“Caveat emptor”

It’s no secret I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Personal trainers, however, love them. The New Year marks a huge surge in health and fitness resolutions and many people hire personal trainers to help them achieve their goals. But just as making a New Year’s resolution doesn’t equal a slam-dunk to better health, teaming up with a personal trainer isn’t going to magically make you a fit beast.

These days, it’s possible for anyone to market him or herself as a fitness expert, personal trainer or the trendy new “health coach” title, with no formal education or professional certification. But when it boils down to it, regardless of education, certification or nothing, all trainers are not created equal. In fact, there are a ton of differences from one to the next, from truly passionate professionals to those just earning a paycheck. Only some are what I’d consider exceptional, like my friend and best trainer I know, @joefitness. Others, not so much.

In my years working at a gym, working out in one and observing the trainer-client relationship, I’ve come up with some guidelines for what I feel is crucial when choosing a personal trainer. Even if you’re not in the market for a trainer, these rules apply to group fitness instructors and even your workout buddy. So choose wisely!

1. They’re Passionate
Whether you’re just starting out or looking for someone to take your fitness level to the max, when you choose a personal trainer, you’re essentially putting your faith in him/her to get you where you want to be. Some days, it’s going to be 50/50 your effort and theirs, other days, you might need it to be more like 20/80. Especially on those tough days, which trainer is going to motivate you and make you push past your limits: The one who’s just counting reps or looking at the stopwatch? Or the one who’s animated, gets in your face, maybe even yells (encouragingly) at you? I don’t know about you but my money’s on the one who seems like they give a damn.

Beyond the passion for their clients, really great trainers have a passion for fitness themselves. This isn’t a career where one can just “talk the talk”; the best trainers are the best in their area of expertise, whether that’s heavy weight lifting or running; bootcamp or BodyPump class.

2. They Customize
Every person is different. We have different body types and genetics. Different triggers, motivators and values. Different goals and objectives. Different strengths, weaknesses and interests. With all these differences in our bodies and what makes us tick, it’s easy to see why a great trainer would never use the exact same program for multiple clients.

The best trainers know every person is different thus every training program must be different. And it goes beyond just the exercises themselves. Every person has very different emotional cues and needs a customized approach to his or her training. Some people want to be yelled at and need to be pushed to the point of exhaustion. Others need a more encouraging approach and someone to motivate them to make working out a habit they’ll stick with once the training sessions are complete.

In the summer, I love adding the paddle board to my workout mix.

I love adding the paddle board to my workout mix.

3. They Mix It Up
Great training doesn’t end with customizing workouts. Our bodies are designed to adapt and the same workout will get progressively easier on us. So just when you think you’re getting the hang of it and the workout routine nailed, the best trainers are gonna come back with something that makes you want to die. But that’s the only way to get stronger or faster, grow and progress.

It’s like the Insanity class instructor at my gym, Johnny. He’s awesome. He leads us through the movements, encourages us and makes the effort to give attention to each individual, pushing everyone to work harder. And the best part of Johnny’s approach? He changes his class every single time. Never does he give us the same combinations, rarely do we even do the same moves. He’s always mixing it up and throwing out new stuff – for which, my body pays dearly!
4. They KISS
That’s probably sounds creepy – what I actually mean by KISS is this: Keep It Simple Stupid. The first time I ever worked out with a trainer was a quick session with my co-worker at the time, JoeFitness. This was several years ago when I was still somewhat of a fitness newb; the only piece of equipment I used was the treadmill. Between all the weight machines, cables, racks, resistance bands – you get the idea – I was a little nervous to work out with Joe. You can image my pleasant surprise to see the only piece of equipment he brought to the workout was a Bosu ball. But that workout kicked my ass. I couldn’t do abs for a week, they were so sore! Best of all? The fact that Joe made it simple encouraged me to try it again on my own.

Trainers have tons of equipment and accessories at their disposal. And I’m not saying they should never incorporate TRX ropes or cables, medicine balls or machines. But in the case of the new-to-average trainee, the less complicated, the more likely they’re going to stick with working out when they’re no longer side-by-side with the trainer. After all, a common excuse many give for not wanting to go to the gym is not knowing how to use the machines and equipment. But there’s no excuse for not knowing how to run or bike, do pushups or lunges!
5. Their Work Speaks for Itself
Training isn’t the easiest service to judge. If you see a stranger with a great jacket, it’s appropriate to ask where he bought it. That co-worker who always has gorgeous highlights? You can ask what hairstylist she goes to. But it’s not exactly socially-acceptable to compliment a random person on their muscular arms or round, perky butt and ask “Who’s your trainer?” For one, they may not work with a trainer but, more importantly, you might be greeted with a disgusted look or smack.

The good news is, if you really want to know how good a trainer is, chances are you can find out somehow. From online reviews to Facebook crowdsourcing and other word-of-mouth methods, reputable trainers will have at least one success story. Many have their own websites, full of testimonials and encouraging before-and-after client pictures. This works both ways and can help weed out the bad ones too. Just as happy clients will sing the praises of a great trainer, unhappy ones will really tell it like it is.
I feel it’s important, especially this time of year, to remind anyone thinking about teaming up with a personal trainer: Caveat emptor. “Let the buyer beware.” Virtually anyone can be certified to train or just call him or herself a health coach. When you choose a trainer, you’re essentially “buying” his or her expertise and knowledge. Do your homework, ask for recommendations, even try a single session with a couple different trainers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. And don’t forget to have clear goals in mind and outline your expectations right off the bat so you both have the best chance for success.

Do you have a great or a horrific story of working with a trainer? Any more tips to add? Comment below or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.


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