Today I want to talk about an issue that is usually overlooked by most people when they decide to get a personal trainer to achieve results in the gym. I talk about gym because it is the most controlled environment a person can exercise in but these recommendations translate to whatever sport you practice.
So what are the usual ways people choose their Personal Trainer?
Most people will look for the coach with the most impressive physique, the one that can do impressive feats of strength or skills, or the one that they find most amicable. Others will look for the one that makes them feel more comfortable, have a reputation for being the toughest, or those who sweet talk them all day long (the most economically successful coaches I have seen belong to the latest group).
While having a trainer that looks just like you would like to look maybe reassuring, his/her physical shape are not a necessary indicator that he knows how to get YOU to achieve your goals. That he knows how to get himself in shape, doesn’t mean he knows how to get you in the same shape, or how to handle you if you want a different outcome. I have seen one too many trainers imposing their ways and beliefs on their trainees without ever stopping to think whether those ways are right for his clients.
So I have decided to make a list of the 14 things that you should keep in mind when looking for a personal trainer.
1. Make sure he cares, understands, and works towards YOUR goals.
When you approach a Personal Trainer his/her first question should be: What are you goals? If not, then he is assuming you want the same he does, and he will add you to his “box”, the way he trains everyone else (probably the only one he knows).
2. Make sure he knows about nutrition
If he starts telling you about 6 meals a day and protein shakes, then he is either lost in the 80’s or he is a die hard bodybuilder. If you are too, then you are in good hands, if not, you are with the wrong person.
Nutrition is a delightfully complex world that depends very much on your goals and on each person. The Zone Diet, Low Carb Diet, Zero Carb Diet, Ketogenic Diet, and even Veganism and Vegetarianism are all tools to achieve different goals that can be used at different times in the process to get you healthy and in shape.
While I believe the basics still apply to all us in similar ways, our lives can be very different. So make sure to look for a coach that has a broader vision of nutrition and if possible, he has tried different ways of eating through his life as an athlete.
3. Don’t get a free trial. Pay for it and observe what happens the first 15 minutes
Don’t ask for a free lesson, show you care enough about your health as to pay for it. This way he will not be half-assing his coaching either. See how he engages with you once the lesson starts. Besides greeting you and asking how you are, the next question should be: How are you feeling? How did you feel after our last session? Were you sore afterwards? Once you have answered the questions and RECEIVED feedback, he should guide you through some foam rolling and a warm up that mimics the exercises you are going to perform during your session. If he skips the warm up, or guide you static stretches (very 80’s-90’s ways of “warming up”), he is not the one.
4. Make sure he isn’t a show off
Try an hour with your potential new PT and see if he takes pleasure on your suffering. If after the warmup he has you puffing and gasping for air and he turns and tells you “and this was only the warm up”, you have bumped into an insecure, unprofessional coach that doesn’t care about you as much as he cares about his ego. Instead look for a PT that understand that discomfort is necessary, but must be introduced gradually. Too many people get their first lesson, get injured and blame themselves, rather than their coaches, for what happened.
5. Make sure he understands pain.
This is the true mark of a good trainer, and I have only found 3 trainers in my life that had it. I remember saying: It hurts! The 3 of them immediately asked me: What kind of pain? Is it pain, soreness or discomfort? Wow! I never had thought about them being different, but they not only are different but indicate absolutely different things!
Pain, is your body telling you to be careful or you may injure yourself. Discomfort is simply a way of the body telling you – this is new, go easy so I can adapt. Soreness is an indicator that your body IS adapting to the stimuli you have introduced (If you squatted YOU WANT your thighs and glutes to be sore) and it needs time to recover.
See how your trainer reacts to you mentioning something like – ugh, this hurts, you will then see if he has a clue or not about what I just mentioned.
6. Make sure your coach understood your goals
Many people hear but don’t listen. During that first hour, see if the way he is training you, has anything to do with what you told him you want to achieve. While many people want the typical “loose weight” or “get jacked”, others want to be more mobile, be better at an specific sport, be faster, complete a marathon or get rid of pain.
If the coach gets you into long cardio sessions and some bodybuilding, even you explained him thoroughly you want to have faster times on your next triathlon, or get extra 10 yards on every club, then he either doesn’t care, doesn’t know, or didn’t prepare for your trial. He is not the one.
7. Does he care about technique?
If your trainer isn’t constantly observing you, teaching you and reminding you of proper technique, ditch him! You are paying a substantial amount of money to be taught, supervised and guided, so if he isn’t working hard on your technique most probably he doesn’t have the necessary knowledge.
A good coach will try to get you to understand technique in all major lifts (or the basics of your sport), so one day you can train on your own. If he wants you dependant on him forever, he is a shady businessman rather than a sports professional.
8. Pay attention to his cues
Different people have different ways to communicate. In sports among others, we have visual, auditive and tactile cues. If you are with a knowledgeable PT, he will have an arsenal of cues to teach or to perfect your technique. You will respond to some cues better than to others and it is his/her job to determine what works best for you.
Most coaches, and I find this incredibly annoying, will do the exercise and tell you: “Look! Do like this, like this”. That is not teaching, that is showing, and the chances of you “getting it” are pretty low. If you could do it right by only watching, then you could become an Olympic athlete by watching videos in YouTube.
