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Finding a Personal Trainer

Jan 29, 2014

So you’ve decided to make your New Year’s resolution to get into to the gym. Then in the first couple of weeks you have anything that could possibly derail you happen, sick kids, late worknights etc. Now, two weeks into your resolution you are finally ready! Monday comes and after a long day, you have your bag packed and are off to the gym. When you finally get changed and ready to hit the treadmill, elliptical, or, that machine thingy that everyone has been talking about (it must be good if everyone is talking about it) This pattern goes on for about two weeks and you are impatiently looking for results. You think “damn it, I have been at this for two weeks and I don’t see any results. This just isn’t worth it!!!”

This is the point where most people will fail with their resolution to “get in shape, lose weight, or just be healthier”. At my personal training studio we will typically get busier at this time of year. Why? This is when people either quit or still have motivation, but they need help with following through. There are so many different reasons why people fall off the wagon: “I have no time, I can’t cook my food, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”, and the people who say this are right. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This can also be the tipping point. Joe Ehrmann says “the only true free decision that man has is how he/she responds to any given situation”. Here is where a lot of people will end up looking for the help of a personal trainer.

This can be a very intimidating task and there are a number of ways to go about doing this. What steps do you have to take? Is a personal trainer going to provide enough value to justify the cost? There are a lot of different things to consider. There is also a lot of misinformation out there in the age of blogging and you tube. If you are a member of a local gym you have probably already scoped out which trainers you think you like based on what you see when they are on display in front of everyone. This may not be the most comfortable way or most logical way to find a trainer. There is always joining a boot camp, but that can look and feel very intimidating if you don’t even know where to start. You could also go to a training focused gym, but where and how do you start with your search? If these are issues for you, it is my opinion; training focused gyms are a much better answer. You are not on display; there is a much more positive, supportive atmosphere than in a big box gym. The people there are usually more focused on servicing the client, not just having someone come in and rent the equipment. In a training-centric gym you are the focus. But again, where do you start? What are you supposed to look for?

1. Quality, comfort and credentials

The most important thing when looking for a trainer is probably your comfort level with that person or facility. Certifications are important, but not the only thing you should be looking for. The most respected in the industry are NSCA, ASCM, NASM, and NCSF. There are other certifications, but these are the best of the best and usually require a collegiate level degree to even take the test. Exercise science programs are booming at local and larger universities, so a college degree is also something to look for in a trainer. In essence, all that a certification does is ensure that that trainer is barely competent at what they do, especially a younger trainer.

Sometimes you can see a certification is just not enough the moment you meet that person. That person could have all the knowledge in the world but some people cannot relay that information or even hold a conversation with you. Remember you have to like and have confidence in the person that you are going to be working with. My general rule of thumb is if I would not invite this person into my home I probably shouldn’t trust them with my body. It is after all your MOST important possession.

2. Gathering information

Once you have found a place you have to call up and get information. I find that most people are nervous or do not even know what to ask, so the questions always seem to trend towards “how much is this?” While this is very important it probably shouldn’t be the only thing you are looking for.

The next thing is to make sure there is some sort of assessment/screening procedure. I firmly believe in using some sort of a screen to find out what is appropriate as far as exercise for a client. At my Fitness Together facility, we utilize the Functional Movement Screen, which will break down what you do well, what you may need to work on. If something causes pain, we also identify what things to avoid so we do not worsen the issue and still get you the best result possible. At my facility we also take pictures, measurements, weight and body fat. We will also do some form of performance testing to establish where you are and where we are going to help you get to.

3. Goal Setting

You should look for a personal trainer that will focus on the goal setting process. One of the first things a trainer should do is sit down and have a realistic conversation with you about what your goals are. The successful people figure out a way to make their goals happen. Effective goal setting is not just saying, “I want to lose 10 lbs.” This is a desired outcome. A more effective goal is focused on behavior. “To lose 10 lbs I will work out 4x per week with my trainer and another day on my own” is a more effective goal. The trainer would reward the action – which will ultimately lead to success – instead of the outcome. When you first start out you may be very vague and come in with goals like “I want to get in shape”. My version of get in shape could be very different than what your idea of get in shape is. A good coach will be able to accommodate your level of fitness, not a generic workout when you have a knee replacement, back injuries or any other various ailments. Getting in shape may mean being active every day and not having any pain, or it could mean training for the next extreme race such as the Tough Mudder. The point here is that the person helping you should truly be helping you. There should be an agreement on your goals together...not someone else telling you what your goals are based on their own exercise history.

Finding a trainer to get help with following through on your goals can be a very daunting and emotionally draining task, unless you are a little bit more informed. Make sure to look for:

  • Education level
  • First impression/comfort level
  • Goal setting/screening process
  • Injury accommodation

This is by no means an all inclusive guide or the Holy Grail when it comes to finding a personal trainer, but it should help you out in terms of what to look for and maybe give you some more confidence when you do make that choice to finally get to where you want to be with your fitness level. The most common thing that I hear in my Fitness Together studio is that while not inexpensive, deciding to work with a personal trainer has been the best money a client invests in himself or herself.


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