How to Choose a Personal Trainer
In the fitness industry there is a joke that goes something like this: "The reason I decided not to become a personal trainer is that I had no table waiting experience and I didn't want to become an actor."
This may sound humorous but, unfortunately, there is a core of truth there. Because there are no strict guidelines about who can call themselves a trainer, almost anyone who has a job or career aspiration that demands a high degree of physical fitness can hang out a shingle or get a job coaching at your local gym. In fact, it is very common for an actor, sports model, or athlete to try to pick up extra money by working as a fitness instructor, especially because there is good money to be made by doing so.
While these individuals may know what works for them as far as exercise and diet goes, that does not automatically qualify them to train others or to give them nutritional counseling.
What Are Your Goals?
The first thing you need to be clear about when considering a trainer is what goals you have in mind. Do you want someone who can design an exercise and nutritional protocol that will help you to shed 20 or more pounds? Do you want to develop greater strength and muscularity, perhaps with the guided use of protein drinks and sports supplements? Do you want to get back into shape after a pregnancy or a long period spent without exercise? Or maybe you are trying to slim down for a class reunion, wedding, or other family event.
Once you are clear on what you would like to accomplish, it will be easier to find the person who has the experience and qualifications to help you get there.
Where Do I Find Trainers to Interview?
There are several ways to locate trainers. Word of mouth through friends, colleagues, or your family doctor are good places to start. You might also check your Yellow Pages under "Personal Trainers," "Health Clubs," and "Exercise and Physical Fitness."
Another great resource is the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), one of the largest nationally recognized fitness organizations (nsca-lift).
Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Trainer
Once you have found a trainer who look promising, you need to learn as much about their qualifications as possible. The first and most important question you should ask is "What qualifies you to be a personal trainer?" NSCA and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) are two nationally recognized certifications. A background in exercise physiology, sports medicine, physical education, or anatomy and physiology are also helpful because that tells you that this individual has made a thorough study of the body and how it works.
It would also be a plus if your trainer were involved in some sort of elite exercise him- or herself, such as body building.
If you need nutritional guidance from a trainer, make sure that he or she has some kind of solid education and background in the subject.
Ask your prospective trainer what their goals are. If they tell you they want to star in films or have their own sitcom on NBC, they are probably not the right person for you.
You will also want to know the length of time a person has been working as a trainer and how many clients they have coached.
The most important thing you can request are client referrals. Speaking with people who have received fitness instruction from the trainer you are considering will give you an idea whether he or she is the right person for you.
Some questions you might consider asking clients are:
- How long have you worked with this trainer?
- Has he or she helped you to achieve your goals?
- Do you feel like this trainer makes efficient use of the time you have together?
- Does this trainer clearly explain each exercise to you and help you to perform it with good posture and body positioning?
- Have you ever been injured when working out with this trainer?
- Do you find him or her professional and supportive of your goals?
Starting Out: What to Expect
Once you have chosen a trainer, there are certain questions they should ask you and evaluations they should perform.
First, they should be very clear about what your goals are and make some suggestions as to how they can help you to achieve them.
Before even beginning an exercise program they should do a complete physical evaluation of your strength, range of motion, flexibility, current exercise routine (if you've been working out on your own), any injuries you might have sustained over the years, and any physical limitations you might have (such as a weak lower back or arthritis in your knee or shoulder joints).
Once they have designed a unique program to fit your body type, level of ability, and goals, they should be able to give you clear instructions and a clear idea of how to correctly position your body on any exercise ball, machine, or with any free weights.
You will only get the maximum benefit from each exercise and avoid injury if your trainer is knowledgeable about physiology. They should be able to coach you on correct posture, which includes good head, neck, shoulder, arm, lower back, hip, and leg positions for each machine or exercise.
Good posture and positioning of the body will enable you to perform exercises correctly and without pain. If something is hurting you or you feel undue strain, stop immediately and communicate this to your fitness instructor. Improving your level of fitness takes effort, endurance, and consistency, but not to the point of strain or injury.
A good workout program should include enough sets and repetitions of each movement to challenge you and to fully work each body part. If you are doing two sessions per week with a trainer, they should spend one on upper body and abdominals and the second session on lower body and abdominals. In other words, they should thoroughly work each section of the body and allow it enough time to recover in between workouts.
There are certain behaviors you should be aware of that might indicate that a trainer is not being as professional as they should be with a client.
A trainer should be a good listener, always attentive to your goals. If your trainer is constantly using a lot of "I" and "me" statements, they are not making good use of your time together. They should be focused on your needs, your progress, and what you require.
A good trainer should always respect emotional boundaries. Beware of trainers who want to tell you their life story, ask you for advice in their career, or pour out their heartaches and stories about their love life. You are their client, not their therapist. It is equally time-wasting to work with a trainer who encourages you to take about your own problems. In such a situation is it easy to feel sucked dry emotionally and talk your way through your hour, instead of getting the full workout you are there to do.
We are all human and have our ups and downs -- and we mention them from time to time - but this should first and foremost always be a professional relationship from which you need to get a certain amount of value for your physique.
Lastly, a good trainer should always keep upgrading your workout. If weeks go by and someone is still having you do the same amount of sets and reps with the same amount of weight, they are not helping you to make progress. The body will eventually acclimate itself to any exercise routine and it needs to be continually challenged.
If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to find a trainer who will help you to meet your goals and improve your physique, energy levels, and general health. Good luck!
Philip Goglia is a Los Angeles-based nutritionist, trainer, and author.