How to Choose a Coach or Fitness Trainer

When it comes to choosing a personal coach or a fitness trainer, the options can be overwhelming. Get-Fit Guy asked some coach friends of his to give their advice on how to choose someone who will work best with and for you. 

Brock Armstrong
11-minute read
Episode #447

For years I got all my training ideas and programs out of books, magazines and websites. And I have to say that it worked pretty darn well. I actually trained for several reasonably successful marathons and a few triathlons following and adapting programs that had been given to my cousin by his coach years prior. Eventually, however, through a Canadian running magazine, I was awarded the opportunity to work with two coaches, a nutritionist, and was sent all the running gear I could ever want. That's when I truly began to understand the power of having someone knowledgeable in your corner. 

What is a Personal Trainer or Fitness Coach?

A personal trainer is a certified professional who has trained for (and hopefully passed) an examination on varied topics such as anatomy, physiology, nutrition, biomechanics, exercise and movement. Occasionally, a personal trainer or coach has a college or university degree in an exercise science related field. And on the other end of the spectrum, some of them have been professional athletes in the past or are people who simply love a sport and understand it at a deeper level than most of us can even comprehend.

The purpose of having a personal trainer is to have someone who will help you to reach your fitness goal faster than you could yourself. They may even help you identify what your fitness goals should be. Either way, the idea is to outsource much of the thinking and planning involved in developing a fitness routine to someone who understands it and organizes it better than you do. 

Choosing Your Personal Trainer

Finding the right fitness trainer is a lot like choosing a teacher, mentor, or even a doctor—you want to choose carefully. With the right personal trainer, you can achieve your fitness goals faster and safer. But the wrong personal coach can leave you tired, frustrated, injured and broke (financially and physically). So, to help you make this choice, I have asked four friends (two who have actually coached yours truly) to record themselves giving their advice on what they would look for in a Personal Trainer. 

To get the full story and verbal nuance, I suggest you listen to the podcast. If you're unable to do that, here's a written transcript of what each of them had to say. I'll wrap things up with my own suggestions for how to ensure you get what you're looking for.

Brad Kearns

Brad Kearns, good friend of the Get-Fit Guy, host of the Get Over Yourself podcast, co-author of the New York Times bestselling Keto Reset Diet (with Mark Sisson) and the Guinness World Record Holding Speed Golfer for the fastest hole of golf ever played. You can find me on YouTube having some fun pursuing passionate competitive goals throughout life. 

You know what? I'm an independent, free-thinking, self-motivated guy. I thought I didn't always need a coach over the years, especially when I was competing on the professional triathlon circuit. I thought I knew everything and could make the best decisions for myself and was unwilling to kind of give myself over to a coaching program or a team environment. But what you learn over time is the value of having a voice of reason and a positive influence in your life and getting a winning coaching relationship going.

So probably the first step, the most important thing, is to choose wisely, my friends. Find someone who is a good fit with you.

Of course, you want to coach with experience and possibly certification, but definitely look under some other rocks, too. Don't just go for the most popular or prominent coach that hit you hard with an advertisement, maybe some people in your local area. Because in person, face to face (occasionally) is a really winning strategy that can leverage a lot of indirect communication. Of course, with the convenience factor being important too.

I've got to say number one is someone who walks the talk.

If you want to list attributes, things to look for in a coach, I've got to say number one is someone who "walks the talk." This is way more important to me than their experience. Their credentials is the practical application of their own coaching philosophy into winning lifestyle behaviors. It doesn't mean they have to be a great champion of the sport that you're pursuing. They can be a recreational enthusiast, like yourself, but they're successfully balancing their fitness, athletic goals with family life, being a kind, generous, happy person and all those attributes.

I think getting into a general discussion, rather than a discussion focused on your athletic goals, your fitness goals, finding out who they are, what are their hobbies? A little more about their personality is a great starting point, and then you can start talking business at the appropriate time. I also want to have a great feel for this social connection as a starting point because that's the greatest value of the coaching relationship. It's not the logistics of the mechanics—go on YouTube and you can find as much coaching information as you can ever digest in your life—but having a personal connection, boy, that's valuable. It's worth the investment.

