THE PERSONAL TRAINER TEST – HOW DOES YOURS FARE?
Personal training has become more of a circus than a process lately. Loads of you who work with trainers really couldn’t tell whether you’re there for entertainment or for genuine progress. A personal trainer is someone who can guide you to your physical goals (whatever they may be) and rewire your thought process and approach to health and exercise once and for all.
They’re not clowns or therapists – they’re trainers. Granted, having a comedic twang and functional pair of ears does help, but it’s not the primary reason you’re hiring them. You’re hiring them to make a change, not to boast to your friends and facebook ‘friends’ about how cool it is to have your own trainer.
This is not a personal trainer. This is a clown. Note the difference.
Personal training is very similar to driving instructing I always think; it’s very hard to please everyone. Some you mesh with, others you flat out don’t like. The other similarity between the two professions is their popularity, or how common they are. A ‘saturated industry’ is the term, I believe. The more people you have doing a job, the harder it can be to sift through the good and bad. Fear not though, sifting through and finding a suitable personal trainer for you can be done – as long as you know what to seek.
What’s their experience and track record…..do they have any genuine testimonials?
Anyone can provide a written testimonial. Anyone can provide a favour for a friend in the form of putting a good word in. But not everyone has legitimate testimonials from people who went from being 50-100 lbs over weight, from people who gained 10-15 lbs of muscle mass, from people who corrected their posture, became free of pain or advanced in their sport. Sure, it’s harder to find a trainer with genuine testimonials from all those different elements of fitness, but they do exist.
More often than not, you’ll find a specialist in any of those areas. I think this is generally a good thing. If you want to become good at long distance running, you’d hire an endurance coach, not take violin lessons.
Nevertheless, not having decades of experience doesn’t detract from one’s potential all that much; many of the greatest artists (art is a metaphor for work) are relatively undiscovered. Usually those starting out will be far more flexible and budget friendly, which means they’re well worth a trial run. The next question will aid you in knowing whether they’re worth a trial run or not………
Can they answer the essential questions?
We all found it funny as a kid to ask our parents a question and then keep asking them, “why?” to everything they said after. Believe it or not, some people carry that into ‘adulthood’. A personal trainer isn’t a quiz show host or a common sense bureau.
On the other side of the scale there’s trainers that don’t answer much or ‘fob you off’ with generalised answers and skirt around your questions. This is where you’re probably wondering what questions do I have a right to ask, and what questions I can’t expect them to ask.
Questions a personal trainer needs to be able to answer:
- What are the chances of me reaching my goal within the timespan we have together? (This needs an honest answer)
- Why are we doing an exercise? (This needs an answer too. If they cannot tell you why, you shouldn’t be doing it!)
- What nutritional approach will compliment my physical efforts and aid me to my goals? (Not EVERYONE thrives on a low carb diet!)
- Are there any exercises I should flat out avoid? (Anyone with injuries or muscular imbalances have zero business performing moves that facilitate their imbalance)
- Is there anything I can do at home to increase our chances of success? (Homework doesn’t always have to involve writing and textbooks)
Questions to NEVER ask a personal trainer:
- Why do I have to cut out junk food?
- Can we make this easier?
- Why is it hard?
- Why can’t we do something else?
- Can I skip tomorrow’s workout and reschedule it?
Now I know some of the ‘don’t ask’ questions can be legitimate but I’m striking out at those who always ask that. Nothing is ever easy enough and every request on the trainer’s part is considered a death sentence. If you feel your trainer hasn’t clarified the fundamentals – along the lines of which I outlined, then look around for someone who can and will.
The specificity factor
We’ve all seen it. The 70 year old morbidly obese woman with arthritic knees being made to do the same exercises as the budding 18 year old Jujitsu fighter. “Right, Irene. We’re now going to do box jumps and power cleans”……says Mr Trainer. While this may sound funny, it is nothing short of moronic – and you needn’t be trained in exercise science to have a rough idea whether what you’re being made to do, has anything to do with what you’re aspiring to do/become.
If you’re training for an endurance race and being made to do bench presses with chains, there’s something wrong. If you’re trying to improve your powerlifting total and being made to do spin classes and Zumba, there’s also something drastically wrong.
