Looking for an expert Personal Trainer?
Here is your guide to finding a true health & fitness professional.
You've made the decision to commit to your health and fitness, and now it's time to find the right personal trainer. Where do you start? How can you find a trainer who cares about your future just as much as you do?
First of all, kudos for being proactive. The current western healthcare system exists predominantly on a reactionary model: Most people don’t seek out help until the point at which they’re sick and require immediate medical intervention. Consequently, much of medicine is focused on bringing people back from the brink of pathologies like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Although this is a necessary role in any well-functioning society, this extreme end of the spectrum can be avoided with a little preventative care.
Between sickness and health, there exists a very large grey-zone that may not require medical intervention but can instead be managed by lifestyle factors. - Dr. S. Kelley, ND
Along with Nutrition & Health Coaches, Personal Trainers are on the front lines of preventative health care. Although there are distinct differences between types of coaches, the term “Personal Trainer” will be used for the purposes of this article.
If finding a Personal Trainer is the next step in your health journey, use this guide to find the health professional that's right for you.
1) Go “old school" with referrals, search engines, and consults.
When trying to find a great Personal Trainer, start by asking people in your inner circle: Family & friends, family doctor, manual therapy practitioner, or anyone you trust who has contacts within the health and fitness industry. From there, use the internet to search any recommended Trainers or local gyms to dig deeper on education, other credentials, and testimonials. You can even stop by local gyms to meet their Trainers and find out who may be a good fit for you. If you discover an independent trainer online, call or visit them to find out more.
Credentials are a great place to start but cannot replace expertise and application: You should feel safe with whomever you decide to work with and they should have experience working with others like you. For example, a Trainer specializing in Bodybuilding prep may not be the candidate to help you rehab your knee injury for a return to skiing. Programming and exercise prescriptions vary a lot based on goals and bodily needs!
At Move Daily for example, we refer out for anyone seeking activities like Pilates, Yoga, or Bodybuilding prep, because these are not within our coaching repertoire. We work alongside coaches in these different disciplines because no one the answer for everything.
Between referrals, the internet, calls, and in-person visits, you’ll have vetted and short-listed possible candidates. It is important to recognize that there are very different scopes within the world of Personal Trainers, so the goal is to find one that has the specific experience for you.
Key: Spend the time searching, it is your health and should be considered with care as a long-term investment.
What about social media?
Instagram can be a great tool for finding fitness apps, discovering group classes, as well as encouragement and accountability. It is also an easy place to find an online coach or Personal Trainer, but don't confuse easy for expert. Social media has provided a barrier-free platform where anyone can pose as an expert without having actual expertise. There are now many "Personal Trainers" online who sell training plans on marketing-alone rather than knowledge and experience. This makes it hard for prospective clients to vet which is which.
Coaching is a skill that requires years and hours of in-person application to develop.
The skills required to become an expert Personal Trainer cannot be acquired online or in a book. As such, selecting a Trainer who has built themselves largely on a social platform is problematic. These Trainers will have spent very little time in practice and without a peer group or colleagues to check them. Further to that, there is no certifying body monitoring training business accounts on social media; titles and credentials can often be falsified. If you're unsure whether a Trainer has spent the requisite hours honing their knowledge and eye for movement, it's best to take a pass.
Again, we won't deny that social media can be a useful tool. Many wonderful health professionals have built social accounts to complement their robust experience, education & peer development skills. Having an online presence is now standard for any modern business, but always be wary if someone's “experience” appears to have been born online. In short, make sure social media is not your one-stop-shop whether you’re looking at MDs, NDs, Physios, Personal Trainers, Health Coaches, or any other healthcare practitioner.
- A Trainer's body should not be a key selling point, but instead a reasonable prerequisite showcasing their baseline health. You can be extremely lean yet grossly unhealthy: Choose your Trainer on skill set rather than body fat percentage.
- Your genetics are unique and unlike those of your potential Trainer. If a Personal Trainer puts you on the same plan that got them results, this demonstrates a lack of transferable skills.
- If a Personal Trainer is spending hours making videos and marketing, how much time are they also spending on becoming a better Personal Trainer? (Answer: not enough)
2) Ongoing Education
When digging into websites and social media profiles alike, look at educational background and (more importantly) ongoing practical education: When was their most recent in-person learning experience?
Not all Personal Trainers will have a degree in Kinesiology (or related field), but a great Trainer will always continue to take courses to build their practical skill set, keep up with emerging research, and to evolve over time. You may not know the meaning of the acronyms beside a Trainer’s name, but a Trainer who pursues ongoing certifications is in a good frame of mind.
- Any Trainer who uses a blanket approach for all clients. If a Trainer has a biased approach that “should work for everyone” then this is not a great Personal Trainer.
- A Trainer who promises yes to everything. Your Trainer should be honest about what will and won’t serve your body: If there's a movement you'd like to try but isn't appropriate, your Trainer should be thorough in explaining why not yet or not at all. If not, they are likely unclear on the needs of your body and/or are not effectively finding a way to communicate.
- Competitive athletes can be great Trainers if they have also trained the skill of coaching. Proficiency in a sport (or self-transformation) does not make someone a great Trainer for others- they are separate skills entirely. If a Trainer has based their business on applying only their personal experience to help you (which is experience based on a lifestyle that requires more training sessions and recovery time than permits a typical desk-job), this person will not be an effective Trainer for you.
