Okay, you've got leads to some personal trainers. Now how do you make sure one or another is qualified and a good fit for you? Some help is available.

Most clubs require their trainers to have a college degree, first aid and CPR training, and a certification from a reputable fitness organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America or the Cooper Institute. However, standards vary from group to group, and you can't assume that affiliation with a health club means expertise.

Asking questions like the following, suggests the ACSM, can help you choose more wisely:

* Does the trainer hold a degree in an exercise science or health-related field as well as a certification from a nationally recognized organization? (The answer to this question and the next should be yes -- with particulars.)

* Is the trainer certified in first aid and CPR? Covered by liability insurance?

* What references can the trainer provide? (Ask former clients where they found the trainer helpful and what they see as potential trouble spots.)

* What kind of pre-training assessment will the trainer conduct to check for medical conditions or risk factors?

For more tips from ACSM, see "Selecting and Effectively Using A Personal Trainer" at www.acsm.org.

You may also want to ask some more pointed questions, geared to eliciting information specific to your needs. For example:

* Do you recommend that your clients take any sports or diet products? Steer clear of any trainer who pushes you to take -- or worse, gets a commission from selling -- sports supplements or performance-enhancing drugs. Apart from the legal and ethical issues raised by such conduct, many such products have been tied to serious health risks. Promotions for diet products also suggest the trainer's profit motive may outweigh his commitment to helping you reach your fitness goals.

* I have [name a physical concern: trick knees, a bad back, a heart condition, etc.]. What expertise do you have in this area and what steps will you take to ensure I progress safely?

* Tell me about a recent client you've helped achieve a goal.

* How will we track my progress and know when it's time to step up goals or change routines?

The ultimate question, of course, is this one:

* When will I graduate to working out on my own? Remember that you're asking this of a person whose livelihood depends on clients' continued patronage -- just as your wallet depends on a relatively quick break. Now there's a test of character. If the term he sets seems too long, too indefinite or subject to whim, move on.

-- Dana Scarton