your Health Goals

Have you ever heard or thought “creating healthy habits is hard”? There are lots of reasons people think this way – limited time and competing priorities, extra effort required to exercise and prepare healthy meals, existing not-so-healthy habits that have become entrenched.

Yet we all have strengths we can tap into to make changes so we can reach our health goals. In fact, using our inherent strengths makes it easier to shift our behavior, enjoy what we do and stick with it!

It makes sense if you think about it – doing things we’re good at is easier and more fun than doing things we aren’t good at, so why not apply that to improving our health?

Discover Your Strengths

Years ago I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which focuses on talent-based attributes, and one of my strengths is “arranger.” I love to arrange events, social gatherings, and travel. In applying this strength to healthy behaviors, I arrange bicycling events that raise money for charity, group hikes for friends, and trips that include hiking and sea kayaking.

Another strength I have is adaptability. In my past corporate job, I was constantly shifting priorities and tasks to address the latest “fire drill” (we need a video for a big meeting in 3 days!) or change in strategy.

When my husband and I are traveling, I’ll quickly create a plan B if our original itinerary has a wrench thrown in it. For example, when we went up to Glacier National Park several years ago, with visions of backpacking for a few days and reservations for an amazing lodge stay afterwards, there was a forest fire in the park. Several areas were closed and the air quality was terrible, so backpacking there was a no-go.

So we headed south and went to the Tetons instead. I studied the map and found a great loop route for backpacking there. We set out on the trail, and as we reached our planned campsite for the evening, it started to rain. Fortunately we were prepared and had waterproof gear and a good rainfly for our tent. But after it rained all night, and looked like it was going to continue all day, we decided that hiking in the rain and then setting up our next camp with wet gear was not our idea of a fun vacation.

No worries though, we adapted our plans yet again. We hiked out and got a hotel room in Jackson Hole!

I also leverage my adaptability strength for fitness. I plan out my workouts for the week – which days I’ll run or bike, which days I’ll lift weights, and which days I’ll stretch and rest. But sometimes on my “bike day” the wind will be howling, so I’ll swap it with an indoor high intensity interval training workout. Or on a strength day my legs will be tired from a run, so I’ll focus on upper body and core exercises.

Capitalize on Your Character

Another part of your personality you can use is character strengths. The VIA Institute on Character offers a free self-assessment (https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register) that ranks how strong you are in traits like curiosity, creativity, teamwork and perseverance.   Let’s say you score high on curiosity and creativity. And your goal is to be able to hike 5 miles so you can keep up with your spouse or your kids on an upcoming trip to a National Park.

As you think about how to reach that goal, you realize that finding different routes to walk suit you much better than getting your steps in on a treadmill or the same path every day.

Seek Others’ Perspectives

Still not sure what your strengths are, or how they may apply to reaching your health goals? Ask family members, friends and coworkers what they think you’re good at – you may not realize that something you do “automatically” is a strength!

Then brainstorm how you could use those strengths to create habits that help you get healthier and happier. Sometimes just a small adjustment in how you approach your goal makes it that much easier and more enjoyable.

It’s like walking with the wind against your back instead of into it.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Prep for Your Road Trip: 15 Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Path

Prep for Your Road Trip: 15 Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Path

Hints for hiking, biking, paddling, packing and picking your destination

It seems like summer 2020 is shaping up to be the Road Trip Summer. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood, with me and my two sisters in the back seat of the green Ford Fairmont station wagon that was packed to the hilt.

We played “Slug Bug,” the license plate game (bonus points for Alaska, never did see one from Hawaii), and my parents’ favorite, “no touch, no talk,” as we headed Up North in Michigan.

Of course road trips now are WAY different than back in the days of AM radio, an 8-track tape player and no GPS – yep, totally dating myself!

While car comforts have definitely improved, many of the types of things we did on road trips back then are similar to what my husband and I do now: having picnics at roadside parks, checking out viewpoints with signage about the habitat and/or history, and staying in “rustic” lodging.

As more people (re)discover the appeal of road trips and outdoor activities, it seems inevitable that the most popular and easily reachable outdoor destinations will be busier than they’ve ever been.

Although I’m excited that more people are enjoying being outdoors – I believe fresh air and sunshine combined with being active is good for just about everyone – being at a packed viewpoint with dozens of strangers may not be the healthiest activity right now. So if you’re looking to get “off the beaten path” this summer, here are some tips to help you prepare so you can make the most of it!

