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Which personal trainer is best for me?

Posted by Aaron Shepherd on 2 September 2020
Which personal trainer is best for me?

It can be a tricky and often blind process choosing a Personal Trainer.

'Try before you buy' isn't usually an option, and as such the decision to seek help with your wellness goals is usually accompanied by equal-parts enthusiasm, optimism, and nervousness. The first two are understandable; you know what you want to achieve and you are eager to get started, but you are also about to enter into a new 'contract', with someone you may have only seen on Instagram or a website, or walking around your gym.

Choose the right trainer, and he or she may genuinely turn your life around and become integrated in your life forever.

Choose the wrong trainer, and it won't be long before your interactions become an awkward, hour-long waste of time and money.

Of course these are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but before you charge abs-first towards the nearest 'Influencer' or gym buff there are 5 key points that will help ensure you have the tools you need to confidently choose a suitable personal trainer.

Rule 1: Know what you want

Like any contract or relationship, if you don't have a clear idea of what you want from it it is hard to set parameters or gauge progress, let alone gauge the performance of either party. Be as direct and concise as you would with a taxi driver or tattooist. And don't just offer a conservative cliched goal for the sake of getting started. If what you really want is to tone up and look better, don't say you want to "get healthier" or "improve your fitness" because the former will involve interventions or changes that are not related to weight loss at all, and the latter is entirely performance based, not intrinsically tied to being slimmer.

Remember, this process should be a fun one, so if you only have a very general idea about what you want to achieve take the time to narrow it down before you start your PT search. Having a clear, honest vision of what you want will help avoid disappointment at review time, and create accountability for you both.

Rule 2: Know what to look for

If it is possible for you to anonymously observe a potential trainer working with another client, it will teach you more about them than any website, blog, or consultation. If they appear organised, attentive (especially when out of the client's eye-line), and engaging it is a great sign. Conversely, if he or she keeps checking the clock or their phone, or if either person seems disinterested, bored, or disengaged then continue your search elsewhere.

If observing isn't an option, at your first meeting arrive slightly early and take note of how the trainer engages with other people before and after your meeting. Once the consultation begins this is your opportunity to learn as much about each other as you can, so make sure the trainer is focused on you and not distracted by their phone or things and people around them. They should be listening carefully, asking for clarification of certain things, and taking notes (unless this has been done in advance), and allow them to challenge you on certain points and probe deeper into your goals or motivations.

In my experience physical presentation (looking good) is usually a good way to see if someone practices good habits, but it should never be your primary consideration for choosing a trainer. Just because someone has successfully completed a "transformation" or is below 10% body fat does not mean they can coach or motivate someone else to do the same. This is how some people stumble into the industry and while it might eventually result in quality trainer, this is not the norm.

Rule 3: Know what to ask

There will be certain things that you will only learn about each other as time progresses. More often than not, this is an enjoyable aspect of the growing dynamic and is usually more personal than training-specific, but once you have settled on your training goals, there a few questions you should ask a prospective trainer at the outset:

  • "Is there a specific style or approach to training that you think I should use?"
  • "Do you think my goals are specific or realistic enough?"
  • "How and when will we be measuring my progress?"
  • "What is your approach to the non-training aspects of my goals (i.e. recovery, nutrition)?"
  • "Are you able to design my full goals programme for me?"
  • "Is there any industry reading, podcasts, or audiobooks you could recommend?"

Any trainer worth their salt should be able to answer most of these questions in their sleep, so if they can't then you might be better off finding someone else.

Rule 4: Know the relationship

If by now you know what you want and have found a trainer that fits your needs then you are ready to begin. Hopefully you made your own notes during the initial meeting and have a clear agreement as to what services and resources you will receive, thus eliminating 99% of the guesswork and creating accountability for you both.

As mentioned earlier, the relationship between trainer and client develops over time. Like work colleagues or teammates, or anyone you spend time with regularly, it is natural for your relationship to grow and for you to become more at ease with each other. Time between sets is usually spent discussing politics or sharing stories of life outside of training, and as common interests emerge you may find yourself a lot more comfortable. Your gradual willingness to confide more freely is often useful for a trainer trying to identify underlying motivations for certain goals, but this transition to a form of budding friendship needs to be tempered with a certain amount of caution.

If the relationship between client and trainer becomes too relaxed and the waters become muddied, things can begin to dissolve. The trainer can get lazy and start to see you more as a 'mate' than a paying client, and his or her performance and organisation may start to slip. On the other hand, you might start skipping sessions, ignoring the 24 hour cancellation policy, feel less inclined to pay on time (or at all), or begin to ignore their advice as you no longer see them as a person of relative authority.

You are both responsible for monitoring and maintaining the dynamic of your relationship and must respect your original agreement and terms of service.

Rule 5: Know what to expect

Even if you have set rock-solid goals, found a great trainer, and have steely determination, there are other considerations you should also keep in mind.

Firstly, things won't happen overnight and it won't always be smooth sailing. Results are only ever dramatic if you manage to absolutely nail each component of intake (nutrition, fluids), recovery (sleep, rest days, lighter training days), and exercise (scheduled, passive) so bare in mind that while your PT might be able to offer advice in one or more of these three areas, they cannot enforce things outside of your training sessions so much of the responsibility falls with you. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink (or not drink) if you're not there.

From the PT's perspective you are a completely blank slate. They do not know you outside of the consult so it will take time for them to fully understand what you're capable of, what you can handle, and what they can safely prescribe. You might be used to doing interval training 6 days per week, but allow a few sessions for them to safely 'feel you out' before you demand harder, heavier circuits everyday.

The PT may direct you to do things you have never done before that aren't easy initially, but growth comes from challenging yourself so have faith that your trainer has designed your training well and follow their instructions to the best of your ability. If something causes you unusual or unexpected physical pain always let your trainer know, and you are by all means entitled to ask the trainer how whatever you are doing benefits your long term goals.

If you plan on using these rules to help guide your trainer selection process, they are not intended as a list of strict deal-breaking guidelines to be forced on a potential trainer, they are meant to help you understand and navigate the transition with confidence, and think more about the process. If you are a PT reading this hopefully it somewhat mirrors your own process, and if not hopefully it provided you with some food for thought.

Either way, I hope it helped.

Aaron ShepherdAuthor: Aaron Shepherd
About: Premier Fitness Collective Founder
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