We all have different needs, levels, abilities and goals. One size doesn’t fit all, however, some exercises and approaches are interchangeable. So don’t take this to the extreme of freaking out because you saw your trainer doing squats with another client besides you, when they, like you, have the goal of getting stronger. Sometimes the differences will lie outside the exercise itself. They may be on a different volume or frequency to you. Save the outbursts.
Do a little research. Find out the general gist of what’s needed to conquer your mission. Although be mindful to not become an ‘armchair expert’ – someone who knows it all because he/she read a few articles. When you meet with your trainer initially, remember they have more expertise than you. Don’t try to impress them with how much you think you know. All this does is lead them to believe you’re not going to listen to instructions and ideas. No relationship exists without listening.
Enthusiasm for your progress or for your money?
Good trainers have a knack for seeing the best in their clients and then bringing it out in them. In order to be able to do this, you need enthusiasm for seeing progress. Some trainers see the progress of clients as their paycheque, more than the paycheque itself, but sadly, they’re not all like that. You will encounter some that see you as an hourly pay packet – nothing more, nothing less. I don’t need to patronise you by trying to share methods of detecting when someone is genuinely interested in you or not, you’ll know.
They’ll greet you with questions about your progress and won’t constantly jump into the issue of money and payment. You’ll be able to contact them outside of your sessions and they’ll happily answer all your queries and doubts. If you ever feel like you’re being shuffled to the side, ditch your trainer and find someone else. There’s no room for that in today’s fitness industry!
This may seem obvious but you need to be a good analyst to be a good trainer. Standing with a clipboard counting to 10 or 12 each set isn’t enough. Good trainers will spot weaknesses a mile off and recognise strengths just as easily. Their ability to spot weaknesses will enable them to design routines in a way that should help rectify any outstanding issues.
Acknowledging strengths has benefits beyond good old ego-boosting – working with a personal trainer has encouraged many people to take up physical sports and activities as a hobby, simply because the trainer has spotted potential in them. There’s no confirmation like confirmation. Sometimes just having it said can do wonders for confidence. People hold on to praise and compliments, and rightly so.
If your trainer never comes to you with observations, this should concern you slightly. It may be something as simple as: “I’ve noticed you have trouble getting your arms fully overhead. Maybe we need to work on your thoracic extension capacity.” You don’t need them to come back with an entire analysis of your gene code and DNA, just some relevant observations specific to you.
Some will have you believe that with the wealth of information available, courtesy of the internet, you really don’t need a personal trainer nowadays. Theoretical information only takes you so far and then it’s time for the practical stuff. Why do you think courses are designed this way? You sit down and go over the basics and acquire an understanding, then you go and experience it.
Nobody achieved great things totally alone. We all need some guidance – if only a tiny piece. With a good personal trainer, there’s no reason you shouldn’t achieve anything you want in the gym…..and this will carry over to many other areas of your life.
If your personal trainer passes these tests, hire the sucker!
JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.
Last year I kept injuring myself due to improper form while doing back squats and deadlifts. I hired a personal trainer for six one-hour sessions and it worked out great.
I was a little worried at first because he’s so young, maybe 25 years old (I’m 62). He seemed to know his stuff and not only corrected my poor form but helped strengthen my weak lower back by having me perform certain exercises.
I agree that you need to be very careful in choosing a trainer. It’s like any other consumer good or service. Do your research before laying out your hard earned bucks.
I remember reading about your journey and experience with a personal trainer, I was pleased to see you enjoying it so much! It is a very good experience overall, but people are rightly hesitant prior to starting the process.
Great advice! Not all PT’s are created equally nor are they a great match for everyone. Good breakdown.
Thankyou. Glad you enjoyed reading.
Hi, JR! Thanks for stopping by my blog again and liking my post on how fitness trackers aren’t making us healthier. I enjoyed yor rundown of the personal trainer situation. Nice work.
Thanks Tony, glad you enjoyed it. Keep up the good work!
Thanks you, JR, for this thoughtful article. Loved your list of questions to ask (and not to ask) your trainer.