A great Fitness Professional educates and empowers you to understand and manage your own health.
3) Speak with existing clients
If you didn't find your potential Trainer through your referral network, make sure you ask them if you can speak with one of their current clients. Ideally this client is similar to you in age, lifestyle, injuries, or other. Ask them how the Trainer accommodated programming for their needs and lifestyle. Sadly, 20 years of experience cannot guarantee that you’ve found a good Trainer: Time does not make an expert.
- If a Trainer cannot provide you with a testimonial, take a pass.
By contrast, some "newer" Personal Trainers will have acquired ample experience in a shorter time via dedicated practice and education! All of the aforementioned points above are more relevant than the years reported by any Trainer.
4) Start Small
Pay for one or two sessions vs. a huge package up front. In a couple of sessions, you will discover if you’ve found a Personal Trainer that is a good fit for you.
What to look for:
1. Assessments that go beyond weight and measurements: This demonstrates that they care about your movement quality, life demands, and health rather than your gravitational pull. For example, they will assess how your joints move, check your breathing, etc.
2. Individualized recommendations: After the initial assessments, they can explain why you are qualified for certain movements but not for others. This demonstrates their understanding of the body and that they will create a safe plan to get you results.
3. Simple cues and demonstrations as part of your learning process. A great Personal Trainer will give you both verbal and kinaesthetic cues that make sense to you and help you understand your body. Using medical or anatomical jargon is not helpful to you if you don’t understand it or if they cannot translate to layman's terms.
If you cannot explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. – Albert Einstein
4. Video & Documentation: A great Personal Trainer will use video to document progress in movements, technique, etc. (not just for posting on Instagram). They will record your movement, walk you through your opportunities, and highlight your successes.
5. It’s about you: They will spend the session asking about you, your history and goals, not talking about themselves or their exploits.
6. No lifting through pain: Quality Personal Trainers understand their scope of practice and do not diagnose injuries. Furthermore, they do not force clients to push through pain.
7. Can use multiple approaches or refers out: Trainers should have more than one approach to developing mobility, strength, and health at their disposal. If barbells are not your thing, they should not be forcing the measure of your success with that implement. Instead, they can provide options based on your needs and interests or refer you out to someone who can.
What about Online Coaching?
With the rise of social media has come the rise of the online coach. Online (or remote) coaching has many benefits:
- Finding a Personal Trainer best fit for you is no longer limited to your local geography
- Videos help bridge the gap for feedback and cues
- You can work out on the schedule that suits you best
- You don't have to attend a specific gym
- More affordable depending on the model chosen
With that said, it bears repeating: Social media has provided a barrier-free platform where anyone can pose as an expert without having the expertise to back it up. If you want the flexibility and benefits of online coaching, you have to be very thorough in your search and understand the spectrum available out there.
As an example, we offer a hybrid coaching model at Move Daily. This means we work in-person, in-person and online, or strictly online in servicing clients across the globe in customized coaching. Our online models strive to make the process just as thorough as in-person: We gather a detailed client health history, use phone/video calls, conduct assessments using video, use calls and video for ongoing movement coaching, and support our clients in the ways that suit them the best. The time spent on a remote coaching client is as great as those seeing us in person and no program is the same. Other companies offer models that sell 4-8 week general programs that clients self-select and manage without input from a trainer. At the other extreme, some online trainers offer programs that ask you to commit to daily calls and daily habit changes for accountability. Vet which structure serves you best based on your needs!
If your Trainer has not seen you move - by video or in person- they are not coaching or programming for you or your body.
The Dos & Donts
Finally, a great Personal Trainer does not:
- Show up late
- Text on the job
- Look at their phone on the job
- Eat on the job
- Sit on the job
- Tell you to push through pain
- Force you to move or lift beyond your capacity
- Massage or work on your tissues: this is outside a trainers scope of practice
- Do their own workout while training you
Hold Personal Trainers to the same expectations that you would hold to professionals in other industries.
A great Personal Trainer will always:
- Watch your every rep and set: once you’ve been taught an exercise, they are not checking out but are instead monitoring changes, fatigue, and quality of movement.
- Respond appropriately to your current state and movement proficiency then make changes when needed on the spot
- Empower you to build confidence with the movements taught in order to be able to repeat them on your own.
- Ask you about your sleep and stress, and adjusts sessions accordingly
- For females, ask about your cycle, and adjust sessions accordingly
- Keep a detailed file about your progress, injuries, personal bests, etc.
- Respect your space and not add stress to your life
- Give homework to ensure you reach your goals safely and effectively
- Refer out if you are injured, or if the issue is beyond their scope of practice.
- Use a search engine & references. Do not use Instagram as your one-stop-shop.
- Look at education and ongoing education.
- Speak to an existing client.
- Start with one or two sessions, not a huge package.
- Do not settle for anything less than a professional Personal Trainer
This blueprint should help you find a great Personal Trainer to help you with your goals. Quality movement and building strength are two of the top defences we have against aging, disease, pain, and cognitive decline. It can help to have guidance along the way to learn what your particular body needs. We hope you find a great Personal Trainer who understands the value of their profession, and the importance of your health goals.