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It’s Personal: 5 Steps to Finding the Right Personal Trainer

Liz Merritt
August 16, 2017
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I cannot count how many times I have stepped into the gym and watched – in horror – as a disengaged personal trainer puts a 50+ client through the same paces as the previous 20-something client. He’s chatting excitedly about his weekend adventures instead of listening and instructing the guy who’s struggling to push out a few reps.

Like all professionals, personal trainers and coaches can provide huge advantages, but a bad one can put you at risk for injury or send you screaming out of there and never coming back.

There is no shortage of personal trainers and coaches ready to help you. They have a wide variety of backgrounds, some with college degrees in exercise-related fields and others with basic industry certifications.

But buyer beware. The industry remains mostly unregulated, and health clubs can hire staff regardless of certification or educational qualifications.The right personal trainer will design and implement safe and effective resistance training and cardiovascular exercise programs.

We tapped into the minds of several professional trainers and veteran athletic coaches to create a road map to finding the right fitness trainer for YOU.

Know Your Goals 

Personal Trainer

One key to success is knowing your goals first, and seeking a trainer or coach who is committed to getting you there.

The first step is to know yourself. Do you set workout goals and never follow through? Are you ready to commit to the work, but you aren’t sure where to start? Can you train independently? Will you do exactly as the trainer or coach prescribes when you’re not together?

One key to success is knowing your goals first, and seeking a trainer or coach who will commit to getting you there. While it’s up to you to communicate your goals clearly, a good trainer will explain exactly how they will help you achieve them.

Once you know what you want, then make a short list of the gyms, trainers and coaches in your areas. If you are searching out a sport-specific coach, you may have to travel a bit farther to work out with them.

Ask Questions

Clicking with your personal trainer or coach is essential. If your personality and theirs is more like oil and water, chances are the relationship won’t last long. It’s important that you can establish a relationship built on trust and respect.

J.R. Rosania, professional athletic trainer, coach and owner of Healthplex LLC in Phoenix says it’s important for trainers to consider that every client is starting from a different place. Some are very healthy in their approach to life and health and relationships. “Some are very guarded. They may have been burned or injured by another trainer. So they may not trust this trainer 100% at first. The client will only open up to the degree they trust the trainer,” he says.

Personal Trainer

It’s important to establish a relationship of trust and respect with your personal trainer.

Experience Matters

Rosania suggests asking trainers or coaches the number of years they have been working with clients. Ask them to describe generally the types of clients they work with and why they want to work with you. “As I think about my clients over the years, the trust they have in me is huge. They know I have their best interests in mind. You want a trainer who will motivate you in a way that is healthy and productive to sustain a long-term fitness lifestyle.”

Jennifer Graffice, a health and fitness professional in Phoenix and owner of Jen Graffice QLife adds, “Education is super important. You can be the smartest trainer in the world, but if you can’t relate to people or have the proper people skills for your clients, it simply won’t work. I have hired many an overqualified trainer and many an average trainer with incredible compassion and heart. Compassion wins every time. But the best is when you can find both – for the sake of safety and injury prevention.” 

Personal Trainer References & Credentials

When it comes to education and credentials, the trainers agreed that the best combination is a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or a related field in addition to professional certifications.

“It’s such a sticky issue in the world of personal training,” Rosania says. “The reason I believe that is almost anyone can get certified. It’s the type of thing where they are going to go online and look up training/fitness/certifications, get the test in the mail, pay the fee, get a training manual and say ‘I’m a trainer.’ Obviously, therein lies the problem. The risk is potential injury.”

Rosania calls this the “weekend certification” because the barriers to entry are low. “You need look for a certified trainer who is actually insured as a trainer.” Look for National Strength and Conditioning Association certification. “It means that trainer has taken and passed one of the most difficult certification exams in the industry.”

Also ask for references. Trainers and coaches with a track history of success will be very comfortable having you speak to other clients, Rosania says.

Get Good With Accountability

Personal Trainer

Syncing your expectations with your trainer’s is essential.

Now that you have a personal trainer, it’s time to turn the tables and dial up your accountability to the highest setting. Syncing your expectations with your trainer’s is essential.

Frank Sole, a longtime professional triathlon coach and owner of Sole Swim Solutions puts it this way: “I believe too many people look for external motivation from something or someone outside themselves. Yes, as a trainer it’s important to know your athlete, understand their needs, and what buttons to push.

“A trainer or coach needs to make sure the individual is a good fit. An athletes’ reason for doing this – their Why – has to be big enough to want to succeed. I see it too many times. If the results are not there, they move on. Too many athletes, including myself, fail to stand in front of a mirror, look ourselves in the eyes and take full responsibility for our lack of results. We can all use a bit more grit.”

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