How to Tell If Your Workout Routine Will (Actually) Help You Meet Your Fitness Goals
Our content strives to support, inform, and motivate you to meet your health goals. We want to be your trusted source of expert- and science-backed info dispensed in simple, actionable ways. Read our Editorial Guidelines.
You’re ready to get in shape, start a new workout routine, and commit the time and effort it takes to crush your fitness goals. We see you and love your enthusiasm. Before you tap play on that workout video or spend an hour on the elliptical machine, ask yourself: Am I confident this particular workout done for this long this many times a week will help me transform my body?
If the answer is yes, move forward. If the answer is, “I don’t know” or, worse, no, halt your horses. Consider this: The best workout routines are written by certified personal trainers or coaches who specialize in the type of program they’re prescribing — and are customized for the client.
Are you still sure about that yes? If we made you think, keep reading.
What Most People Misunderstand About Workout Routines
If you took advice from your bestie who’s trim and bouncy, or complete whatever free workouts you can find on Youtube, you might want to reconsider. If your workout routine wasn’t created or at least vetted by a credentialed fitness expert, six months from now, you might end up a little more fit but looking (and possibly feeling) very much the same as you are now.
No matter how well-meaning your fit best friend is or that fitspo influencer you follow on TikTok, unless they’re credentialed in the field, they’re unlikely to have the specific knowledge and experience necessary to help you meet your fitness goals safely and effectively.
To be clear, we’re not knocking the self-earned knowledge of fitness enthusiasts. But there’s a big difference between discovering what works for you, and applying the science of exercise to meet the needs of someone else whose goals, physical limitations, starting fitness level and knowledge are different from your own.
As a certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in exercise science and six additional certifications within the health and fitness field, I also worked as a full-time professor of exercise science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX. I spent three years of my career training future trainers, coaches, and therapists in my classes. These bright, enthusiastic, and smart individuals with a passion for health and fitness spent four years in the undergraduate program to learn the ins and outs of exercise science.
And yet, when trying a new exercise, they wouldn’t always have perfect form. Many (though certainly not all) would struggle on exams covering tough subjects like biomechanics or anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. But, by the end of the four years, most of these students would receive their diplomas, and we could send them off to start their careers, confident in the knowledge they had attained. This is because they studied, learned, grew, and were tested on subject matter that is more complicated than most people realize.
And there are studies (like this one from 2002, and another from 2015) that confirm that trainers who have formal education in the field and certifications from highly regarded organizations, like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), were more likely to perform well on tests of training knowledge than those without these credentials.
An Easy Way to Know if a Workout Routine Is Legit
If you want a truly safe and effective workout program, it’s best to vet its source. Ideally, you should seek out a personalized program from a trainer or coach with certifications, education, and experience helping clients achieve the goal you want to attain.
These trainers are more likely to have the knowledge and skill necessary to design a program that’s efficient and tailored to you. They can also build you a long-term training plan that’s nimble — meaning it can be scaled back when you get sick or super busy, and scaled up when things start coming together and you’re ready to handle more.
That said, if you’re not quite ready to seek out a trainer, you can still vet the workout routines you’re considering before diving in. Make sure the person who wrote or designed the program is appropriately credentialed. This means, at a minimum, they should have an accredited training or coaching certification in the field, and preferably one that is geared to your fitness goal.
If your goal is to lose weight, the program you use should be written by a personal trainer who has specialized certifications in weight loss or weight management. Likewise, if your goal is to run a marathon, you should look for a training routine written by a certified running coach.
You’ll benefit from this specialized expertise because the duration, intensity, frequency, and type of exercise you do while trying to lose weight should differ from the duration, intensity, frequency, and type of exercise you do while trying to maintain the weight you lost.
Follow the same logic when you have a sport-specific goal. The performance, metabolic, fueling, and recovery demands marathon training puts on your body warrant an expert-crafted training plan that will get your body ready to endure the distance on race day.
If you choose not to employ a certified personal trainer to create a training plan for you, the next-best thing is to follow workout routines that were created by certified trainers. You won’t get a customizable plan or one-on-one feedback from a fitness expert, but you can at least rest assured that the person who put together the workout routine knows what they’re doing for a general audience.