How to Choose a Personal Trainer

Find out how to select the best trainer so you can reach your fitness goals faster.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #25

Since I realize that my Get-Fit Guy information gives you everything you could ever want when it comes to all-powerful exercise knowledge, and you couldn’t possibly ever need any extra help achieving your fitness goals, I can’t imagine why I would need to tell you how to choose a personal trainer. OK, maybe just a few of you want a bit of extra help, or perhaps just a friendly face-to-face encounter with a knowledgeable fitness professional. Just promise me you won’t leave me if I give you the secrets of how to choose a personal trainer, what to expect during a personal training session, and how to get the best results from a personal trainer. Deal?.

What Is A Personal Trainer?

Let’s start with the basics. A personal trainer is a certified exercise professional who has studied for and successfully passed an examination on topics such as anatomy, physiology, basic nutrition, and, of course exercise. Often, a personal trainer also has a bachelor’s or master’s degree in an exercise science related field. Typically, a personal trainer helps you to reach your fitness goal faster than you would have yourself--or they might simply help you identify what your goals should be!

Where to Find Personal Trainers

Your gym is the best place to look for a personal trainer, since the trainers there will be probably be more financially affordable as a part of your gym’s membership package.

If you’re not a member of a gym, you can find a personal trainer at a private studio. Typically, in a studio setting, the only people exercising are actually working out with a personal trainer whom they have hired, so studios are smaller, but less crowded. Often, personal trainers who own a private studio tend to be more highly qualified or knowledgeable than trainers at a public gym. Of course, they also tend to be slightly more expensive!

What to Expect In a Personal Training Session

So now that you’ve found a trainer, what happens? Usually, your first meeting with a trainer is called a consultation. In most cases, a consultation is free at a gym and often included with your membership package. At a studio, you may actually pay for the consultation, although many trainers will waive the fee if you end up purchasing a training package.

During a consultation, be prepared to answer questions about your health, exercise, and diet history, as well as your goals. That information helps the trainer design your program and tell you what type of package will work for you.

When you get past the initial consultation and into the sessions,  the trainer will supervise your warm-up and exercise preparation, walk you through your workouts, answer your questions about exercises, motivate you to lift the proper amount of weight or exercise at the proper intensity, and possibly even keep you entertained with exciting stories, quotes, and jokes (yes, during my time as a personal trainer, I do sometimes feel like part exercise professional, part song-and-dance performer). Many trainers will also be available to you via phone or e-mail to answer your questions apart from the actual session, and may also provide you with workouts to do when you’re not at a personal training session.

What to Look For In A Personal Trainer

Now that you know how to find a personal trainer and what to expect, I’m going to give you 5 quick and dirty tips on how to choose your personal trainer

Quick and Dirty Tip #1: Experience. Imagine that you are going to hire a surgeon to operate on your knee. Ideally, you’d choose a surgeon who had operated on many, many knees.In the same way, if your goal is fat loss, you don’t want to hire a personal trainer who specializes in training high-school baseball players. Choose a trainer who has experience helping people to reach your specific goal. During your consultation you might want to ask for references from the trainer’s past clients who were similar to you.

A good trainer will not give you a generic exercise “plan-in-a-can,” but will instead adapt your workout program to your specific needs.

Quick and Dirty Tip #2: Certification. Believe it or not, it is possible to slap down three hundred bucks and get a personal training certification via an open-book, weekend certification test. That is not the type of personal trainer you want, as these type of certifications are easy and primarily designed to make the certification companies money. Instead, look for trainers who have more rigorous and respected certifications. The top four are ACSM, NASM, ACE, and NSCA. For example, I am certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics, along with a certification in sports nutrition and strength and conditioning. That means I have invested thousands of dollars and over six years of fitness education--compared to a three-day study course and few hundred dollars. Who would you want designing your weight loss or exercise program? (By the way, for curious minds, I did work as a face-to-face personal trainer for a decade, but now provide online and phone consulting services via my online personal training website, Pacific Elite Fitness).

Quick and Dirty Tip #3: Personality. Even if a trainer is completely perfect on paper, they may not have a personality that fits your needs. Many trainers have a gruff, drill sergeant style that you may find uncomfortable or intimidating. Other trainers have a reserved, quiet nature that just doesn’t motivate you. If possible, watch the trainer work with their other clients, observe their approach, and decide if that approach would motivate you.

Quick and Dirty Tip #4: Flexibility. A good trainer will not give you a generic exercise “plan-in-a-can,” but will instead adapt your workout program to your injuries, your vacation schedule, your last minute social appointments, and changes in your goals or progress. That means that your trainer will need to think on his feet and be willing to adjust your session if you arrive at the gym tired, hurt, or with only 20 minutes to spare.

Quick and Dirty Tip #5: Consistency. During your consultation, ask your trainer about their plans. Are they in this as a quick college internship? Are they planning on moving soon? Do they frequently travel out of town? If your goal is 2 years of consistent fat loss, you don’t want to have to keep switching trainers, which can disrupt your progress and motivation. In the same way, you’ll also want a trainer who is consistently able to show up at the appointed days and times.

Just like choosing a doctor, you’ll want to be careful when choosing a personal trainer. Ask your friends who have worked with a trainer, check the local Angie’s List listing, speak with other members of the gym or employees at the gym’s front desk about which personal trainer they think would be best for you, and do your due diligence. With the right personal trainer, you can achieve your fitness goals more quickly and safely.

By the way, if you actually want to become a personal trainer, you may be interested to know that I’ve written a book about how to be a personal trainer, and the business of fitness. I also have a free blog and podcast for fitness professionals. You can access the book, the blog and podcast at http://www.trainfortopdollar.com.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.