Ask friends for recommendations. Word of mouth is invaluable — Have other people found success with the trainer? Do they like him or her? Why? Research the trainer online. Good trainers will proudly display their credentials and nowadays many trainers have a strong online presence to stay in contact with and motivate their clients. Schedule an information interview so you can meet the trainer and learn how they approach training.
Here are five important things to find out before you jump under the weights with a new trainer by your side.
1) The trainer’s level of education and experience. Make sure they are certified through one of the primary certifying bodies. Some of the heavy hitters include: The American Council on Exercise (ACE), The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Some certifications aren’t as rigorous and don’t require the same level of knowledge, so do your homework and know how your trainer was educated. New trainers are usually very enthusiastic but don’t have much experience, so they may give you a very basic level of training and they may not know how to modify workouts and exercises for your personal issues. Your trainer should create a specialized program for you and teach you how to do the exercises correctly, confirming that you can easily repeat the exercise correctly before sending you on your own to do it.
2) Make sure you like the trainer and find them motivating. You don’t want to be treated like a little kid or a little old lady. They shouldn’t motivate through yelling or intimidation and they shouldn’t get annoyed if you don’t understand or can’t do a movement. Their focus should be entirely on YOU — your education and progress. They should motivate you the way you are best motivated. Your trainer should set goals with you, revise your workout as you progress and challenge you to do new things. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to have a babysitter follow you around and watch you do the exercise machines. If all you want is someone to motivate you to go to the gym, elicit the companionship of an exercise buddy and set a schedule. You are paying your trainer for their expertise in creating a personal exercise program, teaching you correct form and pushing you to the next level.
3) Different trainers specialize in different types of exercise. Sport-specific training is popular now, as is training a balanced body that can do any activity. If you are focused on running and want to learn better running technique, look for a trainer who trains runners. If you like dance-type training, a trainer who also has a background in dance or pilates would be a good source. Good trainers incorporate functional movements into their training programs because this creates balanced muscles and physique, leading to a full range of motion. Weight machines can be an asset to a training program when used correctly as part of a complete program, but they shouldn’t be the only thing your trainer recommends. Runners often want to improve their speed and endurance but their training should also focus on balancing out the movements they usually do with other activities so they don’t risk overuse injuries. Good trainers will spend some time with you before you ever sign up, asking you questions about your goals and history and they will gladly share their approach and techniques. Be sure to ask for an interview session to make sure the trainer is the best person to help you meet your goals.
4) Cost. Don’t select a personal trainer simply because they charge the least or because they charge the most. Usually new and inexperienced trainers charge less but this doesn’t mean they aren’t good trainers. And I know of experienced personal trainers who charge a ton but are terrible trainers who use outdated methods and don’t focus on correct technique or the client’s goals. Find out what the average rate in your area is and look for trainers who’s rates fall within that range. Be sure to ask if there is a deal for signing up for several sessions, paying for 10 sessions up front, etc. If you need a pay plan or lower rate for a month, many trainers can accommodate you.
5) Watch out for clubs that rotate trainers. You are paying for the training that works for you so you should see the same trainer every time. Good trainers are watching for movement cues and habits that you have and developing teaching and motivational techniques that work for you. The longer you train with them, the better they will get at helping you reach your goals (this also means that they will be able to answer your questions via email, saving you some money). In the same way that your hair stylist gets to know what you like and how your hair behaves, the personal training process should change over time as you grow and become more skilled and independent.