How to Choose a Fitness Trainer

So you’ve decided to hire a personal trainer. Congratulations! While you could certainly pursue your health, fitness, and physique goals on your own and utilize the vast amount of information available on this web site and others to help guide you, you will save an enormous amount of time by finding an expert who will put you on the fast track to success. The key, of course, is finding the right person to be your coach. How do you do that? Let’s investigate what to look for in a fitness trainer.

Should they ‘look the part?’

The answer here is a qualified ‘yes.’ Someone who makes his or her living getting other people in shape should definitely exercise regularly, eat healthy, and be in at least good physical condition. If a trainer is obese or appears malnourished and unhealthy, that’s a red flag that they don’t practice what they preach.

Those who are genuinely interested in helping others reach their fitness goals tend to be devoted to regular exercise and good nutrition themselves. This could be any form of exercise: weight training, running, martial arts, yoga, etc. They will be fit and energetic.

The reason I made the answer to the question of looking the part a qualified yes is that it’s common to assume those who have the very best bodies are the most knowledgeable about training and nutrition and as such would make for an ideal coach. This is a fallacy. Look no further than professional sports for your evidence. The best coaches were almost never outstanding players in that sport. Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, never made it past college football himself, yet no one has won more Super Bowl titles at six than he has.

Often, the men and women with the absolute best bodies simply have the best genetics. Having met and known many of them, I can tell you for a fact that few could be considered experts, and often look the way they do in spite of limited knowledge and experience. In other words, they are inspiring to behold, but they are incapable of coaching normal human beings toward their fitness goals. There are certainly exceptions to this, as brains and brawn can do co-exist in the same body at times.

What I’m saying is that you should never hire a fitness trainer based solely on his or her appearance. Some of them will be wonderful trainers, and some will be awful. You need to know more before making the important decision to put yourself in their hands for guidance and giving them your hard-earned money!

Contact their clients

Before an employer hires someone, they often will interview the prospect after reviewing his or her resume. If the interview goes well, they often will also contact the references listed to get information and opinions from past employers. You should follow a similar procedure when seeking out a good trainer. A true professional will be more than happy to put you in contact with a few past or current clients to get feedback from. Here are some good questions to ask once you have that:

– Overall, were you satisfied with his/her services?

– Was he or she on time for training appointments? If not, did they let you know ahead of time?

– Were they attentive during the sessions, focusing on you the client rather than other members, trainers, or their phone?

– Did they continually strive to ensure proper exercise technique, and correct you when your form wavered?

– Did they work with you on your nutrition, or only the training aspect?

– What results did you experience? If your results were unsatisfactory, do you attribute that to the trainer, or were you non-compliant, ie, missed workouts or didn’t follow the nutrition component of the program?

– Did he or she seem sincerely interested in your goals and determined to help you reach them?

You may have further questions, but these ought to give you a very good overview of the quality of service this particular trainer provides for his or her clients.

Look for certifications

Although the best trainers aren’t always the ones with the most certifications or certifications from the top organizations, he or she should at least be certified. This will typically mean they carry liability insurance, which is critical since there is always a certain small risk of injury in any form of rigorous exercise. Some of the best certifications to look for are:

NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine

NFPT – National Federation of Personal Trainers

ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine

ISSA – International Sports Science Association

ACE – American Council on Exercise

There are many other reputable organizations, but these are certainly the best known and most common among fitness professionals. You should also look for trainers who have gone beyond the basic certification and furthered their education and expertise with additional levels of certification in areas like nutrition, specific areas like Olympic lifting, kettlebells, or working with special populations. This indicates they have a sincere passion and interest in learning.

Just as you would not want a doctor who stopped his or her learning in medical school and never bothered to keep up with new discoveries and innovations in medicine, you also wouldn’t want a trainer who merely learned what he or she needed to know to pass a certification test and that was the end of it. A quality trainer is constantly reading, researching, and attending seminars, with the aim of being a more effective coach.

You do get what you pay for

This also must be qualified but let me get the general stuff out of the way first. There are levels to trainers, mainly based on their education and experience. At the bottom you will have mostly young people who may have received their certification from an online test or a one-day program, and who are just starting out in the field. They will be the cheapest in terms of hourly rates.

At the top, you will find men and women with extensive experience and education. They often have college degrees in areas like Exercise Science and Nutrition, and multiple certifications with highly-rated organizations. And of course, they have years, often decades of experience and excellent track records of helping dozens if not hundreds of clients achieve their goals. They will be the most expensive because they are the best in their field.

It’s not so different from hiring an attorney. You could find one fresh out of law school with a low hourly rate, or one with decades of experience and a glowing record or trial and/or settlement wins for their clients. They might charge ten times what the rookie lawyer charges, because they are worth it and they guarantee the best possible outcome. A superb personal trainer commands top dollar because he or she is also worth it, and their track record shows that client success is guaranteed if the client does what he or she is asked to.

Now for the qualified part, because there are and always have been some ‘celebrity’ trainers who charge exorbitant rates because of the high-profile status of their clients. Who wouldn’t want the same trainer as a top Hollywood actor or recording artist? Some of them are genuinely excellent trainers, while others got to where they are from word of mouth. Often when their workouts and fitness tips are printed or posted, it becomes clear to those who are highly educated in these areas that this particular trainer is not.

But since I doubt many of you reading this are looking to pay someone six figures a year to train you, it’s hardly relevant to our discussion. How much do trainers charge for their time? On the very low end, you can find trainers with little experience or education for 20-25 dollars an hour, and they are often ‘staff trainers’ at places like Planet Fitness. On the high end, trainers with a wealth of experience and accreditations command anywhere from 80 to 200 dollars per hour. Nearly all will offer training packages, wherein you get a discounted rate by purchasing a certain amount of sessions in advance and pay up front.

What to ask before you commit

Finally, you should ask a few critical questions before you sign anything or give any payment. These are some good ones to start with:

– What made you want to become a trainer?

– What is the most rewarding part of your job?

– What is the most challenging part of your job?

– These are my goals (list them). How can you help me reach them? What would be your plan? What is a realistic time frame for me to achieve these goals?

– What would you expect of me?

– Will we be working on just my training, or my nutrition as well?

– What is your cancellation policy for sessions?

– What do you do to continue your education on a regular basis?

You can certainly ask any other questions you want to or that your feel are relevant to your particular situation. For example, you may have injuries or conditions that would post a special challenge for a trainer – how would they adjust to those?

Choosing a trainer is an important process. Do not rush it, and don’t simply hire the first person you come across. A bad trainer can waste your time and money or in a worst-case scenario, get you hurt. A good trainer, on the other hand, can help motivate and guide you to reaching or even surpassing your personal fitness goals. Choose wisely!

Christian King
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