When you need help with a new project, sometimes it is better to turn to a human than a book — especially when that project is your own body.

When you need help with a new project, sometimes it is better to turn to a human than a book — especially when that project is your own body.

The hardest part of getting in shape can be figuring out how to start. Whether you're a seasoned athlete or a virgin gym-goer, finding a knowledgeable guide can be the difference between finally crossing the finish line first, or giving up in defeat and embarrassment three reps into the first set of lunges.

"It's important to choose carefully," says Michael Sotos, owner of Rogue Valley Fitness Training. "If you hire a trainer who is less than credible, you can wind up learning to do exercises incorrectly. Not only can this render your efforts ineffectual, but potentially create dangerous, injury-inducing habits."

So how do you know whether the trainer you hire is worthy of your well-calibrated biceps of the future?

Sotos recommends making sure your proposed trainer is certified by a legitimate national organization "because anyone can say they're certified."

"A trainer should be more than happy to discuss their experience and qualifications," Sotos says, "so you shouldn't hesitate to ask."

Experience is just as important as credentials, says Andy Baxter, owner of Baxter Fitness Solutions for 50 and Beyond, who is a medical exercise specialist. "Certification without experience can render a trainer educated, but not necessarily effective," Baxter says. "Ask around. Word of mouth can tell you a lot about a trainer's success."

Because Baxter works with many seniors and people who need post-rehabilitation conditioning, his work is often part of an ongoing protocol coordinated with their physicians.

"A lot of what we do is results-based rather than about qualifications. The letters that follow one's name don't necessarily mean that a trainer is good at what they do, just that they have gone through the motions," Baxter says.

"The whole idea for having a trainer is to give the end-user the education they need to make their own choices. You want them to make an intellectual decision about how best to accomplish and set their goals, and teach them how to physically do the exercise.

"A lot of training properly is about establishing neuromuscular patterns. Simply getting physically strong, by comparison, is easy; the form and platform with which you get strong is the hard part. And that's why you need a professional."

Another important reason for hiring a trainer is to help you stay motivated. Charlene Hamilton, owner of Women's Fitness Company in Medford, says she was unable to make the changes that allowed her to lose 50 pounds until she hired a trainer for herself.

"One of the most important things for me was to have someone to help measure my progress and regularly encourage its continuation," she says.

Hamilton benefited — in life- and wardrobe-changing ways — from having a trainer who held her accountable for sticking with her program both in and out of the gym.

"I needed assistance from someone tough enough to push me beyond where I might have stalled or quit otherwise, yet knowledgeable enough to not hurt me by pushing too hard."

Hamilton's company is particularly attuned to the needs of women, and the trainers there have "specialized knowledge of the female-specific physique," she says, "both chemically and with regard to body type."

Tanya Dadaos, a certified trainer, recommends "choosing a trainer you can get along well with, whose personality and availability match yours, and whose qualifications ... fit with your goals."

"An initial interview is really valuable for both client and trainer," she says.

Dadaos, a type-1 diabetic since childhood, says her own health challenges have allowed her to be insightful and sensitive to the individualized needs of each client.

"The goal is to get moving, no matter what your limits — real or perceived — might be. Discovering the facts about your trainer's special qualifications and experience can be as valuable as learning whether their credentials are current and have merit," says Dadaos.

"They should support you in your goals, not their own goals for you."