10 Things to Ask/Consider Before Hiring a Personal Trainer
In the fitness industry, unfortunately the bar is set extremely low when it comes to personal trainers and coaches. The qualifications required to become a personal trainer at the entry level is a joke. You can attend a weekend certification course and begin coaching real life people by Monday morning. This is insane. How many industries can you think of that would allow someone to become a practicing “professional” in less than a week? Imagine if doctors or physicians had to simply take a 3 day online course in order to begin operating on people or prescribing medication. Or, imagine an accountant handling your finances after taking an online test.
This has lead to the proliferation of under educated fitness professionals who accidentally hurt people and design improper workout routines. Fortunately, there are many great trainers and coaches in our industry who have real education and experience and have made careers out of the profession. The trick is finding them. Who would you rather have perform your brain surgery; a new doctor who studied medicine online for a couple of weeks or an Ivy league graduate that has 20 years experience and over 500 successful brain surgeries under his/her belt? That’s what I thought!
The typical box gym training experience.
In big box gyms across the country, people are paying upwards of $60 a session for a personal trainer that they know very little about. Most of the time, the new member will hire a random personal trainer in the club to help them achieve their fitness and nutritional goals after a 30 minute consultation. If the trainer is any good, she will have convinced you to purchase a 24 session package and that she is the only person on Earth that can help you. Without her you are lost! You fork over the first installment and set up your first session for the very next day.
You arrive to your session and the trainer immediately forces you onto the treadmill for a quick 5 minute warm up jog. She then takes you through an ab circuit full of crunches and Russian twists and then puts you on a bosu ball for some balance work. After that you are put though 3 rounds of a resistance circuit on several fixed plane isolation machines where you perform 15 reps on each. You finish the session off with some static stretching. The trainer pats you on the back and tells you how great you did and schedules your next session.
The scenario I just described is a typical session with a personal trainer in box gyms across the country. What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll tell you. The first and biggest mistake was made by the consumer to hire someone who is directly responsibly for their safety and their heath without researching them and asking the right questions.
The trainer on the other hand, made many mistakes. She failed to do an initial functional movement screen. She failed to determine weather you were able to jog or should jog at this point. She made you do a bunch of dangerous lumbar flexion exercises. She put you on a bosu ball. She put you on several random machines to do random sets and random reps. All of this of course is for another blog post entirely. The important thing to note however, is that all of the subsequent mistakes made by the so called “fitness professional” are irrelevant if you do your research.
Here are the top 10 things to ask or consider when hiring a personal trainer
1. What is their specialty?
Find out what the trainer specializes in and determine weather their specialty fits your needs. For example, if the trainer specializes in bodybuilding and you are a 50 year old women with back pain looking to lose a few pounds and feel better, this trainer may not be a good fit. This is not always the case however. Just because a trainer specializes in a certain area does not always mean they are incompetent or incapable of producing results in other areas.
2. Do you Like and trust them?
Spend up to an hour talking to the trainer about stuff unrelated to fitness. Try to find common ground to make a connection. Discuss your kids or your work and see if he/she is receptive and responsive and actually listens to you or if he/she is disengaged. If he/she constantly tries to redirect the conversation back to the sale or is constantly looking at their phone this is a red flag. According to author and networking referral genius Bob Burg, “all things being equal, we tend to do business with people we know, like, and trust.”
3. How much experience do they have
Ask them how long they’ve been coaching and what types of populations they have worked with. Be sure to ask for referrals of past clients that you can call. Find out what type of training they do most often and if it they have a passion for training clients with your needs. Also be sure to ask them about their past training gigs so that you can get a feel for what types of environments they’ve worked in.
4. What kind of education do they have?
Ask them to show you all of there certifications. Anyone can claim to be certified in something. Make them produce hard copies. In addition to certs, ask them about any apprenticeships or mentorships they may have had. Discover weather they are passionate about continuing education or if they are know-it-alls. You can find out very fast weather someone is humble or not by asking this question. Are they hungry to learn more or do they feel they know enough to get the job done. The best coaches in the world are self proclaimed life students. They are constantly reading field related articles, attending workshops and seminars, attaining CEU’s (continuing education credits), and debating trends and topics with their peers.
