Choosing the right personal trainer (PT) can be a daunting task, not only are their differences in training, but there are also differences in personalities, and getting your choice right is essential for your overall results. As both a qualified personal trainer and having experienced many coaches in the past, let me help you with this guide so that you can get the right choice the first time.
What kind of training do you want to do?
There's no one size fits all with exercise. There are endless forms of training, and they can all produce a result. Some PTs focus solely on Strength, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Cross-fit or another kind of exercise, and they do exceptionally well in their niches. Some others may not have a particular focus, but instead employ a bit variety, perhaps a mixture of strength training with some cardio, and you'll more likely find these in a more commercial gym.
Think about the kind of exercise you enjoy, because it will have a significant impact on your overall results. If you don't like doing lots of structured resistance training, but you've chosen a bodybuilding-style trainer, you may be frustrating yourself. However, take into account your goals as well. If you want to gain solid muscle, but you like lots of running and don't want to do weights training, you might find it a challenging task to accomplish. If you're going to get specialised knowledge in a particular field, such as Olympic lifting, then it will be in your interest to find someone who is an expert in that field. If you're a beginner just getting started or enjoys variety, then a PT who knows a few different modalities will be more suited to you.
Remember - Health comes first!
Health is number one. You might want to be super shredded, but your body is trying to keep you alive, which can make it a more demanding task than it seems, especially when trying to lose those last few kilos. Some personal trainers might get you leaner, but they neglect the health aspect, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, amenorrhea (period loss), and even eating disorders. Be wary of a trainer that immediately puts you on meagre calories with an unrealistic amount of exercise. With the popularity of personal trainers increasing over the last few years and the ease of setting up as an online trainer, it can be easy for trainers to fall into this trap with clients. The reason they do it is that they want to get you a good result, and they may feel the pressure of bringing you this quickly, so you are happy and of course, more likely to refer them to others, or serve as a good testimonial. An experienced trainer should work with you to determine where you're at, where you want to go and whether your goals are realistic within the time frame that you want.
They also need to take into account their scope of practice – a great personal trainer will know that they're not a doctor or mental health professional (unless they actually are!), so where required, you should be referred out. If you have an eating disorder, have depression, anxiety or another condition that needs extra help, you must have the right support network. Exercise will be a great way to help mental health; it just needs to be done carefully. That way, you can get the most benefit out of it, and together with the proper treatment plan, can be an excellent ally for recovery!
What type of experience do they have?
If you're pre or post-natal, you may want to have a trainer who focuses on this. They will have a better understanding of your particular needs and limitations when doing exercise and might be more emotionally in tune with you, so you feel comfortable with them. Perhaps you've just had a sports injury, and there are specific exercises you can't do. Most trainers will be able to work around this, but if it's a severe or ongoing injury that requires extra care, you may want to go for a PT that specialises in rehabilitation (rehab).
If you've got a lot of weight to lose, focus on someone who has had success in this field. There are certain understandings that you need when taking someone from being heavily overweight to a healthy weight range, and keep them there.
If you're an athlete looking to focus on a particular sport, or want to enter a bodybuilding competition, look for someone who can offer it to you as a specialty, with client experience and industry knowledge to match.
Do your personalities and beliefs match?
Like there are all kinds of people, there are all kinds of trainers, with a wide variety of personalities! How are you looking to be coached? This question you should have a good think about because approaches vary widely.
Are you looking for a drill Sargeant, someone to yell at you and scream 'one more rep' when you're at the brink of exhaustion? Or does the thought of that make you cringe? Perhaps you need someone who is understanding of your stressful life situation, that is going to lend a comforting ear and shower you with empathy.
Looking to learn? Maybe you need someone who's going to teach you a lot and feed you full of the latest science that'll help you get the best results. If you're time-poor, maybe you need a PT who's more transactional, gets you in and out in as little time as possible, with the most effective exercises. Or perhaps you want a trainer who's more like a friend, where you can go to the gym and have a chit chat as well as have some fun training. Whatever your needs, make sure that you have an excellent introductory discussion with your potential PT, so you know what they're like and how they operate.
Similarly, your beliefs should reflect theirs, or at least be compatible. If you have a trainer that believes in all or nothing, or black and white thinking, then you might have a tough time when your thoughts don't align. For example, they might believe in only eating 'clean' foods, and their idea of a 'cheat meal' is sugar-free protein pancakes. If you want a bit of flexibility in how you eat (by the way – it can be useful for you too!), then you will end up struggling when trying to fit into their strict guidelines. Similarly, if they believe there's only one way to do an exercise (such as knees shouldn't pass toes in a squat), then you'll have a hard time when your biomechanics don't meet this held belief. Some trainers think only one type of exercise is effective for body composition (for example – strength training), but you think otherwise – it's vital to interview who you're considering to hire so that your thoughts align as much as possible.
Always ask questions if you're unsure of a particular process or a specific recommendation. Not only will it allow the PT to show their expertise, but it'll help your compliance too!
Are you ready to find the right trainer?
Take into account these tips and insights, and you'll find yourself more able to find the perfect PT for you and your needs. Remember that it's a working relationship, and ideally a mid to long-term relationship, so you get the best results, so it pays off to do your research and find someone that you'll feel comfortable with and trust will take you to where you want to be.
By Paula Vargas Duran