Vetting Your Personal Trainer
I became a personal trainer and coach back in 2002. Shows like Alias and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were all the rage,1 *NSYNC still had Justin Timberlake, and The Two Towers (the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, duh!) was rocking my world. Who can forget that epic battle scene in Helms Deep!?!
Admittedly, it seems like eons ago. I mean even Facebook didn’t exist back then.
Needless to say in the 13+ years I’ve been in “the biz,” I’ve seen my fair share of good trainers which make me proud to be in the industry, and bad trainers who make me sometimes want to punch a hole in the wall.
I could sit here and type endlessly about the traits I feel any “good” trainer should encompass: a basic understanding of anatomy, movement, and program design would be a nice start. Do they look the part? As callous and nebulous as it may come across – what does looking the part even mean? – my friend Bryan Krahn address the topic in his article, How to Spot a Bad Trainer, on MensHealth.com and notes:
“In the fitness industry, appearances matter. Now, that doesn’t mean six-pack abs or muscles the size of boulders need to be prerequisites for the job. But your trainer should be healthy with a physique that suggests some level of mastery in his chosen field. If they talk the talk, they should walk the walk.”
Do they dress professionally or as if they just stepped out of an MMA class? Are they punctual? Are they prepared and organized? Do they take the time to ask questions and perform some semblance of an initial assessment? Unfortunately I’ve witnessed a few trainers in my time do nothing more than demonstrate how to insert the pins on various Cybex machines as part of their “thorough assessment.”
Why not just make paper airplanes for an hour?
Are they friendly, personable, able to toss in obscure pop-culture references at any moment, and an overall non-douchy person to be around? Because, lets be honest, no one wants to train with an asshole, much less pay for it.
Do they spot a dumbbell press like this?
All, I believe, in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, are relevant questions and observations to note when deciding who to hire as your personal trainer. I find it weird how some people are more diligent with who changes the oil in their car more so than who’s in charge of telling them what to do with their own body.
Some Other Stuff to Consider
Finding the right personal trainer that fits your goals and needs can be just as much of a nuisance as car shopping. Granted few things are as annoying as car shopping – save for an uncontrollable eye twitch or yet another Taylor Swift song about breaking up with a dude – and you (generally) don’t have to deal with the shady salesmen antics when seeking out a quality trainer.
Note: Good trainers rely on getting people results and word of mouth from clients; bad trainers rely on gimmicks and salesman wordplay.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on guard and go out of your way to be a more proactive consumer when hiring a personal trainer. Consider many people shell out upwards of $60-$90 per session (sometimes more depending on one’s location), it only makes sense to try to get the most for your personal training buck.
2 Questions to Ask a Trainer
Omitting the obvious questions such as “are you certified?(1)” or “do you have any references/testimonials to share?(2)” or “what’s your favorite Star Wars character?(3)” here are a handful of less common (albeit no less important) questions to ask a someone you’re considering in hiring.
(1) = Being certified is a “must have” when vetting a trainer. Gold standard certifications in the industry are NSCA, ACE, ISSA, NASM, and ACSM.
(2) = Just having a few letters next to their name doesn’t mean much. Do they place a premium on continuing education? When’s the last time they attended a national conference? What’s the last book they read? Do they have a list of current clients you can contact about their own experience with this trainer? All are pertinent questions to ask, and questions any trainer should be able to answer without hesitation.
(3) = Fingers crossed they don’t say Jar Jar Binks.
“Do You Workout Yourself?”
I understand it comes across as a bit oxymoron(ish) to ask a trainer/coach if (s)he workouts. It’s analogous to asking a politician if he or she votes, but it’s unsettling how often this happens.
Before co-founding my own facility in 2007 I worked in numerous commercial gyms beforehand, and it amazed me how many colleagues never worked out.
I’m not referring to looking the part (I.e., fit), which has already been covered above. But hey, would you listen to a health teacher who was 30 lbs overweight and smoked?
I’m referring to personal trainers who literally do not exercise themselves!
It’s a blunt question to ask, but if you’re going to spend good money hiring a trainer, do you really want someone to be in charge of your body who doesn’t practice what they preach?
“What’s Your Training Philosophy?”
Likewise, it’s also smart to ask what a trainer’s general training philosophy is.
Are they someone who places an emphasis on strength training or are they more endurance based?
Do they include a thorough assessment – postural analysis, going over injury and training history, etc – process as part of their approach? If not, I’d question their tactics!
More importantly, if they’re a competitive powerlifter, bodybuilder, figure competitor, or CrossFitter, to give a few examples, do they have the ability to separate their own training preferences to yours?
What good does it do you if you’re interested in improving your deadlift and squat numbers and your trainer has you performing a “bicep day” because it was his bicep day?
Or maybe you’re goal is to add some strength training to help you prepare for a half marathon. If so, why are you doing all these crazy MetCon workouts and conditioning circuits?
The point is: your trainer should cater YOUR training towards YOUR needs and goals. Not their’s.
Bonus: 1 Question a Trainer Should Never Ask You.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I heard this question being asked when I worked in various commercial gyms.
A client would walk in, greet their trainer, and the trainer would then ask….
“So, what do you want to do today?”
Um, isn’t that what you’re paying THEM to figure out? That’s like me walking into my accountant’s office and him looking at me and saying, “so, you read up on all those new tax codes?”
This comes down to my comment above regarding organization and preparedness. Whomever you hire should have a game plan. They should be writing programs not workouts!
This isn’t to say they shouldn’t ask for your feedback or insight on any given day – maybe you were up late the night prior with a sick kid or you had a long day at work and were thiiis close to murdering your boss – which may require tweaking that particular day’s session.
However, in the grand scheme of things, they should be prepared a head of time. With few exceptions they shouldn’t be “winging it.”
If so, walk the other way. Try not to punch the wall.