So you’ve decided to make that investment in yourself and your fitness goals by hiring a trainer – or maybe you’re still pondering the idea of working with a professional. Regardless of where you are on that decision spectrum, there are a few things you’ll want to think about when considering hiring a personal trainer. It’s more than just walking into your local gym and signing with the first available trainer, that’s not currently working with a client.
What Makes a Good Trainer?
The characteristics of a good personal trainer is very similar that of a parent, they should be patient, supportive, firm, good at teaching – in addition to being educated and experienced. So why is this important? It’s important because this person is someone that you’ll be putting your trust, goals and vulnerabilities into. These are hard enough to do in general, even more so when you’re coming in, not quite the best version of you, and possibly dealing with insecurities, anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, recovering from an injury or dealing with an illness. So you want to make sure that they are qualified, compassionate, educated and compatible.
Key Things to Consider
Credentials, certifications and education. Is the trainer certified to train? Some trainers went to school and got a kinesiology or sports medicine degree. More commonly you’ll see trainers that received nationally accredited certifications such as NASM, AFAA or ACE (just to name a few). In addition to the broad certifications, do they have any speciality certifications in strength and conditioning, nutrition, flexibility, pre/postnatal. Occasionally, you’ll find a trainer that has been in the industry for years and has tons of experience that takes place for the lack of certifications, and but do your research! I find myself giving more appreciation and consideration to those that hold a degree or are certified because it tells me that you were dedicated to investing time and money into yourself and your craft. And for the right person, it makes me feel a bit more at ease about investing my money and time into them. However, just because someone does have a degree or certification doesn’t make them a sure in, and is not the only thing to rely on.
Personal Experience. There’s many reasons why personal trainers get into training. They may have been athletes in high school and college, they may come from a family that has a health history that encouraged them to become trainers, they themselves may have struggled with health and fitness. I’ve noted that trainers that have been through the struggle of weight loss (myself included) tend to have another perspective on the journey that allows them to better resonate with the various stages and emotions that come along with the journey. This is the same when it comes to various injuries or illnesses that lead people to weight loss and personal training.
Professional Experience. Take a look at their resume. Not just their education and certifications but also: How long has the trainer been in business? Where do they train? Who else have they trained? What types of clients do they typically train? Have their been an serious issues in their past that would affect their current work with you?
Personality and compatibility. The decision to get a personal trainer is hard enough, so you want to make sure that the person you entrust your fitness goals with is someone that you feel comfortable with Yes, they should be encouraging and good at what they do, but do you like them? Are they upbeat, friendly and supportive? If you don’t mesh well with them as a person, then it will be hard for them to be effective at helping you reach your goals because you will be mentally disintuned with them.
Location. Do they work out of a gym? If so, where is that gym located? Is it a gym that you are easily able to get to, does it fit into your daily commute? Do you feel comfortable in that gym envionriment. Is it an outdoor bootcamp? Do you like working out outdoors. Do you mind the weather and elements? Or are they are traveling trainer that makes house calls. How well do you know them, does it cost more, do you feel comfortable allowing them in your house, do you have the proper space and equimpement or do they bring their own equipment or utilize your properties gym?
Availability. Are they available at times that fit in with your desired and ideal workout times. If you (or the trainer) have to drastically change your schedule in an unportable or less than desirable way just to make the appointment work then that is usually a recipe for disaster. If you know that its best for you to get your workouts done first thing in the morning before work, then find a trainer that is an early morning trainer. Another consideration of availability is the current client load. Can they reasonably fit you into their schedule and give you the attention that you need? If they have a jam packed schedule along with a “never-say-no-to-a-dollar” attitude then that can actually lead them to burnout, client neglect or inefficient results.