So make sure that he can explain himself in a variety of ways. If he is able to explain in terms of “feelings” is valuable. If he can use visualizations, such as “imagine you are …” great. If he is able to give you tactile cues, pressing, tapping, touching or holding certain parts of your body, and he does it in a confident manner, then you have a winner.
If you are a female and your coach abuses the tactile cues to touch you inappropriately, report him to his boss immediately.
9. Make sure he doesn’t confuse the tools with the goals
Every beginner has the seed of his/her own destruction within.
There are two types of beginners: the one that wants to be a superhero from the very beginning, and the ones that are so afraid of pain and discomfort they don’t want to challenge themselves one bit.
Make sure your coach explains the region where you should be operating in your practice. Your program should keep you uncomfortable (only way to get your body to adapt and improve), while away of overdoing things (far exceeding the capabilities of your own body).
Make sure that you observe the guy that you are considering to be your coach while coaching others, if he is obsessed about his customers to go heavier and heavier with each session, he is a phony. The weights are just a tool, not the goal. Unless you are a powerlifter you don’t need to be obsessed about numbers but the quality of your movement, posture and correct muscle recruitment.
10. Does he get distracted easily?
If your trainer start talking with other people while you are performing your reps and does this continuously, it means he really doesn’t care about you or lacks the understanding of what is to be a coach. Most personal trainers think they are some kind of mix between cheerleaders and loaders/de-loaders of equipment.
Help your coach to load weights and plates, he is NOT your slave, but require his FULL attention when you are going through exercises and movements, so he can spot mistakes, prevent injuries and accidents, and keeps you working at the right intensity and resting the adequate time. Everything matters inside the gym!
11. It’s all about the basics
If your soon to be PT gets you to do lots of fancy stuff, but doesn’t bother with the basics, then you will be better on your own. In an era of YouTube, I see one too many coaches having their students doing things that belong more to the circus than to the gym. Choose the one who preaches the basics. The one that is obsessed with correcting your technique in a positive way. Choose the one that can talk to you strongly if your ego needs to be kept in check.
Choose boring over fancy any day, so one day, fancy becomes your normal. What is basics? Squats, deadlifts, pushups, pullups, etc., the stuff that no one wants to do, but everyone needs.
12. He/She must want you to rest
A good coach will strongly tell you to rest. He will introduce the idea of active recovery, like a good walk, a stretching or a foam rolling session and so on, but he will definitely emphasize the fact that to get results, you need to give your body time to recover. If not, he truly doesn’t know what he is doing.
13. Check his Instagram
If you see his Instagram and it’s full of selfies that he took while coaching others, then just look for someone that loves his job and his clients a tad more than his reflection on the mirror.
14. He/she must establish some metrics
So you liked him enough to buy 10 hours of PT? Great, now see how he starts. He must take measurements of whatever metrics are relevant to your case. Depending on your goals, he must measure so to have information to compare after a period of time. Otherwise, how will he and you evaluate the results of your training?
If you are into weight loss, then he should measure your weight and some parts of your body. If you are into speed, you should have at least measured whatever you want to be faster at, and so on.
14. See how you feel after 10 sessions
Before you start your personal coaching get a piece of paper and write everything you can think of about your body and life in general. Write about your pains, your lack of mobility, your problems to sleep, your weaknesses or the things in your daily life you would like to resolve by exercising.
While you must be realistic, you should definitely be able to see some degree of improvement on some of the items of your list after ten sessions – reduced back pain, dropped weight, feeling energized, etc.
Be honest too, if you just showed up 10 times, didn’t do your best, didn’t follow dietary recommendations, didn’t rest, or were partying too hard, then you can’t expect much improvement. Take a hard look at yourself and consider whether is worth paying so much money just to not feel guilty about your lifestyle and lack of discipline. You would be surprised as to how many people have Personal Trainers only for this reason.
15. The last one is only for girls
If you find a trainer that has you doing endless hours of cardio and using tiny dumbells to exercises, do me a favor: spit on his face next time you see him!
Women need to develop muscle mass for health and good aging (muscles are responsible for your body to move in space, remember)? No, you won’t get huge and bulky, if it was so easy, every guy in the gym would be muscled, and sadly, that is not the case.
So find yourself a trainer that understand that being a woman isn’t a debilitating disease, and respect your prowess and your gender, by pushing your body and mind just as much as if you were a man, understanding your natural differences, limitations and advantages.
You must be responsible for your own self. If you choose a bad coach, then stop as soon as possible and find one that suits your needs and has the knowledge to help you improve your physical weaknesses. Take responsibility for every decision you make.
You must also be honest with yourself. If your trainer is doing all the right things and you are dismissing everything he tells you, then don’t blame the trainer, blame yourself, and only yourself.
Beginners as i said, contain the seed of their own destruction. Do what you are told without whining, but not more than what you are being told, everything has a reason and since you are paying, you better become a student of the sport you practice, learn, ask questions and BELIEVE! There are too many guys in sports asking questions just to prove their trainers or the people they ask advice from, wrong. If you chose him and he doesn’t fall in any of the points I described above, then take his word and become the best student you possible can be.