3 Hiking Prep Tips

  1. Learn about the location where you’re planning to hike, and bring a map. How rugged is the trail, how steep is it, what are the weather conditions usually like? In Colorado, thunderstorms roll in by early afternoon on many summer days, which takes a lot of visitors by surprise since we wake up to blue skies pretty much every morning.
  2. Be realistic about how far you can hike. If you’re used to walking 3 miles on pavement or fairly flat ground at home, you may be surprised how far 3 miles seems on an unfamiliar trail, and how long it takes. When I’m walking around my neighborhood, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to walk a mile. On a trail, it can take 25 minutes to an hour to walk a mile! Try shorter trails to start and see how you (and others in your group) feel.
  3. Bring more water and snacks than you think you need, along with the “essentials”, to carry in a backpack if you’re planning to go more than a mile from your car.
hiking with a backpack
A fully stocked backpack goes with me on every hike – including plenty of water and snacks!

3 Biking Prep Tips

  1. Think ahead about how much biking you’re planning to do. If it’ll be more than an hour or so, and/or you’ll be riding on multiple days, consider bringing bike shorts with padding, and tops that will be comfortable when you’re leaned over and reaching for handlebars.
  2. If you don’t have your own bike, borrow or rent one locally and go for a few rides in familiar places before your trip.
  3. Find out what the terrain is like where you plan to bike. Are there rolling hills? Will you be riding on pavement, gravel and/or dirt? Knowing what you’ll be facing ahead of time can help you prepare mentally.
mountain bike
Know what kind of terrain you’ll be biking on during your trip – the rocky and sandy trails in Moab, Utah, are perfect for mountain bikes!

3 Paddling Prep Tips

  1. If you’re trying a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or kayak for the first time, take a lesson if possible.
  2. Take a water bottle with a loop and clip that you can attach to the board or boat. If you tip, you don’t want your water to go into the water!
  3. Pack a synthetic top to wear over your bathing suit and under the PFD. It’ll be more comfortable than having the PFD directly on your skin, and if a cool breeze blows in, it’ll keep you a bit warmer.
Paddling in Alaska required several layers of clothing – even in July!

3 Packing Tips

  1. Bring phone chargers and all of the personal hygiene items you may need, especially if you prefer certain brands. Stores in small towns often have limited selections of electronics and toiletries.
  2. Include at least one clothing item for each “season” and a jacket if you’re going anywhere in the U.S. besides the deep South. It gets pretty chilly at night in remote locations across most of the country.
  3. Upgrade your cooler, if you haven’t already. Newer “rotomolded” models with serious insulation power and tight sealing lids are more expensive than Igloos, but they keep your food and beverages cold much longer. Yeti is one of the best-known brands, though there are less expensive alternatives.

3 “Off the Beaten Path” Destination Tips

  1. Check out non-National Park destinations to avoid crowds. For example, Bureau of Land Management recreation areas, especially in the Western U.S., have some incredible hikes, and historical sites too. In fact, BLM manages our National Scenic and Historic Trails, and manages more miles of historic trails than any other agency (yep, even more than the National Park Service).
  2. If you’re a bird nerd, find a National Wildlife Refuge that is on the flyway for a variety of species. Many refuges have networks of trails and information about the birds (and fish and other wildlife) that live and pass through the area.
  3. Seek out local and state park alternatives. Colorado has 41 state parks, Virginia (where I lived for 9 years) has 38 state parks, and Michigan (where I grew up) has more than 100 state parks! Many states also have designated wildlife areas or refuges that have trails too.
Aztec National Monument
These Aztec ruins are a National Monument site, which is near the very popular Mesa Verde National Park and yet doesn’t get nearly as many visitors.

I hope that helps you have more fun this summer. Most of all, be healthy, stay safe and have fun!

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

10 Habits of Active Travelers

10 Habits of Active Travelers

How the habits you build at home pay off on the road

Habits are all the rage right now – dozens of books on Amazon explain why habits are important in helping you reach your goals, and how to create those habits.

Two of my favorites are Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Both offer practical and simple ways to layer in new habits that could have a positive impact on your life and goals.

Many examples of habits focus on self-improvement in health, work and skill development. Plus the word habit implies something you do regularly. So how do habits apply to traveling? For many of us traveling is something we do for fun, and it’s an occasional activity.  

Yet the habits we cultivate during our non-travel time can make a difference in our travel experience. If you’re in the habit of taking stairs in your daily life, you’ll be more comfortable taking stairs at your destination. If you’re in the habit of carrying water and healthy snacks when you’re out and about your hometown, you’re more likely to remember to bring them on a longer trip.

Two principles James Clear included in his book are “make it easy” and “make it obvious.” He also gives examples of short and simple habits that “kick start” a more complex or more difficult habit.

With those concepts in mind, here are 10 habits to get into now that will serve you well when you travel.

