Your Perfect Trainer
Personal trainers are like works of art; they come in all shapes, sizes, styles, & mediums. Some are expensive & some are cheep, some are brand new & some have been around “forever”. Some are very useful while others just sit there & look pretty. A few of them are famous but most are unknown. And just like almost anything can be called “art”, almost anyone can call them self a personal trainer.
Not one state in this country has a legal regulation of the title “personal trainer”. This is why people with no practical experience or knowledge can & do walk into a gym or start a business on their own & call themselves a “Fitness Professional, Personal Trainer, Expert Trainer, Master Trainer, Weight Loss Coach, Fitness Instructor, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Weight Loss Expert” etc. There are even internet “certifications” out there where you can get certified for $50-$150 in 1-4 hours. In come cases, you only need 50% right to pass the test & start calling yourself a trainer without ever having any practical experience what so ever.
It’s estimated that roughly 5 million Americans use personal trainers.
The quality of personal trainers out there varies greatly. This is because the industry is relatively unregulated & still in its infancy. There is also a lot of misinformation disseminated by slick gurus, clever marketing & the media, which is often perpetuated by trainers who do not think for themselves. Please don’t let this stop you! There are some truly great trainers out there who will transform not only your body but your life too.
However, you must be proactive & systematically assess your options before choosing a trainer. The biggest, most common mistake people make is picking the first trainer that talks to them or just going along with the one the gym sets them up with; be hands-on & you will pick a better investment for your health & body. You want someone who is smart, responsible & personable to help you manage & transform your most precious physical asset: your body.
There is no one best “kind” of trainer for everyone. Your relationship with your perfect trainer will be intimate, personal, & specific to your needs. Therefore, the best place to start with your search is inside yourself. It’s an important topic; your fitness level is an integral part of your overall health & quality of life. Picking the perfect trainer is the fastest way to take control of your health & fitness!
Step 1: Define Your Goals & Expectations
Make a prioritized list of your goals & expectations & outline any limitations or potential obstacles you will face. Make a list of questions for the trainer based on your outline.
A) The Ultimate Question – A great trainer will help you answer these questions; an exceptional one will gracefully help you confront yourself if they sense you are holding back from answering these questions completely & honestly.
- What is the most valuable thing a trainer can provide you?
- What are your expectations for the trainer?
- What is your most important fitness goal?
- What is the biggest obstacle you will face?
B) Common Reasons to Invest in a Trainer – Below are listed some of the most common reasons people hire a trainer, but remember: it’s most important to find out the reasons that motivate you the most. Your own reasons will keep you excited & engaged in your health & fitness over the long term, which is everything.
- More Energy
- Look Better Naked (fat loss, muscle gain, etc.)
- Increased Confidence in the Gym
- Accountability & Motivation
- Increased Athletic Performance (stronger, faster, agility, etc.)
- Better Posture
- Post-Rehabilitation (recovery from rehabbed injury)
- Variation – altering your workout to keep you stimulated & engaged no matter how your condition fluctuates, while avoiding boredom.
C) Less Common but Equally Important reasons – These are the ones you may not anticipate but will be delighted to realize:
- Increased working Knowledge of Exercise & Body Awareness: Proper form, increased safety, how to select exercises & regulate intensity, how to assess your current condition & modify workouts accordingly, etc.
- Increased Self-Confidence in Life
- Increased Awareness of Your Lifestyle & Habits that need to change in order to attain & maintain your goals.
- Empowerment/Self-Accountability – Increased ability to train yourself, confront & overcome unhealthy habits, & the ability to take control of your health, fitness, & quality of life.
- Pain Management/Chronic Joint Pain Relief – only the best trainers, who have specialized knowledge &/or work with a network of other professionals will be able to help you here.
- Strategic Variation & Injury Prevention – using variation systematically, to not only avoid boredom but also to avoid injury & constantly progress.
