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?
Because if they do, they’re a moron.
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.
Comments for This Entry
TrishThere are so many beautiful pop culture references in this post I thought it was going to explode. In any case, I love this piece and will have to share it with people. It's fascinating to me that people are willing to pay so much for a trainer without vetting them first.
April 16, 2015 at 12:12 pm |
TonyGentilcoreThanks Trish, glad you enjoyed it. I was going to toss in a Missy Elliot reference too, but thought it might have been over-kill.
April 17, 2015 at 8:34 am |
GinaDefinitely, my weak spot as a trainer is writing programs. What is your suggestion for the best way to learn this skill? Thanks for any advice.
April 16, 2015 at 2:42 pm |
MorganBegin playing a sport, and then write a program to help you perform better. The only way to get better is to do.
April 16, 2015 at 11:35 pm |
TonyGentilcoreHmmm, well, the smarty-aleck response would be "to write more programs," but it's just not that simple. I'd actually find someone whom you trust who's willing to dissect your programs and give you honest feedback. Too, I think anything you can read or watch on the topic would be helpful. Mike Boyle's stuff is fantastic, and Mike Robertson would be a nice place to start as well. Both have DVD series that help to break down program design. But nothing is going to trump actually doing it and having someone give you some feedback.
April 17, 2015 at 8:37 am |
Michelle KaniaI wish everyone asked their personal trainer if they have a certification. I had an interview at a pretty expensive gym that 80-90% of the clients had personal training packages and none of their personal trainers had ANY certifications, maybe one had ACE. The sales manager "almost" did the CSCS. I decided against taking that job.
April 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm |
spankeeHard to believe trainers in a gym not certified and insured. In alot of cases even w certification that doesnt mean they are any good. Best trainer I know was an older man who had a bad hip and used to compete in bodybuilding. He trained all kinds of people and got results. And to look at him you wouldnt think, but its not always about how they look. its what they know...
April 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm |
TonyGentilcoreProbably the right call on your end Michelle. I don't feel a certification is the end-all-be-all, but it at least demonstrates a BASE LEVEL of competency on the trainer's end. Base level can be argued upon here, because some trainers don't know their ass from the acetabulum.
April 17, 2015 at 8:39 am |
Adam TrainorThat awkward moment when you ask your would-be-trainer what his workout schedule is, and he stops to think about it. "Um, when do I workout?" Good list, Tony. I have two cents. It has been my experience that clients are not going to learn anything from a trainer they don't trust. You don't have to like your trainer, but you have to trust him in the way that you've come to trust people. It's different for each person. For me, it's an integrity thing. For others, it may be related to their feeling of safety. Idunno. Trust has to me there. Education, experience, referrals... these things are worthless without it.
April 17, 2015 at 7:15 am |
TonyGentilcoreVery valid point. Trust is a major player here. As I noted in the article I could have written more attributes, but I didn't want to bore people.....;o)
April 17, 2015 at 8:41 am |
Adam TrainorI follow your blog mostly for the information and the approachability of how it's delivered. Boredom, never comes to mind. That said, I add my two cents to test my thoughts on smart people.
April 18, 2015 at 9:00 am |
KevinGreat article Tony. These same questions should be answered by your doctor.
April 17, 2015 at 8:06 am |
TonyGentilcoreLOL. Maybe. Although, I don't know many doctors outside of Dr. Spencer Nadolsky who workout....;o)
April 17, 2015 at 8:42 am |
Kourtney ThomasOh man, that last one...it always pained me to hear the trainer ask the client what they wanted to do. Stop being so lazy! Sheesh. Great list :)
April 17, 2015 at 11:08 am |
RachelI work in a commercial gym with many weight-loss clients who only see me once or twice a week. In this scenario, I find programming to be much less specific than for someone who has a performance goal. At the risk of sounding like an extreme newbie (which I am), is there less of an importance in writing programs vs workouts for this population? It seems like as long as they are moving safely, working hard, and hitting all major muscle groups, they are working towards their goal regardless? Thank you for the tips!
April 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm |
TonyGentilcoreI can see how writing a program for people whom you see less frequently - or whom are sporadic themselves - may be a less warranted, Still, you should have a SENSE of what you want to do them on any given day. And you shouldn't ask THEM what they want to do....;o)
April 20, 2015 at 10:13 am |
RachelThank you for your thoughts. =)
April 20, 2015 at 1:12 pm |
TonyGentilcoreThere's no magical answer here. If you want to get better at writing programs, then write programs. Have another trainer or someone you trust go through it and offer some feedback. Sometimes the only way to get better is to have someone rip your work apart.
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April 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm |
glundi2What do you consider to be dressed professionally? This is one point I dont agree on you with.
April 22, 2015 at 11:31 am |
TonyGentilcoreNot wearing ripped clothes or cut-off shirts or backwards hats. I'm not saying you have to wear matching colors or anything, but you should "clean it up" if you're working in a professional setting. If it's your own gym, do what you want.....;o)
April 22, 2015 at 8:24 pm |
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April 22, 2015 at 1:08 pm |
TrinaThis tee is available for a limited time... http://bit.ly/1Dw9BPp
April 22, 2015 at 5:05 pm |
bookfreakArticles like this make me feel great, because my trainer passes with flying colors in every area!
July 11, 2015 at 6:10 pm |
TonyGentilcoreGlad you hear you found a good one bookfreak!
July 12, 2015 at 10:38 am |
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July 21, 2015 at 12:39 pm |
Alpha HealthLove the article here Tony. I'm a personal trainer at Alpha Health and i must say, i've been around to a few commercial gyms where i've noticed a hand full of former colleagues that weren't even exercising too. It had widen my opinion on personal trainers only doing it for the money rather than helping their clients dire need and wants to be healthy and fit. I thank you for this valuable article and cheers for the great read. It was most enjoyable with all these references. Definitely a two thumbs up from us at, http://www.alphahealthcampbelltown.com.au/
February 18, 2017 at 4:27 am |