1. Have walking shoes handy – and use them often.

I keep a spare pair in my car so if I’m parked in one place and need to go somewhere else nearby, I can put on more comfortable shoes if I need to.

When you’re traveling you’ll probably be walking more than usual. When you get in the habit of walking regularly at home, you’ll be ready to go the extra mile.

2. Take the stairs when you can.

This will prepare you for the many popular sites around the world that were built before elevators were created. One of my favorite memories is climbing the Mayan ruins in Belize! The steps were uneven and narrow, though the payoff was priceless for the experience and the views you gain.

3. Carry a water bottle with you.

Sure, many places around the world sell bottled water, but the waste adds up exponentially. If you’re traveling to an area where tap water isn’t potable, bring a bottle with a filter (REI carries several models).

4. Pack healthy snacks in your bag.

My husband insists on this because I am prone to getting hangry! If you know which snacks you enjoy and travel well at home, you’ll probably be able to find something comparable at your destination.

Plus it’s fun to try local snacks in new places. My husband and I got a 6-month subscription for Universal Yums from our friends, and it was fascinating to try chips from Greece and candy from Thailand!

5. Do a map check regularly.

I’ll admit it, I’m a total map geek. I get a paper map everywhere I travel, and cross-check it with my mobile phone map.

If you use a GPS in your car, periodically take a different route to a familiar location and keep an eye on how the roads and land features appear on the screen. Walk around your hometown using a map app on your phone, like maps.me, Gaia or Google Maps. Seeing how the screen correlates to familiar territory will help you “translate” how it works in an unfamiliar place.

6. Notice landmarks at intersections.

Even if you’ve driven or walked a route dozens of times, check out what’s at the corner when you make a turn. What color is the door on the building? What’s the sticker on the light post? If you look more closely, you’ll probably notice new things.

Then when you’re traveling, you’ll pick up on visual clues that can help you find that amazing coffee shop or your way back to the hotel.

When my husband and I were in Barcelona we found this cute shop with amazing Jamon Iberico and Catalan tomato bread (Pa Amb Tomaquet – sooo good). We didn’t pay close enough attention to where it was, though, and ended up spending at least a half hour the next day wandering the alleys off of Las Ramblas trying to find it. When we did, we took a photo of the nearest intersection!

7. Let someone know where you’re going, and when you expect to be back.

This is especially important if you’re going out on your own. I wake up earlier than my husband, and I love to go out and wander in neighborhoods around where we’re staying. If I didn’t leave a note he would wake up and freak out! Plus it’s just always a good idea at home and elsewhere.

8. Check the forecast for the day before heading out the door.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get complacent at home because you can adjust to unexpected weather more easily. When you’re in a new place, you may not know where to stop in to get a poncho or umbrella.

When my husband and I were in Quito, every day the forecast called for rain, so we always took a jacket and umbrella but rarely used them. When it started pouring on our last day there, we were glad we had the umbrella in my bag!

9. Stash a mini first aid kit in key places.

I’ve picked up several little first aid kits at health fairs, doctor’s offices and other places where they give them out for free. I keep one in the bag I carry around town and in my car. When I travel, I tuck one in my suitcase and my travel purse.

10. Have a set place for your key items.

My dad tried to teach me this when I was a kid and I misplaced a library book, my glasses, keys, and countless other items. I’ve gotten better at returning items to the same place as an adult, which is especially helpful as I age!

Phone, keys, glasses and other little things are easy to misplace in unfamiliar places, so decide one location to put the item (on the bedside table, in a certain pocket of your suitcase) and be vigilant about returning it there.

What habits do you have that are helpful when you travel? Share them with me at becki@trailblazerwellness.com – thanks!

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

Tips for choosing a personal trainer

Tips for choosing a personal trainer

How to find a professional that’s a good fit for you

Whether you’re looking for a personal trainer to help achieve a fitness goal, for motivation, or for guidance on exercising – it can be difficult to know where to begin. A quick internet search will result in a lengthy list of fitness “experts”, workout plans, and an alphabet soup of certification letters behind trainers’ names. So how do you know what’s best for you?

Choosing a trainer suited to your individual needs, personality, and motivation style will certainly set the stage for success. But a trainer’s educational background should also be a top consideration before handing over your hard-earned dollars.

Certified doesn’t necessarily mean qualified

Not all personal training certifications are created equal – in fact, the fitness industry is very lightly regulated. Some individuals take an online weekend course to receive a certification, while others undergo hours of practicum, difficult exams, and meet a long list of stringent requirements.

The latter is preferable, as proper exercise programming requires a thorough understanding of physiology, anatomy, behavior modification techniques, and special population health concerns.

