Hiring the Right Personal Trainer – 8 Things To Know

cartoon man thinking about hiring a personal trainerSo, you’ve made the right decision to start an exercise program and to finally clean up your diet.  Congratulations, you’ve  just started your journey to becoming the best you can be. You’ve given your genes a chance to express themselves in the most optimal way and you’re set to get the most out of your life. In fact, you’re so serious about making big changes that you’ve decided to get the help of fitness professional. But do you know where to look?  Do you even know what you’re looking for?  Trying to find a personal trainer that’s right for you is not unlike trying to find a good dentist, a lawyer or a doctor, in that they are not all created equal.

It seems that every fitness professional nowadays has a specialty program or system that claims to be better than all the rest. But, it can be difficult to know what makes an exercise program effective or what makes it complete nonsense. You are completely at the mercy of the marketing that you are presented with, which seldom has any real world practicality or scientific rationale tied to its use. I’m going to attempt to remove the veil of ignorance from your eyes and provide a checklist of what to look for before you consider hiring a personal trainer.

Their background

This might be the most overlooked area when you are looking for a personal trainer.  How do I know?  Because I am one and in 10 years I can count on 1 hand how many times a prospective client has inquired about my credentials.  Even today, people hire me based on reputation or a general assumption that I am professional. Personal training can be a large investment, not only financially, but you put your health into someone else’s hands.  Don’t you want them to be qualified?

Now although I think that all trainers should be certified, or at least have some formal education in the science of exercise, their true worth is determined by his/her application of this knowledge.  Trust me when I say that some of the worst trainers out there actually possess the most education, they just lack the ability to apply it in real world situations.  So first establish if they have a reputable certification. Then find out how much experience do they have and does their experience match your goals?  

What are others saying about him/her?  What have they accomplished with their own training efforts?

I can tell you that any fitness professional who is out of shape, doesn’t likely spend much time reading or practicing their own methods. Perhaps they are too busy marketing garbage fitness info products because they are more motivated by greed than by your needs.

To answer these questions you’ll need to find methods in both the online and offline world.  These days you can get reviews and background information on just about any personal trainer from Google.

Their approach

Here’s a fact.  Personal trainers or fitness instructors that use “canned” exercise programs or one size fits all solutions to your goals do not possess the critical thinking and problem solving skills to helping you achieve them.

While it is true that almost anything will work if you’ve been inactive for sometime, you will soon hit a plateau that this type of trainer will not be able to get you out of.

You can recognize this approach from one who trains 8-10 people a day and never seems to record anything.  How does he/she remember all that data to be referenced 6 months from now?  Does it seem like your program is constantly changing for no apparent reason and with no explanation from the trainer?  Are the exercises randomly delivered without any consistency.  If your trainer is guilty of any of these, he/she is just giving you a “workout”, not a program and your results will be far from optimal.

When they are working, is he/she a “workout buddy” or a teacher to their client?  Teachers will give you skills that you can use on your own for the rest of your life.  A workout buddy just pumps you up and counts reps.  Which is more valuable to you?  I can tell you that teachers are hard to find but you can pick up a workout buddy at any gym for about $15/hr.

Their training style

This is critical. If you don’t like your trainer, how effective can they be?  Most personal trainers, as they mature, will develop a style that blends with their target market.  This is one way they build their reputation.  When I say “style‘” I’m referring to the type of energy they impose on their clients and others around them.  Some fitness pros go too far and can actually negatively impact your workout.  Some common examples are: The Gym Jerk and Mr/Mrs. Personality.

These 2 types are complete opposite.  The former can best be described as the boot camp instructor from hell.  They are loud, abrasive, and obnoxious to most people.  They believe it is their duty to break down your will and your body in order to build it.  They’ll tell you that feeling nauseous is normal and they’ll force advanced exercise techniques on you in your first workout.

The latter example won’t do any of these things, in fact, they might do nothing at all.  Many people are attracted to Mr/Mrs. Personality for their flamboyant personality and gift for gab.

Although you can expect riveting conversation from this trainer, it will almost always distract from the workout and ultimately your results.  He/she is often too busy “working the room”, or talking about their private lives to even notice what you’re doing. They usually fail in getting you to work hard enough or with enough focus to be effective.  This trainer is also prone to disclosing private information about you to other clients, so beware.

