Let me start by saying that this post is long overdue. As a matter of fact, I could easily say that it has been “in the making” for probably about 3 years.
There are few things that make me more upset than watching an excited new client (that probably spent weeks or months trying to convince themselves to get started) begin training with a poor trainer and ultimately get injured, mistreated, or unmotivated. The crazy part is that the client is often led to believe that their failure is their own fault! I would like to say that this scenario is pretty rare, but the reality is that it is more common than a success story and this is exactly the reason why the personal training industry has such a bad rap.
Having been in this industry for 7 years, I have managed, taught, learned from, hired, fired, and worked with hundreds of trainers. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly, and what I want to do today is give you the information you or a friend may need to avoid the 2 latter.
Here are some areas to consider that will increase your chances of hiring a quality trainer:
I chose to tackle this one first because it is the most misunderstood. Unlike most professions, personal training is unregulated. That means that there is no governing body that holds trainers to a specific level of knowledge or experience. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to be certified to train anyone. You could just start calling yourself a personal trainer and that’s that.
The first level of credibility for a trainer is to get certified. This means that the person has simply passed a test by an independent organization that gives them a basic understanding of fitness. Once again, due to lack of regulated standards, the curriculums from these organizations can be very thorough or very pedestrian. It is also very common for there to be certifications for specific types of training nowadays, such as suspension training, kettlebell training, and corrective exercise. I would say that a trainer that continues earn multiple certifications is likely to provide a better service due to the fact that they continually invest in their education.
Another level of credibility for a fitness professional is a degree in an exercise related major. Generally, degree programs spend a lot more time on different areas such as anatomy, physiology, energy systems, etc. This generally equates to a more scientific understanding of fitness. While I believe that it is important to have a good understanding of these topics, it does not guarantee a good trainer. Unfortunately, many colleges do not offer much practical experience to their students and it becomes challenging for individuals to truly learn the information without being able to use it in practice.
Keep in mind that there are good trainers out there that don’t have degrees and mediocre trainers that do. Therefore, I recommend finding someone that is at least certified and shows that they value education by attending new courses and learning experiences regularly. There are also fantastic trainers that got a degree in another field before finding fitness.
Remember, education is what you learn, but knowledge is what you can do with it.
I believe experience is important, but don’t be misled. There are trainers that will say that they have been doing this 20+ years, but that that doesn’t mean they have been doing it well or full-time. Many individuals that enter the fitness field do so as a part time job or an “in between” job. Someone that has trained 2 years full time may likely have more actual experience than someone else that has been training for 5, but only does 10 sessions a week. Ask your potential trainer how many clients they have now and how many sessions they usually train per week. Also, ask them what settings they have trained in to get an idea of where most of their experience comes from. A rehabilitation and wellness center has a different population than a commercial gym.
There’s a saying that is becoming very common: “People don’t buy training, they buy trainers”. There’s a lot of truth to that. The client/trainer relationship has a very interesting dynamic and it is not unusual for a trainer to know quite a bit of personal information about their clients. This is because most people dislike the process of working out and having someone they mesh well with pushing them along takes the edge off. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your trainer and that their personality is one that matches up well with you. If you never connect, it doesn’t matter how intelligent they are because you will not be as excited about making each appointment and pushing your limits.
I think it is also important to make sure that you like the motivational tactics of your potential trainer. I find that there are certain techniques that trainers use, such as yelling at their clients like Marines, which people either love or hate. Hiring a trainer with a coaching style that conflicts with your personality can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask for a trial session.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret; most trainers don’t really have much of a plan when they train their clients. They have a goal (burn calories, train your chest, etc), but they don’t usually have an idea of what exercises they are going to use, how many reps, or how this session will set you up for the next. Now, I would be lying if I said that I have had a plan for every session or that it is absolutely necessary for results, but it is important that a trainer has at least a framework of how they intend to help you reach your goals. As a matter of fact, they should lay their plan out for you when you hire them and make sure you understand how things are going to work. A good trainer will have no problem explaining how certain exercises in a session are going to benefit you or why you should be doing cardio intervals on days you don’t meet with them. Everything done should have a purpose. If a trainer can’t explain their plan to you or they tell you “not to worry about it”, you should take your business elsewhere.
The number 1 rule of personal training is that you should never hurt the client. It is the responsibility of the trainer to only prescribe exercises that you can perform with a high level of safety and terminate exercises when form goes out the window. Your trainer should never force you to perform ANY exercise that you don’t feel comfortable with and definitely not any exercises that cause you pain. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
The Little Things
I once had an instructor that told me that “attention to detail is what makes someone great at their chosen profession.” I agree with this completely. The finer details of any service are what really elevate the experience, and this holds true in personal training. A good trainer will take pride in their appearance by always acting and dressing professionally. In addition, they will always be on time, treat you with respect, and be attentive. You are paying for a professional experience; do not settle for any less.
Practice What You Preach
Many clients want their trainer to “look the part”. I understand this because common logic would tell us that if someone is in great shape, then they know how to get someone else those results. Unfortunately, this is not how it works in personal training. It must be said that genetics plays a very big role in fitness, and what worked for that person won’t necessarily work for you. Instead, focus on finding a trainer that practices what they preach; someone who lives a healthy lifestyle and takes care of themselves. This may be someone that looks really fit or maybe someone that looks average, but is still knowledgeable enough to help you reach your goals.