Did you know that according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of personal trainers in America will jump 24% by 2020? That means you’ll need to do some prudent research to find the perfect fitness coach. But it’s a fact. Not all personal trainers are created equal. Some actually listen to you and focus on your needs and others are friendly but merely put you through your paces, occasionally ragging on you when you miss a workout. I pride myself in being the first type and not the latter. So if you are looking around now or in the future for a trainer, whether it’s me or anyone else, I’ll try to save you some stomach acid wondering how to do it. Here is what to look for:
(1) Listening skills. Yes. Just like a shrink, a trainer should first assess your motives and learn about your past successes and failures. Fat loss? Health improvement? Flexibility? Marathon running plans? Balance? Post-surgery therapy? More energy? A better golf swing? Is there a timeline? What has held you back in the past? Are you committed to making your eating regimen an integral part of your journey, especially since it’s usually 80% of the equation? Some of my clients are simply training for the anti-aging benefits, others have been in gyms all their lives, and yet others are determined to slim down and tone up. If a trainer you are interviewing can’t customize a program to precisely the needs you have and explain their plan of action, keep looking.
(2) Personal attention and safety. If you are taking private training, my attention has to be on not only the exercise I am asking you to do, but also on how you are doing those exercises. Often I see another trainer tell a client to do 15 pull-downs, and then walk away to speak with someone else. In the meantime, I cringe as I watch that person dangerously hunch forward, flail their elbows and do the pull-downs entirely the wrong way. I do group training, but I watch my clients like a hawk. Why? Because one wrong move, one out-of-position pull, push or lift can cause an injury you’d hate me for. And I don’t like being hated.
(3) Patience is virtue. For any client-trainer relationship to thrive, it should be understood that what works for one client may not work for another. Training is not a contest. Your trainer should be able to find a comfortable pace for you that both challenges but encourages you. I personally love being able to remind my clients about how far they have come, because it seems many of them forget how out-of-shape or weak or unbalanced they were when we started out. I recall one of my clients actually falling off the parking lot curb after her first leg workout. Now she lunges back and forth across the workout floor like a pro. I simply love taking you on a journey of body re-discovery.
(4) Communication. It goes both ways. I will hold your hand. I will explain everything to you – what muscles are being worked, why you are doing a particular exercise, and how doing it may affect your well being. And I make it a point of pride to be there at the agreed-upon time for you come hell or high water. But I also expect commitment and communication on your part, too. If a client cancels on me frequently or on very short notice, I am – simply – bummed. Why? Because you once told me how serious you were about all this and now your actions demonstrate otherwise.
(5) Being professional and helpful. Watch a potential trainer training others. Does he or she carry their client’s water bottle or run across the floor to the cooler for them? Does he pick up and hand weights to his client instead of making him or her find them or pick them up of the floor? How about the floor mat? Do you see the trainer occasionally helping a client stretch worn out legs and arms by using their own body weight at the end of a training session? One of my pet peeves is seeing a trainer chomp down on a burrito while they watch their clients work out. What’s with THAT? Don’t forget that your trainer is employed by YOU. His or her focus should be on making your workout as efficient, timely and stress-free as possible.
If you are in the market for a personal trainer, ask the ones you are considering if you can observe them for about 15-20 minutes with one of their clients after interviewing them or reading what they have to say on their web site. It will offer you a wealth of information about whether you want to work with them. Or you can go farther than that – see if they will give you the email address or phone number of someone they have trained for a reference. Hiring a trainer is serious stuff, just like any other business decision you make for yourself. You are entrusting not only your health and safety to that person -- you are also investing your hard-earned money. Hopefully, it will be a match made in workout heaven.