Need a Health or Fitness Expert? Here's How to Choose the Right One

By Andrew Heffernan

Maybe you've hit a workout plateau. Or you've set a lofty fitness goal and need guidance on how to make it happen. Or you're looking for someone who can provide accountability and help you push your limits.

Whatever the reason, if you're ready to take your progress to the next level, you may want to consider calling in the pros.

Hiring a professional can give you a leg up when it comes to achieving your fitness goals. Specialists — including trainers, nutrition experts, and coaches — can help you optimize your wellness routine and redefine what's possible.

Plus, you'll have the confidence of knowing you can reach out to an expert if you hit any roadblocks.

So which pros do you need on your team? That depends on your goals. Not everyone needs every expert on this list — but if there's a specific challenge you'd like to address, consider bringing one or more of these folks into the fold.

1. Certified Personal Trainer

If you've hit a performance plateau or you're not sure how to start the next step in your health and fitness journey — or if you're just beginning — a certified personal trainer can help. Your trainer can design and supervise an individualized workout program tailored to your specific goals and provide motivation and accountability when you need it.

When choosing a trainer, be sure to look for someone with certification from an accredited program such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), American Council on Exercise (ACE-CPT), or the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM-CPT).

Along with their certifications, your trainer should be someone with whom you feel you could have good rapport, has years of experience training people, or works for an established, reputable gym or training center.

2. Nutrition Expert

A dietitian or nutritionist can help you create a sustainable healthy eating plan and make sure you're giving your body the proper fuel for your workouts.

One caveat: In some states, virtually anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. When choosing a professional to help you dial in your nutrition, look for one of these designations:

Registered dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

RD/RDNs are highly trained medical professionals who have, at a minimum, completed a bachelor's in nutrition and dietetics and at least 1,000 to 1,200 hours of supervised practice through a verified internship.

In addition to helping you optimize your personalized nutrition plan to reach your fitness or weight loss goals, a dietitian can also work with your physician to help manage chronic conditions that may be related to diet. Find one near you.

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)

These professionals must complete a master's or doctoral degree in nutrition or clinical healthcare, along with 1,000 hours of supervised practice before they can work with clients privately. A CNS may have additional experience and certifications in treating specific populations, such as the elderly or athletes.

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3. Health Coach

Want someone to take a big-picture approach to your wellness, from your diet and exercise programming to your relationships to your career satisfaction?

Want holistic guidance on your fitness, nutrition, supplements, and recovery strategies — especially if you have a medical condition?

A health coach may be the way to go. Health coaches work alongside your physician to implement strategies to manage illness and reach wellness goals. The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching certifies and recommends training courses, so look for their seal of approval.

Still, this is a new field, and the term "health coach" can be used by anyone — so be sure the person you hire has the right credentials and has experience working with people like you.

4. Bodywork Practitioner

Banged up? Need some TLC? It never hurts to have a good bodywork practitioner in your contacts list.

Bodywork is a broad term that refers to complementary therapies — including massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, and reflexology — that may help with relaxation or pain management.

Depending on your preference and budget, you may choose to have a standing appointment with these professionals, or to only call them as needed. Bodywork practitioners can vary widely in their specialties and approaches, so be sure to check their credentials and ask for references.

5. Life Coach

If you feel like you're stuck in a rut, off-track, or in need of direction, a life coach may be helpful.

Talking with a life coach regularly can help clarify your goals, streamline your life, and move you towards a better future. Your life coach can also hold you accountable for taking steps along a positive and fulfilling path.

Sessions — usually weekly — can be in-person or virtual. Different life coaches have different specialties, so be sure to find one who lines up with your goals. Look for a life coach with credentials through Wellcoaches School of Coaching or the International Coaches Federation.

6. Mental Health Professional

A mental health professional — such as a therapist, sports psychologist, or psychiatrist — can help you manage emotional and psychological challenges and get into the best mindset to achieve your goals.

Different types of mental health professionals have different approaches and areas of expertise.

For example, therapists and counselors can evaluate mental health conditions and provide guidance. Sessions may take the form of in-depth conversations, which help you make sense of your emotional life and guide you towards coping strategies for difficult situations.

Psychiatrists are medical professionals (MD or DO) who are qualified to manage acute emotional and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. Treatment may include talk therapy, but psychiatrists are also licensed to prescribe medication.

Some people work with a mental health professional on an ongoing basis, checking in regularly to help stay on track. Others only seek therapy when they're experiencing an acute problem. When choosing a mental health professional, be sure to carefully vet their credentials and experience.

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