Step 2: Define Your Budget
Typically, personal trainers charge anywhere from $25 to $500 per hour for their services, depending on where they’re located, what services they provide, the kinds of clients they serve, their abilities, & whether they are in a gym, private studio, or come to your home. However, the best trainer for you is not necessarily the cheapest or most expensive; your budget needs to strike a balance with all the factors outlines. Compare each trainer’s rate to others in the area &, if they are cheaper or more expensive, ask them why.
How many times per week do you need to work out?
Our bodies are meant to be moving everyday! We spent the majority of our evolution as hunters & gatherers, usually covering about 16miles every single day! Regardless of your goals, they are dependent on making fitness a part of your daily lifestyle. You need to keep your body moving every day, but that doesn’t meant you have to do an intense workout with a trainer 5 times a week.
While it’s ok to start out being held completely accountable by your trainer, a trainer that empowers you to become progressively more self-reliant is exceedingly valuable.
Do you need someone to hold you accountable to every workout, or someone to update your program every once in a while?
A great trainer will help you answer this question honestly & not expect you to be totally reliant on them for your exercise.
Most people see their trainer 1-4 times a week. It really depends on your goals, your drive, your self-accountability, your exercise knowledge, your motivation, & your lifestyle. If you’ve already been working out consistently on your own for years, are happy with your body weight & health, have a balanced lifestyle, & no major goal, you can probably get away with seeing a trainer once a week & workout a bunch on your own. If you are clueless about how to exercise safely & effectively, are seriously overweight, & not very motivated, you probably will need to start working with a trainer 3-4 times a week & eventually add 1-2 workouts on your own once you feel comfortable with some of the exercises. Most people will be somewhere in between these two extremes.
Again, a great trainer will help you figure out an ideal schedule & will not impose a rigid agenda.
Step 3: Window Shop for Trainers
Make a list of potential trainers in your area or gym. Use the internet to search for trainers, training studios & gyms.
A) Convenience & Proximity is Critical: When starting your fitness routine, pick someone who can come to you or works at a studio/gym close to your house or work place. Otherwise, it will be easier to fins excuses & harder to make exercise a habit.
B) Gym Trainers vs. Private Studio Trainers vs. House Call Trainers: most personal trainers still work in health clubs, yet the recent trend is for trainers to work for themselves, doing in-home sessions or working at private personal training studios. In major cities, highly specialized personal trainers work in medical offices & other specialized facilities, like holistic health centers. If you are very self-conscious &/or can afford it, a trainer who makes house calls may be a great way to start.
- Gym Trainers: Do you need to be a member of their gym? Factor this cost into the overall cost. Beware, many mainstream gyms require very little from staff to become a personal trainer. You are putting your structural health in their hands. Remember that you are interviewing someone who will be working for you; you are in control.
- Private Training Studios: In most large cities, you will find studios that are open only to personal trainers & their clients, often with no membership fees & higher quality personal trainers.
- Change: It’s ok to outgrow a trainer as you progress. Most gyms employ quite a few personal trainers with varying levels of experience. You can set up a meeting with the Personal Training Manager of your gym to ask their advice. You can also speak to your membership representative to see whom they recommend. You should observe them working with clients to get a feel for their professionalism & style. Don’t accept whomever you are recommended blindly-ask lots of questions!
C) Check Websites & References: Before meeting with them, check for the following information on a website or through references. What is the look & feel of their website? How are the testimonials? Do they just “sound” intelligent, or did you actually learn something useful from their website? If they don’t have a website, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but there’s a good chance they’re not serious about what they do. Make sure all your potential trainers are “career trainers”, who will be committed to evolving & becoming better & not someone pursuing a different career & training on the side. That is a deal breaker. Don’t automatically pick the one with the most celebrity clients, write ups in magazines or the best website. Unfortunately, the best trainers are usually not the best marketers, & the best marketers are usually the most expensive.
1. Specialization & Passion: Do they specialize in any particular aspects of health & fitness? Find out which goals each potential trainer is passionate about before telling them about your goals. Most trainers will say they do everything, but the reality is that they are more passionate about certain goals or certain kinds of clients than others. Has the trainer worked with someone with your issues before (such as being overweight, particular injuries/medical conditions, or severely lacking motivation? Usually, the huge juicehead trainer isn’t going to be much help when it comes to post-rehab, sports performance and pre-natal training. Is the trainer willing to work closely with a physical therapist or physician if necessary? A trainer might focus on:
- Fat loss, weight gain, body building, athletic performance, post-rehab, pre/post natal, boxing, pilates, yoga, life coaching, etc.