The following list, in no particular order, outlines the top 3 nationally recognized and accredited training certifications:

NASM-CPT: National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

The NASM certification prepares trainers to work with any individual looking to get into better shape, including those who are new to exercise. It covers a broad range of exercise principles, as well as injury prevention techniques.

ACSM-CPT: American College of Sport Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

ACSM trainers are suited for anyone looking to improve overall fitness, and they’re typically well versed in tailoring programs for specific health goals. Many ACSM trainers are also skilled in fitness programming for certain medical conditions, such as cancer, or clients dealing with sensory or cognitive disabilities.

NSCA-CPT: National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer

Trainers with the NSCA certification are typically focused on the athletic population and often work with high-level athletes. While many will train all types of clients, this certification uses preparation and adaptation guidelines suited toward specialized programs for the athletic community.

Honorable Mentions:

  • ACE-CPT: American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer
  • ISSA-CPT: International Sports Sciences Association Certified Personal Trainer

Both ACE and ISSA offer solid foundational programs and are often considered to round out the “top 5” most respected certifications in the personal training industry.

Choosing a trainer: finding the right fit

Now that you’re up to speed on the certification lingo, you can better qualify a trainer’s background. Finding a local professional often starts with a simple internet search, or inquiring at the gym (if you belong to one). Friends and family members are great referral sources, too.

Start by looking for someone who seems suited to your interests and abilities. Most trainers have online bios along with their professional history, which will be helpful in narrowing down a prospect list. Keep in mind the trainer/client relationship is one of the most important variables in achieving your fitness goals, and one you don’t want to compromise on.

Once you’ve honed your list and contacted a few potential options, your work isn’t finished. Even if an individual has an accredited training certification, experience with a variety of clients, and years of training history, you’ll still want to ensure he or she is the right fit – for YOU.

Ask to meet or speak with the trainer(s) you’ve selected for an initial consultation. Some may even offer a complimentary training session to gauge whether your personalities are a match.

Remember, trainers have a wide range of styles; from the exercises they recommend to their verbal coaching techniques – so it’s important to find what works for you. For example, if you desire a “tough love” approach, but your would-be trainer is as gentle as a lamb, it might not be a good connection.

After checking the boxes of a reputable professional who clicks with your personality, your trainer should examine your health history and fitness goals before beginning any one-on-one sessions. These details matter, and will help in creating a personalized and effective plan. As you start to move through your workouts (even if they are tough!), your body will begin to adapt. After a short time, you should ideally feel energized, encouraged and enabled to perform better.

Whether your goal is to simply gain strength, walk for miles without tiring, or lift a suitcase into an overhead airplane compartment – a competent professional should provide a safe, well-planned program every step of the way.

The rest of the equation

Lastly, let’s look a few other considerations that can impact your decision about a personal trainer

Location: If your trainer isn’t conveniently located, or doesn’t offer in-home services, you may struggle with the motivation to get to the gym. Some will offer online coaching, Skype sessions, or provide a personal plan for home workouts – keep this in mind if it’s needed.

Diet and Nutrition: Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t out-train a bad diet?” Proper nutrition is an essential part of any successful training program. If you would like nutritional guidance, be sure to ask potential trainers about their qualifications in that area. Some trainers have additional certifications in nutrition, and others don’t. 

Personal Contact: Fitness professionals should be just that – professional. A first-rate trainer will ask or confirm that you’re comfortable with personal contact, which may include touching to show proper body positioning, especially in your first few sessions. As you develop a relationship and establish rapport, you’ll learn their physical cuing style. Bottom line, you should never feel uncomfortable with a trainer. If you do, it’s time to move on.

Exercise Selection: If you are asked to perform an exercise that feels unsafe or causes acute pain, do not hesitate to stop the training session. An experienced trainer knows when to help you push, and when to pull back. Safety always takes precedence.

Finances: Personal training is an investment in your health. Trainers often offer packages to lower the cost of sessions, and some will do small group training (2+ people) at a slightly reduced fee. Others may offer an online or tailored at-home program after meeting a few times in person. Either way, your trainer will typically try to find a solution that works for both your health and financial wellness.

If you think enlisting the help of a trainer might be right for your fitness journey, you now have the basic information you’ll need to find one that’s the right fit. Not only will a personal trainer help push you toward your goals, a good one will also provide motivation and accountability, help you prevent injury, and maximize your results.

Lori Janousek is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with over 12 years in the Health and Wellness industry. She currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. Lori enjoys traveling, being active outdoors with her husband, lifting weights, running, and yoga.

Lori loves to take her friend’s dogs out for a walk!

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