‘How do I find a good trainer?’ Is a question I get from time to time whether it be from a client who is moving interstate or someone who is unhappy with their results and current trainer and looking for solutions elsewhere. The question is a good one and I acknowledge the astuteness of the person who is asking. Many people don’t ask this key question or actually know what encompasses a ‘good trainer’ even when they do ask. It is the purpose of this article to first define what a ‘good trainer’ is and then provide practical solutions on how you go about finding such a trainer.
The Client-Trainer Relationship
The first place to draw attention to is the title of who you are looking for: ‘Personal Trainer’ – this implies that the person you are looking for is someone whom you can relate to well on a personal level and also someone who can train and teach you to become a more physically capable human being whatever the goal might be. If the person lacks the ability to relate to you on your level and/or does not teach you anything to progress further with each training session, the trainer is most likely not for you. There are certain red flags one can pick up from first impressions with a trainer including:
- They are not seeking to understand your goals or problems and put forth solutions that are mutually un-agreeable. It is important to be clear and honest with your trainer about what your actual goals are and your level of commitment upfront. If this is established but you still find the solutions put forward are too demanding or even misdirected, it may be a conflict of interests that you should seek to avoid altogether.
- They cannot communicate or relate to you on the same level. This comes across as more instinctive to most and is more about how you relate to each other on a personal basis and how you effectively understand each other’s communication or not. Whether it be what is verbalised or what comes across in body language and rapport, it needs to be harmonious between you both to go forward in the right direction as best possible.
- They do not have confidence in what they are saying or doing and perhaps even contradict themselves. If what is said or done is inauthentic on the part of both parties, it will not workout long-term. With that said, if a trainer says something that is opposed to your current paradigm, give a trainer some time to see significant results before jumping to conclusions about what you believe – . particularly if the trainer has a great track record and achieved good results with others in the past. You simply may not be used to or fully understand their methodologies, so don’t dismiss them immediately in this case. Assess whether your overall experience with the trainer was positive and goal-orientated or negative and disharmonious with what you are seeking to do and achieve.
Visible Results and track Record:
Does the trainer have a good track record or achieved great results with current or previous clients? This probably the most important factor to consider in your quest to find a trainer. It is the main reason you are seeking (or the main reason you should be seeking) a trainer in the first place – to provide a solution to a physical problem. Whether it is cutting fat off your frame or seeking to increase your performance at a given activity, the trainer should have a visible and successful track record that is suitable to your individual needs. Evidence to look for includes: ‘before and after’ transformation photos, testimonials (of not just clients but also other trainers and related industry professionals), publications from peer reviewed papers and/or magazine articles, ratings from directories and other review publications, amongst other forms of verifiable evidence. It is important to note, that the review is less important than where it coming from i.e. evaluations from people ‘in the know’ should be sort to authenticate the source of the information being shared. For example, if a testimonial for a trainer is from one of their family members, you can sense the heavy bias this gives to attribute positive results to the trainer no matter what the actual results were. Another example would be a trainer that has listed feedback another trainer has attributed to them, yet the trainer giving the feedback may possess inadequate skills, results, knowledge and/or experience to make such an astute evaluation.
Skills & Knowledge
There are a number of factors to consider when working with or looking for a personal trainer with appropriate knowledge and skills. Below is a comprehensive checklist:
- Does the trainer have highly regarded credentials from reputable providers or is there education based on fly-by-night, minimalist course providers? Did the trainer list a weekend course for nutrition or an advanced degree on their credentials? Seek trainers who go above and beyond with their knowledge and qualifications in their relevant field.
- What specific goal are you chasing and what does the trainer specialise in (if anything). Generally, if a trainer does not know the key areas or types of clients they cater for you can assume 1 of 2 things: a) they are inexperienced and still finding their own feet. Or b) they are incompetent and are trying to be all things to all people – taking whichever clients they can get whether or not they have the relevant skills and knowledge to best address that particular client’s needs.
- Are your sessions planned? Does the trainer follow a plan for not just your workouts but also your long-term goals? If not, it would be best to jump ship asap. You are an individual who needs unique individual attention and not a made up, random mix of exercises and training methodologies! Each facet of your training should be specific and measurable in relation to your goals. At every opportunity ask: ‘why am I doing this? Or ‘Why do you want me to do this?’ if the trainer cannot give a reasonable, rational answer for this and demonstrate how it is working, it is time to find another personal trainer.
