How to Choose A Personal Trainer
It’s important to know how to choose a good personal trainer. Not only are you spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars with them, but when doing exercise (lifting weights or even just aerobics), your safety is in their hands. If you see any of these attributes in a trainer, you might want to reconsider.
They don’t look the part
Personal trainers should be relatively fit. It’s true: you can be fat and fit. I have a friend who is no more than 5’8”, probably around 300lbs, and he can run farther and faster than me. However for the most part, if you work out regularly on a progressing program and you watch your nutrition, you should look relatively fit and not eating cookies while “helping” you exercise.
If your trainer doesn’t look fit, then (with rare exception like my crazy fast friend,) they either don’t follow their own advice, or their advice doesn’t work. If you have the opportunity, watch the trainer work out. Are they able to lift a lot of weight? Do they just run on the treadmill? A trainer should not only look strong, they should be strong.
Maybe even more importantly, each trainer should have a story. Did they lose weight themselves? Were they a college athlete? A trainer with a similar background to you may be a better choice because a) they know where you’re coming from and will better understand your struggles, and b) they have worked through a program with the same or similar goals with success.
They claim to be a “nutritionist”
I take all nutritional advice with a grain of salt. There are so many contradictory “facts” with studies to back them up, that it’s sometimes best to investigate on your own.
If you come across a trainer who is a “nutritionist”, take a hard look at their qualifications before taking out your credit card. “Nutritionists” are not qualified like dieticians; in fact, some states allow you to call yourself a “nutritionist” with no formal training at all. If the trainer has a certificate of nutritional studies from a program like the ISSA or NASM, or anything but an accredited university, be very wary. These courses can be completed in a matter of weeks online, and the individual likely does not have the knowledge to write up a safe, efficient diet plan.
The best trainers have a solid knowledge of nutrition, be it through a certification process, formal schooling, or simply from experience and exploring information around the web– but they do not write up meal-by-meal plans. If you come across a trainer with a complete diet plan, be very cautious. There is nothing wrong with giving nutritional advice or guidance, but following a meal-by-meal plan from someone who learned their trade in a two week course is not wise. Maybe ask a simple question about food labels and see how they respond.
They are new to the industry
Now this one seems almost unfair, but if you come across a personal trainer who is new to the industry, run and run fast. Ask about when they got certified, and when they started working in gyms. They likely graduated from a personal trainer course like the ISSA or NASM. Be sure to ask them about their background as certifications, don’t really mean all that much compared with experience.
I didn’t realize I knew absolutely nothing until I first started working at a gym. The NASM and ISSA teach you a very basic foundation, but they don’t really teach you how to write a functional program to reach different goals.
Then I moved to a second gym and realized that I still knew nothing because the first gym taught me useless tools. Look for someone with enough experience to have a handful of testimonials, preferably having worked as a trainer for at least 2 years. Like with the first gym I worked at, many trainers are taught to do useless circuits with light weights. If your trainer has testimonials, it means that they are doing enough right to see success with some of their clients.
They don’t correct your form constantly
If you watch videos of the highest level powerlifters, you’ll hear what are called “cues”. In a squat you might hear, “LOWER, LOWER, LOWER!!” or “BUTT BACK, BACK, BACK!”
Even elite athletes who have been training for years need to be reminded of form because when we are under a load, our bodies do things that we may not be aware we’re doing– often because of strength imbalances. You may think this does not apply to you because you don’t want to bear a heavy load, but your trainer should still be correcting you if the angle of your limbs is 1 degree off. Technique is HUGE. It is probably the most important part of lifting and if you aren’t getting corrected you can get severely injured.
If you have a chance to work with a personal trainer a few times for free, make sure that they have 100% of their effort on you. If they train clients at your gym, watch how they communicate with their current clients. The best trainer should seem very critical, but not condescending.
Other thing to watch for when they work with other clients
- Static stretching before the workout– a static stretch is where you lengthen a muscle past your normal range of motion, and hold it for a period of time. Doing static stretches before exercising is a common mistake that can cause serious injuries.
- Their clients squat in the smith machine– the smith machine is a barbell rack with the bar on a fixed track (as opposed to free weights). If they are using the smith machine for squats they either have no idea what they’re doing, or they are lazy.
- Ask how they would adjust their workout for an injury. Say you tore your PCL, what would they have you do differently.
Personal trainers have the ability to create amazing, positive changes in your life, or wreak havoc. It’s important to know what to look for so that you are working out safely, and so that you have the progression to reach your goals.
Andi Singer is a fitness coach working with IHMOnline to spread fitness and weight loss knowledge and tips around the web. She believes that fitness should always translate to real life, and if it doesn’t give you applicable strength, you’re wasting your time