Fitness professionals that fall into either of these categories are most likely using their unique persona to compensate for a lack of training expertise, experience or sense of inadequacy and ultimately give you a warped view of what a personal trainer really is.  Find one with a style and personality that works for you.

Their health and fitness philosophy

Every personal fitness professional adheres to a specific code of conduct or philosophy that determines what direction his/her clients will go.  It is your responsibility to find out what your trainer’s philosophy is and if it will match your own.  Some things to consider are:

    • Could their system potentially get you injured?  Lifting weight too fast, use of high impact activities ( i.e. sprinting, running, plyometrics), using poor exercise technique and misuse of unstable exercise tools (exercise balls, bosu) are all examples of practices that can get you hurt unnecessarily.
    • Can this approach be followed long term?  Are you doing long workouts and several session per week?  Is this really sustainable if you have a busy life?
    • Do their practices gel with common sense?  Do the methods seem to be logical and reasonable?
    • Have they got good results for their clients with said practices?

How do they work out?

You can tell a lot about a trainer by watching them work out.  Some just can’t get past training their clients the way they train themselves.  It works for them so it must work for you too, right? Wrong!  The worst culprit is the bodybuilder turned trainer (note, I too am a bodybuilder turned trainer, just don’t hold it against me).  These guys tend to grunt and groan their way through their high intensity sets and will most likely expect you to do the same.

Another example is the trainer who seems to do nothing but cardio and lifts the lightest weight in the gym for years on end.  Well, if you hire them, guess what you’ll probably be doing?  I come from a background of lifting heavy weights; and guess what, my clients are the strongest in the gym.  This because I tend to slant my programs toward strength development.  It’s what I know best.  How you want your training experience to be can be directly tied to the experience you see them having during his/her own workout.  Observe their technique and body language.  If that doesn’t appeal to you look elsewhere.

Do they offer nutritional support?

If you really want results from a personal training investment, you’ll need one that covers all your bases.  The biggest one being your nutrition. Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall health, performance and appearance, and needs to be assessed and managed by a qualified trainer.  Personal trainer certifications don’t offer trainers much more than a Grade 7 health class level of knowledge so it’s up to the trainer to seek related credentials on their own.

Stay far away from those who prescribe diets or diet templates.  This is far too common and is outside of the trainers scope of practice. These templates are usually based on some arbitrary mathematical formula that’s given to all their clients.  If you need nutritional specialization you should seek advice from a dietician or a qualified nutritionist. That said, a good trainer will have accountability systems in place to keep help you manage your eating habits. Find one that has additional training in nutritional studies to ensure your getting the best information.

Do they implement fitness “gimmicks” into their routine?

This is a common case of a trainer lacking knowledge and/or professional confidence.  If they are assured in their methods they wouldn’t need to jump on the latest fitness gadget to get you results.  These gimmicks all come and go, so you want someone that utilizes proven methods to help you reach your goals.

Beware of “cheap” personal training

There are many personal trainers that will compete for your business by claiming that you don’t need to pay high prices for the service.  They offer a solution that has you paying about 2/3 of the price of  their competitors to get your attention.  This isn’t a bad thing, but there is usually some deception in the fine print.  They don’t tell you upfront that although it’s about 30% cheaper, it’s also only 30 minutes! In other words you’d pay 2/3 the cost for half the time.  Not such a good deal now is it?

If you’re into 30 minute sessions and want to pay less than a 60 minute session then this is great news for you.  Just understand that the overall value of 30 minutes is less than a 60 minute session in most cases.  Proponents of this system will tell you you don’t need to work out for an hour when only 30 minutes will do.  While for some this may be true, for most people, this simply won’t work.  To understand this further check out this post for a 30 minute personal training review.

Another place that perpetuates cheap personal training is Craigslist.  This is where many junior or struggling fitness professionals try to get their business up and running.  They offer great deals but buyer beware, because talented and experienced fitness professionals don’t need to do this.  Others will offer cheap rates for “personal training” but when you read their ad more thoroughly, it’s actually a group fitness class that your signing up for.  If it’s not one on one, it’s not personal training, simple as that.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.

Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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