- Seniors, children, athletes, weekend warriors, women, etc.
2. Knowledge/Certifications – For better or for worse, the industry relies on a multitude of certifications for regulation. There are many complex systems of knowledge that apply directly to health & fitness (biomechanics, physiology, biochemistry, psychology, etc.) These two factors account for why there are so many kinds of trainers and price points.
- Minimum Certification Standard – Pick a trainer who has more than one certification from the “major certifications” and/or a degree in an exercise science field as well as at least one “major certification”. This alone is the minimum standard; a starting point for your search.
- Lifelong Commitment to Learning – You want someone who is well rounded, not someone who follows one program, guru or perspective. A pattern of commitment to learning is more important than having any one particular certification or a certain number of years experience. Some trainers mentor with more experienced trainers, which may or may not make them better. Often, older trainers will tell you they have 15 years experience, despite having only 1 certification. 1 year of experience repeated 15 times is not 15 years experience. If you stick to a trainer who utilizes one ideology, your results will suffer & your chance of injury skyrockets. Ask your trainer what continuing education classes they go to, why, and how often. Ask for a list of the continuing education classes they have been to & books they have read then divide that by how many years they have been a trainer. Are they committed to learning?
- CPR Certification – If you do have any accidents or cardio respiratory problems, your personal trainer must know how to deal with them and ensure your safety.
- Insurance – Be sure that the trainer you pick has personal trainer insurance; usually a liability if at least a million is ideal.
Step 4: Test Drive Your Trainer
Meet with the top trainers on your list: Observe them while they work with other clients, then talk to them & train with them for 1 session (all in that order). Some trainers may do a quick consult over the phone but definitely meet with them & train with them once before making a decision to commit. If they ay something like “well, you’ll get better results if you buy a package of sessions”, tell them right now you want 1 hour’s worth of knowledge, not results. If they respond with “you can’t get much out of an hour”, then all they’re offering you is exercises, accountability & motivation-not knowledge.
I strongly recommend you find someone who will educate you, not just count reps and provide exercises; you will get a lot more out of your investment while taking less risk. The trainers in the best shape are not always the smartest and often those with the most education are not always in the best shape. Ideally, find someone who gracefully strikes a balance between smarts, theory, action & practice. Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t inspire you with their words, actions, presence & abilities. Look for the following skills:
A) Knowledge Transference/Critical Thinking Skills – There is a big difference between sounding smart & being smart. The trainer you choose should be able to justify their exercise program in a way that is useful to you.
- Remember, the purpose of knowledge is action, not ego. A great trainer will be educating & seeking feedback from you constantly, not bossing you around. It doesn’t really matter how many certifications they have if you can’t internalize & reproduce their knowledge.
- Test them & their knowledge! Can they modify their program intelligently based on your changing condition? They need to constantly evaluate your condition & provide real world solutions to the specific challenges to your health & fitness.
B) Interpersonal Skills/Personality – Most importantly, do they make you feel comfortable & confident? A moderate amount of physical discomfort is implicit in the relationship; there’s no need to add social discomfort to the mix. They should make your experience safe, effective & engaging more than anything.
- Compatibility & Chemistry – What kind of clients & what kinds of goals most excite the trainer? What do they love about their job? Don’t let them get away with an ambiguous answer like “I’m great at training every kind of person for every kind of goal”. Force them to get specific & see how they do under a little bit of pressure. Do they seem like they care & are passionate about what they do? Do you prefer your trainer be one gender or the other? You may not know until you begin working together, in which case, try both a male & female trainer before making a commitment.
- Listening Skills – Are they actively listening, comprehending & anticipating your questions & concerns or do they seem to have their own personal “agenda” for you? The trainer may be the expert here, but your input is invaluable & indispensable; find someone who you can work with as a collaborator & you will get a lot more out of your relationship.
