How to pick a personal trainer

Ok, so you’ve spent a whole bunch of time in the gym and realized that you are spinning your wheels and not getting where you want to be. You probably also realized that working out and not succeeding really sucks! Beyond that, you also realized that other people are fit, so there must be some sort of secret knowledge out there that allows for them to be in way better shape. Even more, you’ve probably realized that a good, qualified capable trainer can expose you to the knowledge you need to succeed. So what now? It’s time to pick a personal trainer from the vast sea of people out there claiming that job title. So how do you pick a personal trainer?

First off, you need to establish what the value of the personal trainer will be for you. Personal trainers offer a wide variety of value from one trainer to another and it’s important to know what someone can provide you with before you give them your hard earned money and time (not to mention the potential to lead you down a great or very bad path). To start, let’s talk about what most people go to trainers for.

Basic Education – This is by far the most common reason people utilize a personal trainer. Many people will utilize a personal trainer to help learn what they need to do in order to accomplish their physical goals. Basic education usually includes things like how to use the machines and some of the free weights, and a little bit about the muscles that perform different movements. Usually this can be taught in just a few hours (literally 2-5 hours based on the client’s ability to comprehend and retain knowledge).

Motivation – The second most common reason, and truthfully the least valuable thing a personal trainer provides. People often need the push of another individual (myself VERY much included) in order to train hard and work towards their goals. Life beats us up and having another person their demanding more of you helps everybody work harder and get more out of their time spent at the gym.

These two reasons are great reasons to utilize a personal trainer. There are many trainers out there who can provide these services and will do a great job in doing so. Selecting someone for these basic levels is pretty simple. Look for someone who can give references you can speak with. Trainers develop highly personal relationships with clients and if they have helped people succeed with the goals you have, arranging for you to speak with a past success story should be an easy thing for both the trainer to provide and the client to accommodate. If they don’t have success stories before you, you likely won’t be successful either. In addition, be sure that they have been certified by a real certification program. National Academy of Sports Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise are three of the more common quality certifications out there, though there are others. Just be sure to check on the certification your potential trainer has for its quality and his/her honesty. This is usually an inexpensive (comparatively) service, and trainers providing these services and these services alone usually will cost under $50/session. If you are paying more than that, you are either working with someone offering some of the value you will read about below, or are overpaying. These trainers’ services should be utilized for two types of people. When someone is first entering the gym world, these trainers can successfully be utilized for 1-3 sessions and will likely not provide good value past that. The second person is someone who is a highly experienced gym goer with no physical imbalances or limitations, has attained their physical goals, and is purely interested in having someone who provides motivation. In the second case, the value of the trainer should be motivation and likely nothing else, as if they aren’t qualified to offer the values written about below this paragraph, they won’t be able to help you do anything else correctly.

 

Now let’s move on to the value that higher level trainers can provide…

Specialization – Many trainers are experts with particular segments of the population and or particular categories of development. Due to the specialization that comes with particular fields, and the depth of knowledge that is out there, the guy that is best for improving your golf swing is likely not best for you to win Mr. Olympia. At the same time, the guy that can help you win Mr. Olympia probably doesn’t even know how to hold a golf club! So when you are looking for a very specific set of skills to develop, finding the specialist for that field is going to save you a lot of time, money and effort.

Higher level education – The truth is that understanding how to push the seated chest press machine or how to utilize a leg extension can be learned by just looking at the pictures that are on nearly every machine. In addition, five minutes on youtube (or www.trainbetter.org/videos and our ever growing collection of videos!) and you can learn all of the basic education material for free. The real value to the education a trainer can provide is far deeper than how to utilize the leg press. Understanding why to do exercise A then exercise B and not B then A is essential to continued success. Knowing that different paces and patterns create different results means you get to actually work towards your goal as opposed to working out doing some random method your trainer likes that may or may not be helping you progress. There is a lot more to the education realm that a high level trainer can provide you with, and doing so is the secret to truly knowing the how what when and why to doing anything in the gym.

Safety in Development – There is no such thing as a “random” injury in the gym. Injuries are almost always predictable and almost always preventable. Think about it. Have you ever been sitting on the couch watching tv and your bicep just exploded? Nope, didn’t think so. Well it doesn’t happen in the gym either. The truth is that when people get hurt during exercises, the body will always either have an imbalance that tells us the exercise wasn’t safe to begin with, or will start compensating prior to the repetition that the injury occurs on, giving us a warning sign to stop. A high level trainer will know these compensations and recognize imbalances and be able to prevent you from attempting to do an exercise or rep that will cause injury.

Gorgeous bald heads – Some of us have gorgeous bald heads, it’s just a perk value that is probably not really worth all that much, but a perk (see picture at bottom if this is confusing).

Thankfully, these trainers are often relatively easy to spot. They will likely have a large client base as their success with clients will create referrals. They will usually have a large collection of accreditation. This will likely include multiple certifications from major programs along with working under or with recognized experts in the field they specialize. They will often have been vetted by quality sources such as sports medicine physicians and physical therapists. Their peers will likely go to them for help with their goals. When meeting with one, they should be able to clearly define how things will go, and will not likely explain the plan as “we are going to work your butt off man”. Truth be told, they will probably be really fit science geeks (with gorgeous beautiful bald heads in some cases). Just as with the previous level of trainer mentioned, they should have a large list of success stories with people who you can contact and discuss their experiences with.

The people who work with the basic trainer will commonly work with one of these specialists for the same reasons they would work with the others, but like everything in life, they will get what they pay for. Specialists are always going to be more expensive and typically range between $75/session – $400/session.  The large price differential is usually effected by location and type of specialization (knee specialist, run coach, powerlifting etc). Utilizing this type of trainer is usually done in one of two manners. Either long term to accomplish a goal while increasing knowledge, or short term to learn how to exercise properly and know how to create and change exercise routines as they go along. Properly done, working with a trainer like this will allow you to know how to evaluate any exercise for its value to you. In addition, with enough time you would understand how to create an exercise to accomplish any goal you may have. All while being the most important thing of all, safe!

 

In a future blog, we will discuss how to know if you shouldn’t work with a personal trainer, so make sure you come back for more!

 

About the writer – Josh Gordon is a husband/father first, personal trainer second, business man third… writer 78th… Josh co-founded Train Better Personal Trainers with Nate Furlong in 2013 and has been a featured speaker for hospitals, medical, social and athletic groups.  Josh works with all sorts of physical goals but specializes in power based performance development and the correction of muscular imbalances.  He got fit after deciding he didn’t want to die young, and stays fit because “they have me on tv a bunch and I can’t be all out of shape on tv!”…supposedly it has something to do with wanting to be strong capable healthy and feeling great too.  He lives in Southeastern Michigan where he was born and raised and says he will stay as long as he can survive the snow!
About the writer – Josh Gordon is a husband/father first, personal trainer second, business man third… writer 78th…
Josh co-founded Train Better Personal Trainers with Nate Furlong in 2013 and has been a featured speaker for hospitals, medical, social and athletic groups. Josh works with all sorts of physical goals but specializes in power based performance development and the correction of muscular imbalances. He got fit after deciding he didn’t want to die young, and stays fit because “they have me on tv a bunch and I can’t be all out of shape on tv!”…supposedly it has something to do with wanting to be strong capable healthy and feeling great too. He lives in Southeastern Michigan where he was born and raised and says he will stay as long as he can survive the snow!