Looking For an Online Workout Plan? A Trainer Wants You to Know This First

If your Instagram looks anything like mine, pretty much every other post is a trainer, entrepreneur, or influencer promoting an eating plan, workout app, or their own impressive journey. In a lot of ways, this is great. The social media fitness community can be supportive, motivational, fun, and a great way to track your own progress. But one thing it's made more complicated? Finding and choosing a good fitness plan. Options are great, but at this point, it's overwhelming. From all these choices, how do you find the plan that's safe, doable, effective, and right for you?

BOC-certified athletic trainer Liz Letchford, MS, told POPSUGAR that being cautious and skeptical is your best bet. "Make an educated decision," she said. "Choose a coach who has the education and certifications that are most in line with your goals." If you're looking to lose fat and build up strength, for example, Liz recommends "a scientifically rigorous plan, like Renaissance Periodization." If you're a runner looking to improve your split time, "a running coach who is well-versed in gait analysis" is the way to go. Just looking to move better and with less pain? Look for a coach "who specializes in biomechanics, like those certified by Dumbbells, Barbells, and Cables (DBC) or Clinical Athlete."

In other words, vetting a trainer, coach, or training plan is essential. That means looking beyond their photos and into their credentials and specialties by googling them, checking their website for certifications, or sending them a DM to ask about their areas of expertise. And it's worth being cautious with the term "coach," too. Some coaches can be certified; a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) might call themselves a coach, for example. But for the most part, it's not a regulated term, which means that if someone calls themselves a fitness or weight-loss coach, they might not actually be trained or certified in that area.

Instead, look for terms like certified personal trainer (CPT), CSCS, or certified athletic trainer (ATC) — who specialize in treating injuries and improving mobility in a more rehab-oriented way than a CPT. Then, check out the organization they're certified by; they should state it right next to the certification, on their bio or website.

For trainers and training plans, look for people certified from organizations like:

  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC)

For running coaches, look for certifications from:

  • USA Track and Field (USATF)
  • United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA)
  • Road Runners Club of America (RRCA)

For nutrition planning, look for a:

  • Registered Dietitian (RD or RDN)
  • Certified Nutritionist (CN)

With nutrition, it's important to know that RDs have more training, and prescribe full diet plans. A CN, on the other hand, can give advice on making better food choices and eating according to your goals. And if you're looking at a trainer whose organization isn't on this list, give it a Google search. See what the organization requires for certification; there should be courses, either in-person or online, on subjects like anatomy and coaching techniques.

Choosing a trainer based on their credentials and specialties is the way to go, Liz said, because everyone's body is different; if you go off of someone's appearance or social media game, there's no guarantee you'll get identical results. That's no reason to stop checking out those posts or following those trainers or influencers — their tips might still be helpful, and if nothing else, they're fun to follow. If you're plotting out your fitness plan, though, it helps to look a little further than skin deep. Focus on you — your body, your habits, your goals — and choose a qualified trainer or a plan that matches up.