Before you can fire off questions, though, you need to locate a trainer or two who seem reasonably good prospects.
In hopes of helping people launch a productive search, we recently asked readers how they went about the process. Dozens replied. We also put the question to some national fitness experts and local trainers. Here are their recommended strategies:
With typical rates around a dollar a minute, personal trainers don't come cheap; finding one who is qualified, understands what you're after and has the expertise to deliver can be an uphill battle.
(Picturequest/Creatas - For the Post)
Word of Mouth
Some readers told us they owed their friends, neighbors or co-workers for steering them to a favorite trainer. In most cases, the approach worked only for those not already wedded to a particular gym or exercise locale. But then there was Julie Robinson of Gaithersburg.
A business associate directed Robinson, 38, to Tony Marchegiani, an independent trainer at Fitness First in North Potomac, where Robinson already had a membership. The colleague, she said, "was really happy with his trainer, so I asked for his name." After seven months with Marchegiani, Robinson has dropped two dress sizes and is determined to stick with her program -- and trainer.
"He pays close attention to your progress. He takes very good notes to see where you were the last time you worked out. He reminds you that you need to make time for yourself, even when you're busy. It's good for me to hear that, because working out is the first thing that goes when I'm busy.
"He asks what I've been eating. He just tries to keep me focused and motivated. He's very serious about wanting you to be happy with your results."
No matter how strong a recommendation may be, Bracko cautions, a trainer just may not mesh well with your personality and exercise goals.
To test this, Bracko suggests taking "a test drive" -- sampling a session with a trainer and weighing the compatibility factor before entering a long-term agreement. Some gyms offer members a free intro session when they join and a free annual tune-up thereafter. These may qualify as your test drive. Otherwise, be prepared to pay.
Health Club Referral
Because a gym's membership often covers the fitness spectrum from hardly to hard core, many health clubs have a staff trained to work with a range of populations and needs. That makes many health clubs good places to start a search.
Some clubs with local branches, like Sport and Health Clubs and Bally Total Fitness, employ personal trainers who offer services to both members and nonmembers. At Bally, people in both groups pay about $60 an hour. At Sport and Health, members pay $45 to $85 an hour, depending on gym location; nonmembers pay roughly $10 more per hour. Both clubs offer discounted multi-session packages that can trim costs by as much as $15 per session -- possibly good deals if you like the trainer, bad if you don't. Bracko recommends asking in advance whether a package deal commits you to working with a single trainer, or whether you can switch if you're not happy.