5. How many testimonials do they have?
Ask them to produce testimonials of past clients that are directly related to your fitness goal(s). For instance, if you are trying to lose a significant amount of weight, get them to show you at least 3 before and after photos of successful clients they’ve trained. If they cannot produce at least one great testimonial you should find someone who can. Remember, its your hard earned money you are spending. You are investing in yourself and in your future. Would you invest a large portion of your money into a company stock that has performed poorly for several years in a row? I don’t think so. This is the most important investment you can make.
6. Do they train full time as a career?
Determine weather or not they do this full time and pay their bills with it. If training is simply a side job or hobby then take your money and your health elsewhere. If they are truly passionate about the fitness profession they are in the trenches day in and day out, sometimes putting in 14 hour days. They are consumed with it.
7. What is their fitness philosophy?
Ask them to describe their fitness philosophy to you. Asking this question can tell you a whole lot about a personal trainer. Do they believe in monthly trends and weight loss fads? Is their training style functional based or machine based? Do they use random Youtube videos to design workouts?
Ask them about how they determine the design of an individual’s workout.
8. Are they worth the price?
This is a tough one. The truly good coaches and trainers in the industry do not give discounts for their time and expertise based on how many sessions you sign up for. If a coach claims to be worth $60 an hour but gives you a discount for signing up for 24 sessions that brings it down to $45 per hour; is he/she a $60 an hour trainer or a $45 an hour trainer? A trainer’s hourly value should be determined by their expertise, experience, and ability to produce real, measurable results. Compare other trainers in the area that specialize in similar fields and find out how close the rates match. If the trainer you are talking to charges $100 a session and others in town like him/her charge $65 a session this is a red flag. However, it ultimately comes down to you. If you are comfortable with paying the amount being asked and you feel you know, like, and trust this person, by all means hire them.
9. Are they overbooked?
Find out how many clients they have and how many hours they are putting in weekly for sessions alone. Then, double that amount of time to account for program design and meal plans. If they are swamped it will directly effect your progress and results. Be sure they have time for you and are able to make your training a priority. An overbooked trainer is easy to spot. They usually look like they’re running on two hours of sleep, are disorganized, and are in a huge hurry to finish the consultation. Make sure you don’t become another number to someone.
10. What is their philosophy on nutrition
This one is crucial. Remember, you can spend all of the time you want to in the gym, training hard, on the perfect program and fail to reap the benefits if your nutrition is out of wack. In his article called How to Hire a Good Personal Trainer,
Steve explains that first and foremost you must, “…understand that your diet is 80-90% of the battle. Even if you worked with a trainer for 60-90 minutes every day, that still leaves you with 22-23 hours per day to screw things up if you don’t eat properly! Hopefully your trainer will also help you craft a nutritional strategy in addition to helping you build a workout strategy that aligns with your goals.” The nutritional guidance you are given will absolutely make or break you. Find out if the trainer is an advocate of strict meal plans or if they prefer a habit based lifestyle approach like Precision Nutrition. Then determine if it will work for you and your lifestyle.
(Bonus) Are you 100% committed?
This is the single most important factor to consider when thinking about hiring a fitness professional to help you reach your goals. Unless you are 100% committed to the process and are mentally prepared, you’re going to FAIL! This is your life and your heath. It’s as serious as a heart attack…literally.
By asking the right questions and taking time to research and get to know someone you can eliminate hiring the wrong person to help you with your fitness goals. Keep in mind that the absolute best coaches and trainers in the industry own their own facilities that are niche specific. My advice, go to a powerlifting gym if you want to powerlift. Go to a bodybuilding gym and hire a trainer if you want to compete or look like a bodybuilder. Go to a functional strength and conditioning gym if you want to be a better athlete or at least look and feel like one. However, there are many great trainers a big box gyms and health clubs. You just have to ask the right questions to find them.