How to choose a personal trainer

So you’ve decided to hire a personal trainer. The big question now is – which one should you choose?

Every gym will have a variety of trainers - guys and girls with different backgrounds, different personalities and different areas of expertise. Finding one whose style complements your needs can be confusing.

There are lots of things to consider, from what you’re trying to achieve and your own skill level in the gym, down to your own preferences around working with a male or female trainer.

But regardless of your goals, there are some things that, in my mind, are non-negotiable.

Can they walk the walk?

A trainer doesn’t have to be ripped and they don’t have to be huge. They don’t have to former pro sportspeople, run marathons, or compete in powerlifting competitions. But they should, at the very least, practice what they preach. They should, to some degree, be fit and active and believe in living a healthy lifestyle.

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There are a couple of reasons for this:

When we study to become personal trainers we learn so much about the benefits of regular exercise and a well-balanced diet. And we learn so much about how damaging an inactive lifestyle and poor food choices can be. A trainer who doesn’t look after themselves either a) hasn’t studied long enough to gain a true appreciation of the basics, or b) simply doesn’t believe in the principles of a healthy lifestyle. And believe me, if they don’t walk the walk, you’ll soon grow sick of hearing them talk the talk!

It’s one thing to teach an exercise based on a paragraph in a textbook or a video you Googled. It’s another thing altogether to draw on your own experiences to help a client nail a movement. Take a fundamental movement like the deadlift; when I teach a client how to deadlift, I use some key cues and methods that most trainers, in most gyms around the world, would use. But, I blend that with my own experiences with the movement – an exercise I have done literally thousands of times. So when I’m teaching a client how to deadlift, I’m remembering the process I went through when I learnt – what I found tricky to wrap my head around and what cues struck a chord with me and helped me to develop that mind/muscle connection. I’m thinking about the times I got my technique wrong and missed lifts and the times I nailed it and smashed new PBs. And I’m drawing on all of those thousands of lifts to help demonstrate to my clients how to lift safely and confidently.

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To put it another way, imagine if you hired a driving instructor and then found out they couldn’t actually drive, or had only just learned. How confident would you be in their advice? How much trust would you put in them?

There’s no short-cut to this knowledge. You can read more than one book, or watch more than one video, but until you’ve performed an exercise time and time again you’ll never truly understand the movement.

That’s why some trainers push themselves out of their comfort zones for their clients. I know trainers who have run marathons, even though they don’t really like running. And I know trainers who have entered bodybuilding competitions, even though they’re not that passionate about the sport. They do it so they can understand it - so they can provide better, more informed advice to clients training for those types of events, and so they can really empathise with them when the going gets tough on those 30km training days or those infamous last 12 weeks of dieting down. And while those are extreme examples, it’s easy to see how they apply at every stage of the fitness journey.

It’s easy enough to tell a client to ditch the junk-food and embark on a whole-food diet. But it’s another thing altogether to understand that, for some people, that’s far more challenging than it sounds. If you’re practicing what you preach you’ll be able to give them tips and advice to help them counter the hurdles they’re likely to come across. But if you’re not, then at best you’ll be able to spout off some cheesy slogans to try and keep them motivated.

The same goes for exercising. If your trainer is in shape, it lends validity to their message. Again, I’m not saying they need to be fitness models, but they should be fit and healthy.

So, my advice, for what it’s worth, is to look for a trainer with a reasonable amount of experience and an obvious passion for general health and fitness. 

Outside of that, look for someone with the type of personality you believe will motivate and inspire you to achieve great things. Good luck!

- The Recreate team #noexcuses