The only additional thing I respectfully suggest to consider is the Personality of the trainer. She (or he) is the person who will, from now, share the responsibility for helping you sculpt your dream body, or develop a healthy spine with Pilates, mindfulness in yoga, or build your ability to run a half-marathon. To make any body change happen, you have to spend at least four to five hours a week with your trainer, either in group classes or private sessions. That puts your coach into third priority place after family and close friends. As we are all influenced by the people around us, a trainer will be no exception. He, or she, has the very real ability to modify your lifestyle, fuel, or kill, your motivation levels and, overall, change not only the way you look and feel, but you as a Person. So, yes, we all take the process of choosing your trainer seriously.
Once again, thanks for the article! It is ver comforting to find a similar minded person 😉
Thanks for such a thought provoking comment. Glad you appreciated the article. That’s true. Some personalities mesh with others and some don’t. I think the key is to be adaptable and to almost ‘figure out’ what approach will drive each client to success. It’s very easy to get dogmatic and try to get everyone you train, training the same style as you.
Thanks for commenting and getting in touch, I’m just about to have a thorough read of your blog 🙂
I really enjoyed this post, thanks for writing it.
I’ve been interested in health and fitness for a while and only recently I decided to take he plunge and get myself certified as a PT officially. It’s amazing the amount of information and knowledge about workouts, nutrition and how the body works needed to qualify, and the amount of people claiming to be trainers out there who have no clue…
Your questions are great! Everyone should make sure their trainers tailor the programme to them and can answer the why and not just give you an exercise because it’s the latest trend, but because it works towards your objectives.
Thanks again for this post!
Thanks for commenting and introducing yourself :). So nice to see you’ve enjoyed the post too!
What was it that tipped you into finally taking the plunge and becoming certified?
I think I wanted to help people. Previously I didn’t know a lot about fitness and training, just the basics, so I thought it would be better to get some proper knowledge.
I want to specialised in diabetes and obesity management and hopefully help people who either don’t like working out, or think it’s not for them, or even maybe too shy/embarrassed about going to the gym. I know I used to hate exercise, but it was mostly because of the way I was introduced to it.
Once I met a good trainer and a great running coach, I realised working out is actually quite fun, so I want to be able to do the same for others… 🙂
I think the influence of others is very powerful. Sometimes even just hearing/seeing another perspective makes all the difference to motivation and confidence. It’s great that you have a target area too, obesity and diabetes are causing havoc in today’s world!
Great post! I’ve had good trainers and not so good trainers. You bring up some very valid points. Thanks.
No problem, thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it. Are you working with a trainer at the moment?
I’m actually working out to videos with an online group. It works pretty well with my crazy work schedule. There’s a FB group and all the member’s doing the weekly program encourage each other
Cool! Is it a gym workout or bodyweight workout?
It’s mainly bodyweight, but using some dumbells. I never realized how effective bodyweight exercises could be.
Bodyweight exercise is so scale-able. A simple push up can become beyond even the strongest person’s abilities, if you know to progress it 🙂
Hi, great post! I am modeling my blog to be fitness inspiration and definitely want to use content like this. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas! I hope for my clients and network i pass the test!
Hi Jordan, thanks for getting in touch. Good to see you like what I’ve done. I’ll have a look at your site in a moment. Are you starting out as a PT?
Hi, thanks for reaching out! I am currently a PT, but recently I’ve wanted to expand my reach. I want to make some of the principles and guidelines more available to those looking to learn. Any feedback, tips, and ideas would be welcomed and much appreciated!
That’s an astute answer to a tricky queiston
Thank you. People think it’s an easy process, getting a personal trainer. But often times, success comes down to investing in the right one for you.
I loved the article, I have ace PT we definitely bond which is important to get the best out of clients
he has taught me so much, flexibility, strength, I am senior citizen, but he still has the patience and
understanding of what I can achieve to stay mobile through my later life never give him up. When you
enter a gym you look at all the equipment and think my god what shall I do, but if you have a PT they
come into their own they show you different exercises that benefit you to stay strong, and flexibility
which is so important – from 71 years young
Thank you James for being my PT