How to Shop for a Personal Trainer ~ by John Miller
Updated: Apr 2
The benefits of exercise are endless, but how we go about achieving those benefits can be a daunting, confusing and sometimes dangerous task. Many of you will reach out to a personal trainer, someone you can trust, to help you negotiate the landmines and hopefully achieve your goals… safely. This is commendable, but also where it can get scary.
Being in the industry for 20 years, it has become apparent to me there are two types of personal trainers. On one hand, you have the ones that take their job and your well-being seriously and on the other hand those who could care less. Unfortunately the latter dominate the industry. At least that has been my observations of dozens of trainers in numerous facilities over the past 20 years.
How can you separate the good from the bad?
First of all, they should be certified (even with a degree), however keep in mind having a certification doesn’t guarantee any sort of competency. Trust me, I’ve had to hire and fire trainers the better part of my career and the fact they hold a certifications means they took a test and passed...that’s it. I currently maintain two certifications (CSCS through the NSCA and CPT through the NASM), and they are regarded as the top two in the industry by many, so for recognition purposes they have some merit.
The two important questions You MUST ask
The fact a trainer is certified doesn’t help much, but these two questions you should always ask will help you weed out the trainers going through the motions, from those who truly take their job seriously. Keep in mind their job is taking care of you, so this is vitally important distinction.
Question 1: What are you presently reading or studying? This question sheds so much light on the trainer and their intentions, it’s almost not fair. You will probably have your answer before they even open their mouth, their facial expression alone should tell the story. If they’ve got a “Deer in the head lights” look, then take your wallet (or pocket book) and run...fast. If they light up and are excited about the question, now you’re in business.
The truth is the information coming down the pike about how to best train and work with people safely and effectively is changing, rapidly. For the trainer that recognizes this and does their due diligence by continuing to study and learn, asking this question is a soft ball. I can tell you I have no less than five different books or study courses I’m presently working on, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. If you were to ask me this question I could ramble on for 20 minutes. Therefore any trainer with his (or her) head in the game should be able to give you at least a good 5 minutes.
The key when asking this question is to look for how they respond first, then listen.
This leads to the second question, because there are potentially some clever trainers out there that might fool you with the above question, so follow it up with our second important question.
Question 2: How has your programming changed over the past 5 years? Or, what do you do differently now with your clients than you did 5 years ago? This question really shines a light on a few important factors, not the least of which is experience. Now I’m not saying a qualified trainer has to have 5 years’ experience, but rather it helps shed a light on their history and if they are even willing or capable of changing. Remember the industry is evolving rapidly, so should your trainer.
I often times reflect back to how I trained my clients 5, 10, even 15 years ago, and I will shake my head. If only I had only done this differently or that differently we could have achieved a better result. Honestly, these thoughts used to piss me off. I would think that I was negligent to a degree, and perhaps I was, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Finally at some point it dawned on me, if I’m doing all of this studying to become more knowledgeable and improve my skills as a trainer, and my programs haven’t changed…then I’m an idiot! Why bother studying if you’re unwilling to apply what you’ve learned? So, I’m glad when I look back and shake my head now, because my bigger issue would have been if I reflected back on my programs and they looked the same as they do today. If that were the case, I think I would have just quit.