- Motivational Skills – Does the thought of spending 1-4 hours a week with the person excite you? Will they hold you accountable & help inspire self-accountability? Do they encourage you? You may want someone who is more compassionate or someone who reminds you of a drill sergeant. Either is fine, just be honest with yourself.
- Leadership Skills – Do you have confidence in their leadership abilities? If you’re looking for a trainer to help you create a healthy lifestyle, make sure they have already created one for themselves. Look for someone who will hold you accountable not only when you’re with the trainer but also when you’re traveling or at the gym on your own. You may not know it yet, but you need someone who empowers you to take control of your lifestyle, not a crutch that leads you to viscous cycle of dependence. A great trainer will follow up constantly to make sure you are developing self-reliant habits.
C) Customer Service Skills – These are the hallmarks of a professional trainer who takes their job & the service they provide seriously.
- Punctuality – Did they show up on time & ready with all the materials, equipment & tools they will need? ?
- Presentation – How do they present themselves? Are they dressed like a professional trainer, someone who takes their job seriously? Are they well groomed & hygienic? Do they appear to take care of themselves?
- Organization – Do they have an organized system set up to take your information, assess you, keep track of billing & create individualized programs for you?
- Response Time – How long does it take for them to return phone calls, emails & texts? Do they make your time a priority?
- Attentiveness/Focus – Do you command their undivided attention for the entire session? More importantly, observe them with their existing clients. Are they focused with them or just when they are trying to sell a new client?
- Business Policies – Do they have outlined business policies that are fair? (These should be in writing.) Do they have liability insurance? What is their cancelation policy? How does billing work? How long is a typical workout? Do they have a money back guarantee for any unused sessions incase you decide they’re not the right fit for you?
- Availability/Proximity – What times are they available to train? How long will it take to get to them? Convenience is king, especially when first committing to getting in shape. Find someone whose schedule suits yours; if possible, schedule a regular time to help you establish a routine.
- Expectations – What are their expectations for their clients? What do they expect you to do on your own time to keep up with the program? What kind of results do you expect to achieve & when? Your trainer should discuss your goals with you & adjust any unrealistic expectations you may have.
If they encourage these unrealistic expectations & goals from the outset, you will be much more likely to become unmotivated & disillusioned later on. Your fitness level (they way your body looks, feels & functions) is entirely dependent on a strong foundation of overall health. Don’t get caught up with just “looking better naked”. Focus on being as healthy as possible which will lead to looking as hot as possible & being as happy as possible! Your overall health & fitness is more like a marathon than a sprint. While a good trainer will not discourage you from your ultimate goals, they should at least educate you on the realistic progressions & breaking down large goals into smaller milestones. Rome wasn’t built in a day & neither will your ideal body.
Consistent & intelligent workouts that keep you engaged over the long term are way more powerful tools than any particularly intense boot camp, program or protocol. While hiring a personal trainer should greatly accelerate your results, they are not the finish line but rather the starting line.
Think of your trainer as a guide & a coach rather than a secret weapon in the war to win the best body in under 3 weeks.
- Assessments/Progressive Warm-Ups – Discuss your medical & athletic history, including all major & minor musculoskeletal injuries & surgeries so that the trainer can create a program that accommodates your exact condition. Do they progressively warm you up, increasing intensity gradually or do they start by testing the very limits of your abilities? The former is way less risky-don’t be one of the many people that gets injured every year by their trainer. The assessment usually consists of a series of tests that measure your cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength &/or endurance, flexibility/range of motion, body fat percentage, body circumference measurements, resting hart rate, & might include test of agility, speed & blood pressure. Most importantly, they should pick assessments that are relative to your goals & they should not push you to your limits right away but instead increase intensity based on progress.
- Written Programs/Progress Tracking – Do they create a program & plan of action based on your individual abilities & goals? Do they track your progress? This is critical to achieving big goals, which can be challenging, unless the trainer breaks them up into smaller goals & tracks your progress. Your goals can & should change as your condition changes. Tracking your journey will give you insight into your success & perspective on your accomplishments. They should provide a fully customized & constantly evolving program specific to your needs. You may not se them carrying a clipboard or doing this during the session but a great trainer will have a system to keep track of your program & success.
