Once you’ve decided to hire a personal trainer, how do you know you’ve found a good one? Great question.
Once you find a good hair stylist, you’re set, but if you get a bad one…ugh. It’s a little bit like that with a trainer. The best way to find a good one is to ask around—word of mouth is a great way to find someone great. However, you should also talk to a few trainers and ask some questions of your own. You may not know anyone who has hired a trainer so word of mouth may not be a viable option.
Here’s how you find a good one.
1) How many questions does the trainer ask that have nothing to do with fitness directly?
A good trainer will want to know about much more than your fitness goals. If you talk to one and they ask you about your attitudes and opinions about exercise, your work schedule, family commitments, your history of stopping and starting exercise, etc., you’ve probably found a great trainer. Why?
Great trainers realize that the workout program they create is the easy part. Any trainer can make a half-way decent workout program for most people. The real measure of fitness success is in your ability to adopt behaviors that become part of you. To make changes that last, a trainer must know the obstacles and opportunities for exercise in your schedule and all of the many non-workout factors that will determine your ability to absorb a fitness routine into your daily life.
2) Does the trainer teach you movement or just exercises?
This one might not be so obvious from your first conversation, but you can either ask directly or listen for how the trainer describes what they do. As my friend and fellow ACE consultant Chris McGrath says, “Exercise is optional; movement is essential.” Everyone moves, even if they don’t exercise. Thus, a good life starts with a foundation of quality movement when you’re doing chores, playing with your kids, walking the dog, putting away groceries and all the various tasks of daily life.
Perhaps more importantly, though, quality movement allows for exercise at an appropriate intensity that will stress your muscles (which is what you want) and not your joints. With the increased popularity of high-intensity training, trainers who don’t want to become good at teaching movement need to look for a different line of work.
How can you tell if a trainer focuses on movement quality? Here’s a big clue: When they describe what they do, they explain that they will first determine what your body is capable of given any current or previous injuries or limitations you may have. Regardless off how they describe it, the trainer you hire should care about how you move your body—both during and outside of the exercise session. Alternatively, you can ask them directly. For example, you could ask, “How will you address any specific joint issues I may have?”
3) Do you get a good workout at the first session?
I hope not. A terrible trainer puts people through hard workouts at the first session. A great trainer needs to get to know the people behind the programs they create—that’s what makes the training personal. Until I see you move and can gauge your response—both physically and mentally—to certain movements, it is impossible for me to create an effective program that will get you the results you want.
During the first session, a quality trainer might teach you movement skills or exercise technique, or address specific issues you may have, but they cannot possibly have a full workout ready to go until they spend some time with you in person. Hard workouts are easy to find and trainers that can deliver hard workouts are a dime a dozen. Any trainer who boasts of making clients sore for days is to be unequivocally avoided—they don’t know exercise, they only know intensity.
Ask around, or ask the trainer you are considering these questions. Better yet, why not do both? A trainer-client relationship is a very personal one and you want to know that you are wisely investing your body, your time and your money into working with a competent, caring professional, one who helps you find the right starting point to fitness and helps you progress at the right pace to keep you engaged mentally and appropriately challenged physically.
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