- Carrying on from above, one should also consider the topic of individualised programming. Is the trainer skilled at writing programs (if they do it at all) and are they specific to your needs? A program should be understandable, easy to follow and progressive, with a goal and perspective in mind.
- Is there a strong focus on nutritional guidance? Whether the guidance comes from a trainer qualified in nutrition or from a relevantly qualified allied health professional, if the focus is on changing body shape and/or size, a failure to address nutrition will not produce any considerable changes towards these goals.
- Realistic expectations and timeframes on goals – you are not going to go from running 10km max distance to 40km in a month, no matter what you or your trainer tells you. Goals should be realistic and mutually agreeable in all cases.
- Does the trainer address your greatest limiting factors? If your nutrition is geared towards weight gain and you are trying to cut body fat, it doesn’t matter how much or what type of training you engage in, you will not achieve your main goal. You may have a host of problem areas to work on – does the trainer see the bigger picture and address the factors that will have the greatest impact in the shortest possible time? If not, there is most likely a problem with priorities or the trainer is going to their strengths and not your greatest weaknesses – as the proverb goes: ‘He who is good with hammer sees everything as a nail’.
- Is there consideration for other lifestyle influences and are they addressed? Such factors as client social circles, spouse and home influences, work arrangements, commitments, number of dependants, and so on, all have a big influence on fitness goals. If the trainer can see and address these things, your results will increase exponentially.9. Is there enough consideration given to a client’s skill level and motivation? – This will determine how quickly a client can progress and be given more training and/or lifestyle based goals. The highly motivated, high skill client will need to progress quicker than the lower motivated, low skill client.
- Consideration of training history and injury/health concerns – does the trainer factor into account what training you have done and what injuries you may/may not have had in the past? This will determine how hard the trainer can push you (and in what ways) without getting hurt. Make sure this is addressed from the outset.
- Consideration of client likes and dislikes and whether these are compatible with the goals they wish to accomplish? If your goal is to get stronger but you don’t want to touch weights there is a definite paradox between your goals and your requirements. Honesty should be present between the trainer and the client at all times – especially when formulating goals and one’s liking to the process. If you want to be stronger but don’t want to lift weights, a re-evaluation of your goals and paradigms is required in discussion between yourself and your trainer.
- Does the trainer consider previous successes and failures and reasons for such? If you have been down an impossible path before and have experienced no resolutions, it is essential that you disclose this and address it with your trainer. Otherwise, you will be set to waste your time with plan doomed for failure.
- Does the trainer teach or merely supervise? Is each session seen as an exercise in rep counting to the trainer or are they constantly teaching and re-enforcing things like sound exercise technique? There are better things to do with your money than to pay for day care with a rep counting machine.
- Dependency to interdependence/independency. Is your trainer teaching you or moving you from a state of dependency to independency or interdependency? You should be learning enough over time to be less dependent on a trainer for managing your own fitness goals. If you get to a stage where the trainer leaves or goes away for a while and you’re lost, it is a good sign there is too much dependency on the trainers skills and motivation rather than on your own.
- Is proper exercise technique adhered to and relevant progression/regression catered for? This is an obvious one but one of the most poorly adhered to principles most trainers employ. Correct exercise technique and proper exercise progression (or even regression in some cases) ensures not only safety but is also paramount to training effectiveness and results.
- Are you measured and assessed regularly and given written feedback for your results? Whether it is for fitness or body composition goals, you need to be assessed regularly to provide a yard stick of where you are in relation to your goals. Most trainers fail to do this regularly enough (if at all). Be sure to have a trainer who cares enough for your progress and effort that they are willing to see if there methods have you on course or whether they need re-evaluating based on your goals.
- Does the trainer make claims from a solid base of education or a reputable and authenticated source? If a trainer is giving you nutrition advice but has no educational basis on which to give it or provide reference to a verifiable, scientifically proven argument, then the information should be discounted or even dismissed. A good trainer should be right most of the time.
- Does the trainer know when to refer? If the trainer faces a problem they cannot solve, are they able to admit it and refer you to a network of relevant providers to handle your concerns as best possible. For example, you recently succumbed to a shoulder injury and your trainer insists they know what is wrong with it but proceed to aggravate the issue further during training. Does the Personal Trainer refer you to a Physiotherapist or insist that he has the skills and knowledge to resolve the issue?
As you can see, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right trainer. A thoughtful and discerning client would use reference to the above when seeking a trainer or evaluating their current trainer and situation. As with most service-orientated roles, a Personal trainer should be primarily evaluated on Results, Customer Relations, Skills and Knowledge.