How to Choose a Kick-Ass Trainer

Deciding to work with a personal trainer is an investment in your health. Chances are, if you’re considering hiring a trainer, you’re a person who desires one or more of the following:

· Accountability

· A customized exercise program and nutrition plan

· Motivation to be consistent and disciplined

· Someone to ensure you’re doing your exercises correctly

· Someone to help push you beyond your perceived limitations

· Variety in your workout routine

· An experienced professional to help you take your training or sports skills to the next level

Working with a qualified personal trainer is a great way to reach your health and fitness goals. Maybe you’ve read so much conflicting information about how to lose weight, feel better and eat right that your head spins when you try to figure out what to do. Or you’ve tried the latest trendy diet, “butt blaster” routine, the newest “waist trainer” or a myriad of other “tips and tricks” to get the body of your dreams and you still feel stuck, confused, worn out or even physically hurt. Hiring a personal trainer will eliminate the guess work and, if you make the right choice, get to your goals safely and effectively. But, how do you choose a trainer? What are some of the things you should consider? Below is a list of factors to think about that, in my 10 years as a Certified Personal Trainer, I’ve learned help potential clients make the best decision for their needs.

Credentials The fitness industry has little to no regulatory oversight. Anyone can call themselves a “personal trainer”! What this means to you, the consumer and client, is that you could potentially hire a “trainer” who acquired their certification from a course they took last weekend in between sets at the gym while they were working out or, worse, have no certification at all. Within the fitness industry there are several organizations which provide quality, high-level certifications for personal trainers. These organizations are accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) . Certifications from ACSM, ACE, NASM and NSCA are regarded as the top in the industry by many fitness professionals.

A note about credentials: there are qualified trainers with secondary degrees in exercise science and several top certifications under their belt who suck at personal training, for one reason or another. So, while credentials are crucial, especially when you’re a person who has had previous injuries and/or are living with a chronic illness/disease, they are not the only or even the most important factor in choosing a trainer.

Experience I learned more about training in my first month working full time at a big box gym than I did in the entire 4 years I was in undergrad studying to be a fitness professional. Being hands on with clients is one of the best ways to become a better trainer. Practical application of acquired skills allows trainers to fill in the gaps of knowledge that textbooks don’t mention. The more clients a trainer works with, the more likely that trainer is to improve their coaching, program design, and session time management skills; creating a more structured and effective experience for their clients. There is no substitute for this type of experience.

Note: Newer trainers tend to get their feet wet by working at a commercial gym. Chances are high that you will get a trainer with 0-2 years of experience if you choose to work with a trainer at a commercial gym. For general weight loss goals and/or if you have no serious previous injuries, illnesses or limitations in physical activity, working with a less experienced trainer may yield great results. However, depending on your health history and any specific physical limitations, you may want to choose a trainer with experience working with someone like you.

Personality There are different trainer “types” and you must find the right fit for you. Do you need to be gently coached during your session? Do you need someone to bark orders at you and yell at you? Do you want a trainer who can be your friend during the session? Or would you rather work with someone you perceive as scary and mean? Do you need a little bit of both? Your trainer’s personality will typically dictate their training style and training philosophy.

Personality matching is important for a long-term success with a trainer. For example, a person who dislikes working out, needs extra encouragement and a “push” during each session would be a good match for a trainer with a strong personality who considers their style to be “no-nonsense” or “no excuses”. A good trainer will be true to his or her personality and choose to work with clients they know will be able to embrace and benefit from their unique style of training.

Reputation I have grown my personal training business largely through word of mouth. My clients love their results and tell their friends, co-workers and family members about their success with me. Start your search by asking around. Your friend or your friend’s friend may have a great referral for a personal trainer. If you’re interested in working with a trainer(s) that you found online or in a local newspaper ad, do some research. Check out their social media profiles and read their client testimonials or reviews. Choosing a trainer – someone who you are putting ‘in charge’ of overseeing your health and fitness – should be considered a major decision. Make sure he or she is reputable and worth the investment you will make.

Cost As a seasoned fitness professional I can tell you that most potential clients who begin the conversation with “how much does it cost?” aren’t ready to make the investment in personal training. I don’t blame them. Personal training is expensive but, then, when you weigh the cost of preventative care (personal training) with the cost of medical bills down the line, the investment may be worth it. When you make the decision to hire a qualified professional who has a great reputation and can show proven results, expect to pay for the value of the service you are receiving.

One way to manage the cost of hiring a personal trainer is to partner up and train with someone (friend, spouse, etc.) who can help you can split the cost for each session. Small group training is also a popular and cost-effective option. Small group training involves working out with 3-6 people together in the same session, splitting the cost between each person (typically, the more people there are in the session, the less expensive the per-person rate). The session is led by a trainer who is experienced in adjusting the workout to fit each member’s specific needs. Working out with others is a great way to create a tribe of people to support you on your healthy fitness journey!

Your Goals A person with a goal of competing in a bodybuilding show is going to need a different trainer than a person who wants to get better at her golf game. Choose your trainer based on your specific goals and the trainer’s expertise (more on expertise below). Weight loss/body transformation is a common goal and the majority of personal trainers have the knowledge to help you reach these goals. However, if the reason you’re overweight is because you had a knee replacement 2 years ago and you’re still in pain, you may need a trainer who is familiar with corrective exercise and post-rehabilitation who can help you reach your weight loss goals while also helping you to alleviate the knee pain. This is where credentials and experience play an important role in your choice. Your trainer’s expertise should align with your personal health and fitness goals.

Expertise There are body fat transformation trainers, athletic trainers, youth trainers, senior trainers, medical trainers, post rehabilitation trainers and other areas of specialization for personal trainers. Ensure that you find a trainer whose expertise and philosophy is aligned with your health and fitness goals. Some trainers have several specializations that overlap (i.e., athletic training and corrective exercise), which increases their value to you if you have more than one specific health and fitness need.

It is worth noting that most trainers do not receive an extensive education in nutrition during their personal training certification process. Trainers who are well versed and experienced in nutrition planning have likely participated in nutrition certification courses in secondary school or independently (i.e., Precision Nutrition). It is important to inquire about your trainer’s nutrition planning background and experience, as this is one of the most critical components for weight loss/body transformation clients and if your trainer doesn’t have the education, experience or resources to accommodate your needs, you may find that you need to hire another person to handle the nutrition aspect of your life.

Availability You want to be sure that the trainer you choose can accommodate your busy schedule. A good trainer will utilize the information you have shared about your lifestyle, your goals and your level of motivation to provide you with the best options for frequency (days per week) and length (30, 45 or 60 minute sessions). Also, consider location when providing a trainer your availability for sessions. How long will it take you to get to the trainer in after-work traffic? Will you need enough time to shower and get dressed for work after the session? Does the idea of driving more than 20 minutes before or after work to train seem daunting?

Other questions to consider: Will you need child-care during the times you’re training? Are you more energetic in the morning, afternoon or evening? Are you committed to coming in after a long day of work? Is 5 am way too early to wake up to work out? Trainers typically charge for non-emergency cancellations (you forfeit the per session rate for each missed session) so being honest and realistic about your availability is beneficial and essential to getting results with your trainer. Consistency is key!

Choosing the right personal trainer for your specific goals and needs will make your healthy lifestyle journey more fulfilling and rewarding. Now that you’re armed with a guide for what to look for, go ahead and get started on your search!


Learn more about me!
Tawana McNeill, MS
Master Coach & Trainer
“I help you reduce pain, get stronger & lose body fat after injury, surgery &/or debilitating illness.”

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