Navigating the sea of personal trainers can be a confusing and tricky process. How do you tell the difference between a trainer that's a real coach and can help you excel versus someone whose credentials are only so-so? Especially with the rise of social media, it’s easy for people to confuse a super-fit person with a large following with a quality trainer who will actually be worth investing your time and money in.
If you’re going to invest your resources and trust your body with a professional, you want them to be worth it. Here are the nine major things to look out for before you start working with a trainer:
If your trainer has a know-it-all attitude, proceed with caution. The most experienced trainers in the field are confident in their knowledge and coaching but also recognize there is much we still don’t know for certain about the human body and that research is constantly changing how we approach training.
A good trainer will also go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and safe always, whether they're measuring your body composition or having you do a new exercise. They should never be vocalizing that their goal is to make you "hurt" or sore tomorrow — that isn’t even a real indicator of an effective workout anyway!
Look for someone who schedules your training in accordance with your goals and needs that you discussed during an initial consultation. They should also have you on a training program as a regular client and not just improvising workouts on the fly.
3. Consultations and assessments.
A good trainer will never begin with a client without an initial consult and assessment. How will they know how to train a client if they don’t know their strengths, weaknesses, movement patterns, goals, and personality? You need a baseline assessment so you also have a reference with which to measure progress.
4. The ability to explain the "why."
This might be the most telltale tip of how you can see if a trainer is not only a good trainer but a good fit for you. Always ask them why.
"Why are you measuring my body composition? Why is this exercise in my program? Why was yesterday’s workout so intense but today’s is light? Why is this exercise good for my hips?" See how they answer your questions. They should be giving you science-based information but in a digestible way that you can understand.
5. Diversity in training.
If you’re at a commercial gym, you have the advantage of being able to scope trainers out. Watch how they interact with their clients, but also see if they have clients of different ages, fitness levels, etc., do the same exact workout. If so, this probably isn't the trainer for you—they should be tailoring the training program to your specific needs and goals.
6. No promise of quick results.
Progress takes time, and there are no shortcuts to true health and fitness. Run away from anyone who tells you can lose 20 pounds in a healthy way in two weeks or promises any type of unrealistic goals just to get you in the door and training with them. A good trainer will help set realistic goals and act as your teammate to help you reach them.
7. They cost money.
You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get. Not to say you need to be paying a ridiculous fee for training, but what a lot of clients don’t realize is that a quality trainer will not undervalue their time, knowledge, and what they can give you—because a lot more goes into having you on as a client than showing up for a one-hour session. There is constant programming and planning for you outside of that hour, following up with you with supplemental information to help you reach your goals, and so forth.
First of all, your trainer should unquestionably be certified. Would you go to a surgeon who didn’t graduate from medical school? Ask them what their national certification is. Once you have that information, go home and look it up. See if it’s a certification that you can earn in one online test over a weekend or if it’s an actual course that culminates in final examinations. NASM, NSCA (CSCS), ACE, ISSA, ACSM are the "big five" of the training world and most widely respected. Most top training gyms will require a trainer to have one of these.
9. They coach with knowledge.
A good trainer should be able to demonstrate their knowledge in a way that is helpful to you and not just throw around fancy science words to appear more knowledgeable. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions! The trainers you’ll want to hire won’t get defensive or shrug them off—they’ll appreciate that you’re doing your research.
Want more tips on how to find a great personal trainer? Here's the advice one trainer gives every single client.