Powerful pair
5 Jan 2016
If you currently work with or are looking into working with a personal trainer, you know that this can be quite an investment , not only financially, but also mentally and physically. There is certainly both an art and science to personal training and as a client, you can expect some amazing results if you find a trainer who is knowledgeable, experienced, motivated and able to connect with you on a level deeper than what is typically advertised in the media (i.e. screaming at you as you collapse in a crumpled burpee mess). Personal training offers you the opportunity not only to get fit or lose weight, but also (when you train with a GREAT trainer) the opportunity to design SMART goals, relieve stress and to improve your overall wellness. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

A new movement in the health and fitness world places trainers as key roles in health promotion, disease prevention and fitness optimization. Recently, there have been a number of efforts to regulate this profession, ones that have the potential to make major changes in the way our current generation trains, lives and ages. It’s time we started holding our trainers to higher standards.

Here are 5 things to look for if you want a trainer that is going to go above and beyond to help you reach your goals.

1. Are they certified?

Let’s start with the obvious: do they have some sort of document to prove that they are actually certified? This sounds a little silly, but it’s very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, that piece of paper proving certification pretty well guarantees a couple of things. One, that your trainer most likely has insurance and two, that they are trained in First Aid.

Additionally, while their certification doesn’t imply people skills or experience, it does suggest at least some degree of investment of time and money in education. And, because most certifying organizations require yearly renewal or the attainment of continuing education, a trainer with a current certification is likely up-to-date on the most recent findings in exercise physiology and training sciences, meaning you’re going to get the most up-to-date training out there.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying that certification is enough, it’s simply a basic minimum. Ideally, you want to work with someone not only with a variety of certifications, but also a wide breadth of experience and self-directed learning. Someone who works out themselves and has an understanding of what you’re going through during your session. Even though knowledge = power, you want to make sure your trainer knows how to use it!

2. Did they ask about your goals, injuries and expectations?

Many people invest in a training package with specific goals in mind, for example, they want to lose 10 pounds, get their first pull up, fit into their wedding dress or look great for an upcoming vacation. There are a number of facets that go into creating a program to reach those goals, including knowing your client’s starting point. This, of course, takes an initial assessment. A thorough program also takes into account any injuries a client may have in order to avoid exacerbating them, while also trying to rehabilitate them back to health. Lastly, the program must be designed with the proper exercises and frequency to help the client reach realistic goals and appropriate expectations for success must be set. If it sounds like your trainer is promising you the moon or instant results, it’s likely too good to be true. Similarly, if they’re trying to sell you on 5 sessions a week, or a 52 pack, there is also likely some funny business going on. A general guideline to keep in mind when you’re thinking about signing up with a trainer is that most changes in fitness – be it strength, cardiovascular capacity or endurance, take at least 6 weeks of work in a well-organized and logical sequence. This doesn’t mean every day, it just means consistent work with regular exercise and load progressions based on your adaptations! If you do the same 3 training routines (identical exercises and weight) every week, it may be time to think about switching professionals.

3. Is your trainer measuring your success? Are you seeing results?

Along the same line as setting and achieving realistic goals comes the idea of the reassessment. Why? Well, the only way to know whether your training program is working is to reassess your abilities every 4 to 6 weeks. Having a measure of success is important when it comes to keeping your trainer honest and your money in your pocket! I’ve seen too many clients get trapped in an ongoing cycle of ineffective training. What is even more unfortunate in this instance, is that many clients start to blame themselves for their lack of success, when really, their program has not been properly designed to meet their goals. If you are not seeing the results you desire (or at least progress towards them), there should be major changes in your program as soon as your plateau becomes apparent!

Unfortunately, rather than empowering people to meet their goals or learn to train on their own, some trainers create dependence in their relationships, leading clients to feel like they absolutely need their trainer in order to do any exercise or get anywhere close to their goals. How do you know if this is happening to you? Answer these few questions:

Do you know how much weight you squat, bench press, deadlift or use for any other exercise or does your trainer always set it up for you?

Do you know why you’re doing any given exercise and the key points of performance for each? Have you had an assessment of your progress towards your goals?

If you’ve mostly answered “no” to these questions, you may want to start asking questions regarding these points during your sessions. Even if you work out with a trainer just to keep yourself motivated and accountable, this information is good to know for your own self-confidence, future goal setting and just in case you ever need to switch trainers.

4. Are they paying attention?

It drives me absolutely crazy when I see other trainers checking their cell phone or chatting with their friends while they should be paying attention to their clients. Exercises only work if you do them properly! In fact, when done incorrectly, some exercises may not only be ineffective, they may actually be injurious. If you’re trainer isn’t watching and correcting your form, you’re not getting very much more than a general program; something you could get for much less money online or for free from a number of apps. While some trainers may carry and occasionally check an iPad or clipboard with your program on it, it’s not okay for them to be staring at a screen for the entirety of your session. Your trainer should be engaging with you, correcting your form, answering your questions and most importantly, paying attention to your health and safety.

5. Do you enjoy training with them?

Really good trainers will adapt their training style in order to suit your preferences and needs. While some people respond to yelling or clapping, others respond better to simple cueing and positive reinforcement. This is where the art of personal training comes into play. Your trainer should be able to read your reactions and adapt coaching methods to suit your needs. Your session should be enjoyable and individualized! It shouldn’t look like the session of that client who trained before you. And, your sessions should not be torture, even though they are often portrayed that way in the media. Physically, your training should be challenging, but it certainly should not be painful. Movements that you hate or those that aggravate old injuries or aches and pains should not be included in your program too often. On top of this, you should be having fun! You shouldn’t dread going to them and you should certainly leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something, as well as feel positive about your efforts when you’re done! If you’re finding that you are dreading your sessions, cancelling them too often or dragging your heels through your entire workout, it may be time to find someone else!
Jennifer Thomson

Jennifer Thomson

Jenny is a NTC Trainer, Chiropractic Student and personal trainer. She loves drinking great coffee, lifting heavy things and walking her pug Kimora.