Think about all your discretionary expenses in your life and if one coach is more expensive than the other, or it's a little bit of stretch your budget, I'm going to ask you and challenge you: what is more important than having a winning person in your corner to coach you to be the best that you can be in all areas of life? Even if your coach is just limited to your fitness goals. Being successful, disciplined, motivated, organized, that's going to carry over into your career goals and into your family life and all the other things and endeavours that you do. That's what's so fun about striving for peak performance in a distinct area like fitness or athletics is that it carries over in the leverage that you create.

Good luck and thanks for listening to me. You can listen more at the Get Over Yourself Podcast or visit bradkearns.com and find all kinds of fun things including cool videos.

Megan Omli

This is Megan Omli. I'm the Director of coaching and client experience at MetPro, a world-renowned concierge, nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle coaching company. I coached Brock while he was trying out the MetPro service. 

What I look for in a coach is, first and foremost, trustworthiness. I want to make sure that the person who is coaching me is somebody I can talk to openly and freely.

Another thing that I look for is somebody who has a communication style that I respond well to. I'm somebody who I need to know why I'm doing what I'm doing when I'm doing it. Otherwise I'm just going to go through the motions and not get the most out of it or I just simply won't do it. So somebody who can communicate with me and then also somebody who knows their stuff, somebody who's really knowledgeable and the type of coaching that I'm looking to get from them.

I also look for somebody who is willing to engage with me, who seems to be passionate about the work that they are doing. Somebody who is caring, who understands that life is a balance and maybe whether it's my sport or my nutrition or what have you, has to fit within my lifestyle as well. And so being able to work with me and truly who I am as an individual with my schedule and all those sorts of things is another thing that I look for when looking for a coach.

Having an understanding for somebody's schedule and what they're going to be able to do is extremely important because if it's not realistic and they can't execute, then what's the point?

I know personally, being a coach myself, those things are really important to our clients here at MetPro. Having an understanding for somebody's schedule and what they're going to be able to do and accommodate as far as their nutrition or their fitness is extremely important because if it's not realistic and they can't execute, then what's the point of setting those as our goals? So, making sure that it's a good balance for their lifestyle is extremely, extremely important.

So, in the end, I look for somebody who is trustworthy, dependable, their communication style fits myself. Somebody who engages well and is passionate about what they do and cares about me and about helping me reach my goals is really what I personally look for in a coach and also what I think ... our clients here at MetPro look for as well.

Geoff Tripp

I'm Geoff Tripp, and I'm currently the head of fitness for a startup fitness app company called Trainiac (where I coached Brock) and we are a mobile fitness platform. Pretty much our main mission here is to connect trainers with clients in a mobile platform, provide a high-quality experience almost like you have a personal trainer in your pocket, but we also are more than that. We're also a kind of a more holistic approach to our programing where we try to pull everything that our clients are doing including their fitness and their health goals. Making sure that we're accomplishing kind of this holistic approach and making sure their, their goals are being attacked as opposed to just focusing on just delivering fitness content. I have a BS in exercise science, CSCS, ACSM, exercise physiologists. 

I really want my trainer to keep me accountable, hold me to a certain standard, and be firm about whether I am tackling my goals and moving forward every day.

I have been in the fitness industry for about 15 years and people always ask me "You're a trainer, what do you look for in a coach?" or "Would you ever want to get a trainer?" And since I worked with trainers for so long (and I still do) I'm always pulling help from other trainers about how to be motivated and how to coach. But some of the key things that I would look for in a trainer or coach—number one is accountability. I really want my trainer to keep me accountable, hold me to a certain standard, and be firm about whether I am tackling my goals and moving forward every day. I want them to keep me focused, highly motivated, and someone that plans things out for me. I also like to know what I'm doing all the time. That helps keeps me focused, keeps me on track. And you can't really grow with those two things really.

I think accountability, motivation are huge for me but also having someone that's technically savvy, in terms of being able to dig deeper into maybe a little nagging injury that I might have. That is really key as well.

Katy Bowman

I'm Katy Bowman, a movement teacher, founder of Nutritious Movement and this is what I look for when choosing a trainer or coach. I was thinking about this and I'm going to give you my three (but not in necessarily in the order that I prioritize them).

The first one is tone and clarity in communication. I look for a more positive vibe and use of language in written form. For example, if I look at your Instagram or if I look at emails that you sent, I want to make sure that the way you speak makes sense to me that I'm not wondering what it is that you're implying or what you're saying. So, communication is a big deal.

