What You Need to Know to Choose a Personal Trainer

Choosing a personal trainer can be daunting. How do you find a good one? Veteran coach Jonathan explains the five qualities a personal trainer needs to have before you trust them with your health.

In Australia, everything can kill you. In the Land Down Under we have the Sydney Funnel Web Spider, a spider whose bite kills you within forty minutes. Go for a swim and risk being killed by a box jellyfish and lets not forget the saltwater crocodiles. Growing up to 5.45 meters in length, they attack and kill water buffalo and humans using the ‘death roll.’

Lastly, we have the personal trainers. For every good personal trainer who periodizes a client’s program, stays up to date on exercise and nutritional research, and motivates clients to change their lives, there are countless other trainers who create their sessions as they walk into the gym, use out-dated information taught to them in year twelve health class, and still believe periodization was a class they fell asleep in during high school.

But it is important not to chastize these trainers too much. After all, even the best trainers once sporadically changed their training mindsets to align with whatever fitness fad was trending at the given time. In a fast paced, information driven world, it becomes difficult to slow down. Want a pizza? Jump online and order it in seconds. And what about that dress from Spain? No problem, thanks to the Internet it will be at your door in three weeks. The days of delayed gratification are slowly dying and some personal trainers are inadvertently cashing in on our need to have everything now. As you begin walking down the yellow brick road, dodging bro-zillas and divas, your trainer should be imploring you to take things slow.

Unfortunately, some trainers make a living by spouting outrageous promises that they will never be able to fulfill. During your first session, your trainer should be conducting a movement analysis to check for dysfunction and putting you through a basic program, not telling you that you can lose eight kilos in ten weeks and pulling out kettlebells and Prowlers. It takes time to build strength, gain muscle, and lose fat and you may not see any significant changes for the first four to six weeks, but it is your trainer’s job to ensure that you understand that health isn’t a sprint but rather a marathon.

So, maybe your trainer has politely sat you down and explained that. He or she has told you that, unfortunately, you won’t have a bikini ready body in three weeks, despite what that article you read in the glossy woman’s magazine said. Theoretically, your trainer may understand that looking like Miranda Kerr or Wolverine after two weeks of training is unrealistic, however once some trainers hit the gym floor everything changes.

personal training, training, coaching, choosing a personal trainerWith the popularity of metabolic conditioning, inexperienced trainers are easily seduced by the powers of overly complicated toys and, while these may be scintillating and help to create a sense of accomplishment within you, it often leaves you bereft in understanding how to perform the five core lifts that will actually get you stronger, sleeker, and sexier.

Everybody should know how to perform the five core lifts: bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and pull-ups. During the first few weeks of your training, your sessions should focus on understanding the necessary movement mechanics of these five exercises. Toys such as battling ropes, sleds, plyometric boxes, and kettlebells all serve a valuable place in training, but not until you’ve mastered the basics and your trainer can explain why you’re doing it.

And that one question could unravel a trainer’s entire exercise philosophy.

During your training session, ask your trainer why you are doing specific exercises and how all the individual training sessions fit into a bigger picture, otherwise called periodization. Especially for beginners, periodizing your training is imperative yet most personal trainers won’t bother to plan out four weeks of training beforehand to ensure consistency and cohesion.

As you go through your training sessions, your trainer should also be writing down your weights, reps, sets, times, and everything else short of how you decided to style your hair that day. If your trainer is not logging your workouts, weights, and progress, then there’s no definable proof that you’ve progressed (or not) since you started your training, and your trainer will be able to consistently produce spur of the moment workouts under the banner of metabolic conditioning. It is your trainer’s job to make sure you are progressing. How can they do that if they can’t tell you what workout you did last week, last month, or even last year?

Lastly, people hire personal trainers for a myriad of reasons. Everything from requiring extra motivation, to feeling uncomfortable around the grunting gorillas that preside in some gyms, to being able to hit cruise control with their training and have the personal trainer do all the programming work. When most people attend a personal training session, they spend one cathartic hour being told to step here, pull that, push this and, as they do as they’re told, they talk. They talk about their day, their worries, their troublesome children, and their hopes and dreams. If you don’t believe me now, trust me, once you start training with someone, you’ll begin to confide in him or her things that would make your hairdresser blush.

personal training, training, coaching, choosing a personal trainerBut your trainer has to keep you on track. It’s no good for them to simply point you in the direction of a machine, because it’s also their job to make sure that one day you’ll become an autonomous exercising machine. You’ll understand that when you perform the bench press, you need to create tension on the bar and row it down towards you. You’ll know the importance of retracting your scapulae during a barbell back squat and you’ll know why crunches and sit-ups are ineffective exercises. But, if your trainer is more interested in what you did on the weekend than providing explanations and correcting form, you’ll never understand why you’re doing something and that my friends, is a recipe for failure.

Personal trainers are a valuable commodity and an essential tool for progression and even innovation – if the job is done correctly. Next time you see your trainer, check for the following to ensure you’re getting the most value for your money:

  1. They perform (or have performed) a movement screening and they are working to correct imbalances in posture and movement.
  2. They are patient, both in character and their methodologies.
  3. They understand how to use cool stuff, like battling ropes, but first, they’re insisting on the basics.
  4. They explain why you are doing an exercise, and they willingly explain it to you as you go.
  5. They log your workouts, for your benefit and theirs.

Remember, getting the body you want and living a healthy life won’t happen overnight. It can be a long and slow process but it’s your trainer’s job to ensure you succeed.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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