- Network of Professionals & Resourcefulness – The perfect trainer is an evolving, intelligent & articulate resource for your health & fitness. However, no one person is going to be a master of everything you need in order to attain & maintain your ideal health. A major resource they can provide you is a network of health professionals with complimentary skill sets. A team of pros can collaborate & help you achieve success quickly & safely, even with the most challenging health & fitness issues. Don’t train with someone who claims to be an expert in all things health & fitness because whether they realize it or not, they are wrong.
A trainer’s network of professionals may include, but are not limited to:
- a. Medical Doctors – Always seek medical clearance before beginning any exercise program. Medical history & physician clearance should be updated at least annually.
- b. Physical Therapists – The quality of PTs vary greatly as well, but working with a trainer who has an excellent PT on their team is essential for anyone who has chronic joint pain issues. Unfortunately, many people accept chronic joint pain as part of the aging process, which is completely false! A great trainer working with a great PT can alleviate joint pain more often than not.
- c. Dieticians – The quality & kind of food you consume is an integral part of your goals. Working with a trainer who either has dietary knowledge or works with a dietician is vital, especially if your goals are a significant amount of weight loss or weight gain.
- d. Chiropractors – Some trainers have chiropractors on their team, which could be helpful if you have scoliosis or other spinal alignment & posture issues. Again, quality & styles of chiropractors vary to an extreme degree.
- e. Advanced Personal Trainers – Your trainer may work with or be a Muscle Activation Technique (MAT) practitioner or a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), a new breed of personal trainer with more advanced education. They look more closely at injury prevention & rehabilitation than your average trainer, have more experience with clients in pain, & typically command a higher fee.
MAT Practitioner – This method tests the positional strength of your body to identify muscles that are “offline” & beings them back online with precise isometrics & palpations. This technique is well researched & is very useful for dealing with chronic pain issues & inflexibility, although the skill level of the practitioner will determine how effective the technique is.
Corrective Exercise Specialist – CES’s often get certifications from the C.H.E.K. Institute, National Academy of Sports Medicine & the RTS program. Remember, CES is just a name & doesn’t guarantee that they will have completed any of these certifications. Avoid picking a trainer based solely on what they call themselves.
Other Professionals – They may not need to collaborate with your trainer but you & your trainer should be aware of how these professionals can help you on your journey.
- a. Psychologist – You may not be anticipating it, but the pursuit of your fitness goals will be mentally & spiritually challenging as well as physically. One of the fastest paths to failure is an unhealthy frame of mind, which will obliterate your motivation, especially as obstacles arise. Some people undermine their own success with their thoughts & talk therapy can help you get to the underlying causes.
- b. Masseuse/Active Release Therapist (ART)/Neuromuscular Technique Therapist (NMT) – Some trainers study soft tissue techniques, which can help alleviate pain associated with tension in your muscles & trigger points, decrease muscle spasm & facilitate healthy movement & healthy muscle tissue.
- c. Healer/Energy Therapist – Healers who specialize in Reiki, acupuncture, acupressure & other subtle energy therapies may provide a great compliment to your training, especially if you have chronic joint pain issues or other health limitations that are persistent & resistant to traditional methods.
- d. Alternative Medicine/Eastern Doctors/Osteopaths – these professionals focus on treating the body as a whole, using integrative techniques that are unconventional & innovative, although sometimes unproven. Another great compliment to your training, especially if you have chronic joint pain issues or other health limitations that are persistent & resistant to traditional methods.
Step 5: Trust your Gut
Once you have done your homework, there is no need to over analyze. Don’t worry too much about the details & trust your gut instinct.
After 1 session with them, you should have an answer even if you’re not sure why. If down the road at any point you feel like you have outgrown the relationship, don’t hesitate to switch to another trainer. It’s your money, your body, your most precious asset & ultimately, your sole responsibility.
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