The second one is authenticity and honesty. How does your platform communicate how often you do the thing that I'm using you as a coach for? I'm thinking movement, because that's what I teach (I have used coaches for all sorts of different things). I'm going to look at if you are marketing yourself as someone who teaches a particular thing, not only how well you do it, but how often you do it, how much of your life does it permeate? Because to me that's part of the honesty or an authenticity—if you're all about the thing. I tend to seek out instructors who are all about the thing in a healthy, balanced way. In general, I'm looking to see if that comes across in communications or marketing materials.

The third one is the most important to me and that is scalable teaching. And this is a little bit different than knowledgebase. When we're looking for a coach or a trainer, we're looking for that person who knows more than we do. They do it better or they simply have an amazing system for teaching it or passing it on. I make that allowance because there are many people who— I'm just thinking of a couple of sports coaches that I know that don't actually do the high-level thing that they coach other folks to do, but they're still really good at knowing how to get someone to the place that that person wants to go. So, scalable teaching is a little bit different than having a set of things that you teach where they're not really adaptable to a wide group of people. And this can happen when people are brand new and starting to teach a thing.

Oftentimes, our training is new, their experience is low, and so they're, they're trying to teach, you know, a set of 20 steps or, you know, a a hundred exercises or 20 exercises or whatever it is. They do those 20 well, but in the case of teaching anything or coaching anything, what you have to be able to do is, is match your information to the person that comes into wanting that knowledge. And it is about being able to still maintain what you're teaching. But knowing that maybe, let's say for example, you offer 10 things—10 steps, 10 moves—maybe a person isn't ready to do four of them. So, do they not get those four? Or can you take the four that they can't yet do that aren't accessible to them and figure out how to give a step towards that thing so that so that someone isn't getting 60% of what you offer, they're always getting 100% ... because of the coach's or the trainer's ability to quickly assess the situation and bring an element in so that everyone is always moving to whatever it is that they came to you to learn. 

When a coach is able to scale things, it means that my investment is going to be more valuable because they can meet me where I am not only by modifying or taking things away, but by knowing how to add that extra bit that I need.

So to me that's scalability. When you are able to scale things, it means that my investment in my time with you is going to be more valuable because you can meet me where I am not only by modifying or taking things away, but by knowing how to add that extra bit that I need. So, step-wise or scalable teaching, definitely most important.

If you want to see the way that I teach movements, you can find me on Instagram/nutritiousmovement or NutritiousMovement.com.

Brock Armstrong (Get-Fit Guy)

The great thing about being the last person on a list of smart folks is that I can basically say: all of the above, ditto. But what I will add to this guide is some ways you can ensure that you get the type of coach my guest trainers just prepped you on. 

  1. Make sure you sit down with or have a face-to-face call with the coach before you make your decision. This should be a "get to know each other" type of call, not a coaching session. Honestly, if a coach you are considering doesn't suggest this as a first step, I likely wouldn't trust them. That would indicate to me that they don't hold the coach/client relationship in high enough regard.   
  2. Look at their credentials but also look at their experience. Take me, for example. I have a few certifications and training courses under my belt but I also have a unique background in not only team sports like hockey but also broad movement like ballet. I also surround and ally myself with some very smart and knowledgeable people in the industry (as evidenced by this article). As Brad Kearns pointed out at the beginning of this how-to, you can tell from my social media that I walk the talk.  
  3. If a coach does not ask you about your lifestyle, time commitments, family life, sleep, diet, and stress levels then they will not be able (or willing) to coach you on your terms.  It means they will just give you workouts that they want you to do without knowing whether you can get them done, how they are affecting you and if they actually fit your lifestyle. In that case, you may as well be downloading workouts from YouTube. This is my biggest piece of advice. You hired a coach because you want a coach not a workout generating machine. Right? Right.

If a coach does not ask you about your lifestyle, time commitments, family life, sleep, diet, and stress levels, then they will not be able (or willing) to coach you on your terms.

When  the day comes that you decide to take the next big step along your awesome fitness journey and hire a professional, I hope this guide will help you determine if they are the right person to help you maximize your movement time, prevent injury and burnout, and see some awesome fitness results. As we found out from Brad, Megan, Geoff and Katy, there is a distinct line between making a good investment in your fitness-future and simply throwing your money at someone and hoping for the best. Use this advice to choose the right person who will help you set your correct exercise goals that will help you achieve your specific fitness goals.


For more info, tips, and to join the conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy, twitter.com/getfitguy or BrockArmstrong.com. Also, don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify, Google Play or via RSS.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.