How To Choose A Personal Trainer

Finding a personal trainer who inspires you to move but without completely torturing you, can be challenging, depending on how you define torture. I’ve been involved in the fitness industry for almost a decade, and I’ve seen the goals and needs shift from “just get me moving” to “kick my butt and make it hurt” to “keep me functional so I don’t hurt anymore.”

It came to my attention one day that people may not know what a good trainer looks like. One of the hair-dressers from my spa asked me about hiring a personal trainer. She said that the gym she just joined assigned her a trainer. I asked her if she thought he was good. She replied, “Yeah, he made me puke.”

Um, listen up – that does not make a good trainer.

Moving is healing. There are 4 areas that need to be practiced spiritually and physically on your healing journey: Strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. Addressing the physical side, these should to be in your workouts. The workouts also need to involve your whole body, not just parts of your body, and a great trainer can ensure you’re using your valuable time wisely and that you’re learning how to incorporate these 4 things into your movements. A trainer will be able to explain why exercises should be selected and the goal of each. He/she should also know and be able to explain what you should be feeling in each exercise.

Having a trainer is different from taking a fitness class. There is only so much an instructor can do to ensure that the environment of fitness entertainment is balanced with postural integrity and goal attainment for each member of a large, diverse class. Keep that in mind when deciding to invest your time and money.

My favorite periods of fitness fanaticism have been when I hired a trainer for myself. I enjoy not planning the workout and allowing someone else that great pleasure of sculpting my body and finding the right “button” so I could push myself beyond where I thought I could go.  I also like explaining where I am sore or describing any issues I am having with range of motion or flexibility so I receive a workout that is designed for me specifically.

For the last year, I’ve been really paying attention and taking notes to find a trainer with whom I could create a professional alliance – someone to send my clients to (and hire for myself).  I have watched many trainers (one of my favorite hobbies) and observed their interactions with their clients and their workout selections.

After a couple of bumps (trainers who didn’t quite have what I was looking for) and interviews and countless hours of observation, I did finally find a trainer who embodies my extensive list of qualifications. Here is what you should be looking for:

1. The trainer should LISTEN and RESPOND to your needs and requests. If you have had a history of overtraining, and your trainer puts you through a high-intensity workout frequently, then the trainer is not honoring your special needs. If you have not exercised in years and you are asked to 100 push-ups because that’s the Internet’s workout of the day, then you haven’t been heard.

2. The trainer should PAY ATTENTION to his/her client with INTEREST. The best way to learn this about a trainer is to watch him/her yourself. Throughout the workout, the trainer should be correcting the client’s body position, noticing changes in nonverbal communication to determine if the exercises are becoming difficult or if they are too easy. If you see a trainer looking around for the hotties in the gym rather than paying attention to his/her client, do NOT hire this person! If you see a trainer who is bored and uninterested in his/her client, do NOT hire this person!

3. The trainer should OBSERVE your movements, provide an assessment as a baseline and should offer alternative exercises if something becomes difficult or painful. The trainer should correct movements for proper posture and alignment. Sometimes the assessment is informal and is the first workout, and that’s ok. But if you’re going into this relationship with limited shoulder range of motion, and that limitation is not questioned, tested, and observed, then this trainer is going to be a waste of your time and money – worse, lead you to an injury.

4. There should be personality and zip – connection, relatedness, confidence. It’s like the elusive “chemistry” when dating – a spark. It’s a little extra something that makes you say “Wow.” As noted above, the trainer should be able to discern nonverbal cues and be able to “read” you while keeping this torture session as fun as possible. I prefer limited conversation. I am there to move, not to gossip, but some clients need someone to listen them. It’s a tricky balance. It really takes a special person to make you sweat and laugh at the same time; to know when it’s time to push a little harder or to slow down and listen. Once you find that person, never let him or her go!!

5. Education and experience. Great trainers are constantly observing and studying movements and quizzing themselves on correcting this or that. They “eat, sleep, and breathe” workout programming to create balanced and unique workouts. They attend workshops and learn. On the flip side, the body is designed to move with ease and without a lot of fancy tricks, and sometimes the latest “trends” are just created to sell – The trainer really has to understand biomechanics and if the exercise is too radical for the human body to perform safely. More isn’t necessarily better.

7. The person you hire needs to SHOW UP and be professional. By show up, I mean two things: Actually attend the session (duh), but also “walks the walk.” I have some standards and expectations. Follow-through and leadership by example are important to me. If my trainer was outside smoking, I would fire that person, without hesitation. I expect my coach to practice the directives he/she imparts upon others…not to perfection…but to own the process at least. I would not be pleased to find fast food wrappers in his/her gear and then been told what I should be eating.

8. There is always the question of male versus female. Honestly, it shouldn’t make any difference. That’s a matter of a personal preference and comfort level.

The bottom line is ~ Who communicates well with you? Who makes you feel comfortable? Who can inspire you to sweat and move? Who can teach you to tap into your motivation when inspiration is lacking and your trainer isn’t there?  Who is going to coach your body to healing?

Good luck with your search.


~The Goddess of Healing

5 thoughts on “How To Choose A Personal Trainer

  1. Pingback: Exercise-Related Pain | Goddess of Healing

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