A good friend of mine from decades gone by shot me an email from California a few weeks ago. A mutual friend from the same era was about to turn 50, is desperately overweight, and a group of his friends are chipping in on a Personal Trainer for him … Any recommendations?
As it turns out, all of the folks in the industry I did once know in the Bay Area were either no longer in the industry, or had moved. So, I really didn’t have a recommendation. But I had plenty of suggestions about how to get started, and quickly realized that finding the right trainer isn’t entirely straightforward. In fact, it was downright complicated, confusing, and ‘noisy.
So, here then are my top 10 Tips for Finding the Right Personal Trainer.
- There is no licensing requirement in most states. Unlike chiropractors, nutritional consultants, and massage therapists, Personal Training does not require licensing.It’s been suggested that states require licensing for the entire 25 years I’ve been in the industry, but it never seems to find any traction. In fact, you don’t need a degree, nor do you really even need a certification to operate as a Personal Trainer. You yourself, in fact, could call yourself a Personal Trainer and no one with any authority could force you to drop the declaration. While some trainers do have degrees from 4 year programs in exercise science related fields, and it does in fact make them better trainers, some trainers get along just fine with practical experience and energy. Simply recognize that without formal kinesiology and physiology training, you do assume higher risk of injury.
- That said, most Personal Trainers will at the least boast certifications. And what a mess! You’ll see ACE, AFPT, NSCA, ASCM, and UBYA along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others. It’s a verifiable alphabet soup out there, and unless you’re actually in the industry, you really wouldn’t know the difference between a B6T from CYA and an Advanced Certification from NTSE. I’ve personally completed a few myself, see them regularly on trainer credentials, and even I get confused! Some certifications, like NSCA an ASCM are very technical and difficult to obtain. Others are web based and can be completed with just a few hours on the internet! And even then, authenticating the certificate will be a challenge. So, you’ll need to do some research and don’t be shy about directly requesting a copy of your potential trainer’s certification. If certifications are all your trainer carries for credentials (unlike an actual degree), be sure to go online and look at the curricula. Oh, and be sure to ask about the currency of their CPR certification.
- Nutritional Education is normally not part of most programs. In fact, even the degreed programs for kinesiology and physiology are light on nutritional education. And trainers will be all over the map on nutritional advice. Be extremely cautious if your trainer-to-be spends a lot of time pitching supplements. First, many states prohibit the ‘prescription’ of diet unless you are a licensed nutritionist. But a lot of trainers make significantly more profit from pushing and selling supplements than they do from training. If you find your trainer recommending more than a single supplement per day, or a month’s supply of pre and post workout supplementation, your best bet is to simply walk away.
- Training women is much different than training men. I’ve run into a lot of male bodybuilders over the years who make Personal Training their profession. Highly accomplished themselves, a lot of these guys know a great deal about training young male athletes, and are quite good at it. But it takes an entirely different type of training, and an entirely different style of personal interaction to work with women, children, seniors, or special needs clients. Training an athletic, healthy 20 -something is much, much, much different than training a 50 something woman who hasn’t done much exercise in the past 20 years! Make sure that the trainer you interview has experience and positive results with someone just like you!
- Personal and Professional Boundaries vary significantly. Dating your personal trainer is completely unprofessional. I had a trainer on staff a few years ago who came in with a fresh haircut. He looked good with it, and I told him so! He responded that he “…had just learned that most personal training clients fantasize about their trainer, and that if our clients were going to fantasize about him he at least wanted to look good!” Honestly, I can’t confirm the statistic. And I don’t know why clients sometimes tell us some of the things they tell us … we’re really not psychologists! But with regular, close contact, and regular (sometimes overly) personal conversations, the illusion of a friendship sometimes surfaces. However, if your Personal Trainer is a true professional, dating … and even casual fraternization … is completely over the line. A true Personal Training Professional begins and ends his relationship with you with your training session. Directly ask your personal training candidate what her policy is on dating clients.
- Scheduling issues are likely to exist. Anyone who’s worth training with is going to be busy enough to be at least slightly unavailable to train you at your preferred time. At least initially. Wedging mutually acceptable training appointments into the 1st few weeks of training is an awkward, but sometimes necessary way to get started. Over time, however, things eventually converge to at least mostly acceptable for the client. As you might expect though, before and after work hot spots will always be on the schedule. Be sure to check your would be trainer’s schedule for the next few weeks before writing your check.
- Turnover is extremely high in this industry. Due primarily to the lack of parental guidance mentioned above, Personal Training is an extremely high turnover industry. One statistic recently showed an average trainer turnover of about 6 months. Because, like you, I need to get out of my office to exercise, I personally see this kind of turnover all the time at the big boxes where I exercise. Very few trainers work independently these days. Most are employed by and paid through their fitness facility. When they leave, any unused sessions they still owe you will likely get brokered to other trainers in the facility. This could be good (perhaps even great!), or bad, but you need to ask about turnover and session transferability should your training candidate move on. And what if the trainer you hire simply doesn’t work for you? Personality friction sometimes exists. If a few sessions go poorly, can your unused sessions be trained by a colleague? Or sister facility across town?
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone who promises you that you’ll lose 25# in the next 25 days is selling snake oil. Oh, it can in fact be done, but it won’t be safe, and it won’t be permanent. If your ultimate objective is to incorporate safe, permanent, positive changes into your life, be sure that your trainer understands that. Be sure that you’re clear about your goals, and don’t let your don’t let your trainer change them into dreams. In fact, one of the most unfortunate consequences of how most trainers are now employed is that those that do well in the big box gyms do so primarily because they can sell better than other trainers. And one of the reasons for why turnover is as high as it is is because thousands of highly skilled, enthusiastic, would-be exercise professionals are horrible at selling. It is truly tragic that schools are churning out skilled exercise professionals, and the 1st thing their employer asks them to do is become a salesperson! So, if it starts to feel like you’re being ‘sold’ something from your potential trainer, chances are that she’s better at selling than she might be at training. If you’re not answering a lot of questions, but are instead listening to a lot of promises, you’re talking to the wrong person.
- Do the research. I like to compare hiring a trainer to hiring an orthodontist. If you don’t have teenagers, this won’t make complete sense, but a trainer, like an orthodontist is someone who …
- You will see very frequently and need to at least like a little bit;
- Needs to have acceptable availability with your schedule;
- Is reasonably easy to get to several times per week. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic for 40 minutes just getting to your trainer. You’ll be late frequently, and you’ll also come to dread the event, which will eventually reduce your attendance, which makes reaching your goals nearly impossible; and, finally …
- Needs to have proven results for patients with your specific background and goals
So, be sure to ask for and call several references. Make sure that those references are like you. Ask them about scheduling, results, nutritional advice, and socialization policies. Ask, as well about basic things like personal hygiene. Are they always cleanly shaven, with fresh breath, and without body odor? This might seem like it’s getting a bit too personal, but I can assure you, you don’t want a trainer in your face with bad breath or body odor. And very, very few people will actually volunteer that her trainer has BO unless you specifically ask them.
- Find out who the boss is. Who do you turn to if your trainer crosses that personal/professional boundary? To whom is your potential trainer eventually accountable? What is the background of the guy/gal in charge? How long has he or she been in business? And what about their professional network: what professional and business associations do they belong to? What is their presence in the community like? What is their wellness sphere of influence like? Do they work with and have strong relationships with other wellness professionals in massage therapy, chiropractic care and nutrition. A quick google of the boss’ name can give you a lot of information!