How to Select the Right Personal Trainer for You

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If you’re new to health and fitness, I welcome you. Selecting a Personal Trainer is an often a first step for many wanting to begin their physical improvement journey or even just become acquainted with a nearby training facility.

I will preface this article by saying I am not a personal trainer nor do I have any intentions of formally becoming one.

You’ll be pleased to know I’m writing this from a perspective of a trainee; the exact place most of you reading this will find yourselves in.

One thing you must be aware of before you start is the sheer quantity of men and women claiming to be a trainer in 2016.

Just because someone has a large online following, a six pack or the money to buy a fitness center or franchise, doesn’t mean they have the requisite knowledge, experience and know how to help you improve your physique. – Jacob Schepis, JPS Health & Fitness

We now live in a world where a following can be bought and the six pack physique on show is almost more likely to be a product of fabrication rather than hours of hard training and a balanced diet. If you’re not playing devil’s advocate and questioning the legitimacy of what’s around, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Investing your time, money and a great deal of work into the training process warrants a close look at the trainer’s expertise and experience to make sure it aligns closely with what you wish to achieve.

Would you hire a coach specializing in Bodybuilding if your goal was to run your first half marathon in 12 weeks?

No.

Being blasé will leave you frustrated, confused and misinformed.

Don’t worry, I’ve outlined some important points for you to abide by below. I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with everything written here prior to your initial discussion with a personal trainer.

If their answers don’t check out, burn ’em and don’t continue to waste your time nor theirs.

1) Understand what you want from a Personal Trainer.

If you can’t capture what you would like out of the forthcoming sessions in one or two sentences, you’ve jumped the gun. You will put the prospective trainer in a situation where he or she will have to infer objectives from your generic ramblings about “wanting to lose weight” or “wanting to gain muscle”.

For example:

Do you have a time frame in mind? I want to run a mile in under 8 minutes.

Do you have an objective weight goal in mind? I want to lose 5 kilos in 2 months. I want to be able to Deadlift 200kg.

Do you have an event or important day coming up? I want to compete in my first amateur Gymnastics competition in 6 months.

By making these points clear up front, a suitable trainer will be able to make sure their program is tailored specifically to your needs through the initial testing and consultation process.

2) Question their qualifications and experience.

It’s now becoming easier to obtain a personal training certification in a shorter time frame. I recommend that you do your homework and ask a new trainer about both their qualifications and experience to determine if it aligns with your objectives as outlined above.

As a caveat, a PhD in Exercise Science (for example) with limited training experience does not necessarily trump an unqualified trainer who has actively attended relevant expert-led workshops with five years training experience.

Here’s a guideline:

Experience + Qualifications > Experience only > Qualifications only

This concept is not unfamiliar when it comes to employment opportunities. In more visual or practically demanding professions, the portfolio of work reigns supreme. You’d have a rough time finding high paying work as a Graphics Designer or Web Developer if you had little to show when a potential client requests to see your previous projects.

3) Do they practice what they preach?

I touched on this briefly in the introduction but this is important enough to warrant its own section.

It’s akin to learning how to drive a race car from an architect who has recently read a few articles on high level driving techniques.

They may know it in theory, but struggle to confidently demonstrate it in practice.

For example, in weight lifting there are several metrics used to gauge the difficulty and intensity of the training you’re performing. If a trainer in this space is unsure about what “5×5 @ 80%” means or how to work up to an “RPE 9” in a training session, you have every right to question their experience.

By not practising what they preach, you risk the trainer being disconnected from what you’re feeling during the session even though the planned numbers seem reasonable. We all have sub-par days when there’s something amiss, preventing us from achieving the lofty standards we’ve undoubtedly set.

A good trainer understands this (as they have been there themselves) and can make necessary adjustments within reason.

In fact, there’s a sales strategy you could apply to this situation I like to call the “BS test”. The test involves simply taking a topic (in this case personal training) that you’re knowledgeable about and feigning ineptitude when consulting a new source. If you’re unsure of this topic yourself, recruit an experienced friend or colleague who can go with you to help.

For example, in the event where the trainer is a proponent for debunked “broscience” rationale (“bro, you must eat protein within the 30 minute anabolic window…”), you’ve identified a poser who should be avoided or seriously questioned.

4) Review testimonials.

Health and fitness is a visual industry, meaning that we should be able to observe discernible results from previous clients. This can immediately prove the trainer’s worth, showcasing that their trainees are reaching their physical and/or performance-based targets.

Quantity implies quality.

However, be privy to the before and after photos. Were the photos taken with similar lighting conditions and angling? This is crucial. It’s stupidly easy to fabricate these kinds of photos and part of your due diligence should involve inspecting them for any kinds of tomfoolery or fabrication. If you’re interested, I touch on an example of this in The Dream Body is a Marketing Myth.

5) How long are you able to work with them?

Results worth attaining take time and so does building a rapport with a personal trainer. If meeting your goal in a certain time frame is what you want, make sure you understand if the trainer is able to stay with you until the end. Do they have any upcoming vacations or events which may inhibit the time they’re able to spend with you? Ask them.

From my experience, 6-8 weeks is usually the time when observable progress can be noticed, but I’d say 12 weeks (3 months) at a minimum is the ideal “sweet spot”. If you’re unhappy with your results after this time, there may be something awry which is keeping you from getting where you want to be.

During a 6-8 or 8-12 week personal training stint, the program of work supplied to you will undergo some changes depending on your progression. Unless your trainer is a mystical deity who can foresee your progress months into the future, a training regimen should not remain static or “locked in”.

6) Think.

If something doesn’t seem right, you have every right to question it. Ask your friends, ask other trainers and most importantly, ask yourself.

If you know someone who is unsure about where to begin on their health and fitness journey, hiring a personal trainer is a reasonable starting point. Please share this article with anyone who you believe requires this guidance. Let’s make sure everyone has access to the right information to realize their training potential; especially at the beginning.


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