Is your exercise motivation flagging? A fitness professional can provide the guidance and encouragement to get you back on track.

“A good personal trainer will listen to your goals and work with you to tailor a program that provides the maximum benefit for the time you invest,” says Michael Bracko, a sports physiologist and director of the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary, Alberta.

Personal training can cost $20 to $100 hourly, but there are ways to keep costs down. Many trainers offer package discounts or will coach you with one or two others so you can share the expense.

Check whether your insurer, company fitness center or health club offers a free consultation with a trainer. Caution: If you have a medical problem or haven’t exercised in years, ask your physician whether you can safely work out. If you get the okay, the trainer should at least request a doctor’s note describing what you can do.

When interviewing trainers, ask them about their:

Credentials. Someone with a four-year degree in exercise science or a similar discipline is likely to have a better understanding of how the body responds to exercise than does a person with a less relevant background. Look for trainers who are certified by organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Experience and references. Ask for an updated resume and references. If you have any health issues or limitations, it’s important to find someone who’s knowledgeable in those areas.

Workouts. How will the trainer create a regimen specifically for you? And how will the program change to keep you interested and challenged? A good trainer not only measures objective results but also looks at other facets of your life, including your sleep habits and your energy level.

Style. Do you prefer a drill sergeant or a cheerleader?

Business practices. The trainer should provide you with a copy of all contracts and policies on billing, scheduling and cancellations.

Expect to ease into a routine. Your trainer should explain why you’re doing the exercises and instruct you in the proper technique. Voice your concerns (or look elsewhere) if you’re excessively sore after workouts, if you suffer an injury or if your trainer won’t make appropriate adjustments when you’re feeling under the weather. Be wary of anyone who promises quick, easy results.

Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of United States.