Specialities. Does the trainer have any nutrition, flexibility, strength & conditioning, athletic performance, children’s fitness, seniors fitness, pre/postnatal, SAQ (strength, agility and quickness), TRX, Kettlebells, etc. These specialities will give them more knowledge and abilities to work with you in a variety of ways and modalities. Also, most national accreditations for Certified Personal Trainers have specific limitations for consulting on things like nutrition, supplementations, medications, flexibility and injuries. At the same time, pay attention to if a trainer stays within their field of expertise or if they regularly try to give advice, workouts or “fixes” that are outside their scope of practice. Why is this important? Despite having the best of intentions, this can often do more damage than good. If you need help in a specific area then find someone that is a certified specialist in that area. You’re not going to go see your general family doctor for a tooth ache are you? I see the same thing in the gym/training arena. For example, something as simple as stretching. I see a lot of trainers stretching clients when they shouldn’t be. CPT’s are not stretch/flexibility coaches – unless they did an additional training certification for it. That being said, your trainer should not be afraid to refer you to someone else. Even better if they have a network of other experts that they all share referrals with.
Cost. Of course cost is a big factor for most because you have to be able to properly budget this investment.More expensive doesn’t mean better results or quality of training. Cheaper isn’t always better either. Keep in mind though that there is not a magic price, so do you research! Cost can takes into consideration: the number of sessions, length of sessions, if it’s a one-on-one, semi-private or group session, if they have to come to you, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that you’re not just paying for that session, the trainer’s experience and education is a big part of that final number.
Online vs. In person. Now that depends on you. How much support and accountability do you need? You may have a little more freedom to workout when you want if you’re working with an online trainer, but being that they are not there physically it makes it hard to get real time corrections, progressions and regressions when you need them and when they matter most. An online trainer may want to do weekly or monthly checkins, have regular forms to figure out or photo/video uploading requirements to help them track your progress. If you don’t enjoy the extra “paperwork” and record keeping then an in-person option maybe where they can handle all of these things may be a better option for you.
Shows interest. Does the trainer (or potential trainer) show a general interest in you, your goals and your life or do they just talk about themselves all the time? Do they ask you questions regularly and do they listen and remember the things that you tell them? Do they ask you follow up question or send resources that show they listen to you? If all they do is show up for a workout and collect money on the due date then they probably aren’t the one for you.
Things to Watch Out For
So now that you know what to look for with trainers, let’s give some thought to red flags and things that you should avoid.
Likes and followers. These days, a bit of personal success posted online all of a sudden seems to “make someone a professional”. Please be weary of these things. When it comes to your body, health and wellness, it should not be based on a popularity contest. There’s nothing wrong with a qualified trainer having a great social media presence, but they should also have experience, education, results and testimonials to back that up.
Great pics. Just because a trainer has a bunch of photos of their own hot physique doesn’t make them qualified. They may be great at working on their own body (or have a trainer of their own) but what is their ability to work with other people and body types? Their level of hotness or fitness does not represent their level of ability and expertise.
Dateability. It seems sad that I even have to say this, but I see it all to often. Don’t pick a trainer because you want to get with them. Respect that they have a job today and that’s not hooking up with clients. If you’re goal is to get to know the person on a personal level then reach out to them and say that, but don’t interfere with their business. Likewise, if a trainer is abusing their position and coming onto you or making you feel uncomfortable then be sure to speak up for yourself to set boundaries or find another trainer.
Regular Gym Member. You know that person that’s always in the gym, that is in great shape or appears to know what they are doing, well they aren’t always a great bet either. If they aren’t already a trainer, don’t try to turn them into one. Likewise, if they aren’t already a trainer but are interested, don’t volunteer to be a test dummy for them just to get free or discounted services.
Client Judgement. While getting references and feedback from other clients can be helpful, don’t use other client’s appearances alone to judge a trainer. Everyone has a different starting point, is on a different stage in their journey, has different goals, different levels of ability, limitation and motivation. Instead of looks, focus in on the interactions between the trainer and their clients, how the client speaks about the trainer and what is the overall response of the client to training.