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How to Choose the Best Trainer for Your Needs

By Mitchell Keyes, NASM-CES, NASM-PES, RTS-123, MAT Graduate

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself!”

That was part of a recent note from a client, who was thanking me for the personal training I’d offered her over the last year. You’d be amazed to know how often I hear this, and I know other trainers hear it, too.

The fact is, getting in great physical shape is one of the best things you can do for your health. And enlisting the help of a fitness professional is one of the best ways you can invest in your process. You’ll in all likelihood see bigger progress and have an easier (or at least more direct) route to that success. You’ll also have someone supporting you and believing in you on days when you doubt yourself or are low on motivation.

This month is exactly the time of year when many folks are either starting to see some progress—or are experiencing frustration—with their New Year’s fitness resolution routine. As a result, some will quit, while others will decide instead to reach out for help.

And know this…I understand the process of reaching out to a fitness professional or coach can be an intimidating one. Most are in great shape, wear uniforms that resemble a bodybuilder’s funeral (all black and form fitting), and somehow always appear to be “busy.”

Truth be told, however, most fitness pros would be excited for you to introduce yourself and to ask them a few questions. The best ones would probably even be willing to give you a free “test drive” session to see what it’s like to work with a trainer.

My advice? Take advantage of it. Get to know the trainers at your gym. If the club displays trainer bios, check them out. See whose profile and experience speak to you.

And, most of all, consider what your own needs are. What kind of trainer would be well-suited for you and your goals? Whom would you genuinely enjoy working with, and what trainer personalities might be most motivating for you?

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you start shopping.

When Will You See Each Other?

Let’s start with the practicalities. You might have a great rapport with someone you catch on random holidays when you’re off work and at the gym. But does that trainer work hours when you could regularly see him/her (i.e. once a week)?

You might really want to work with that person, but a partnership without frequent face time will likely soon get frustrating. Even if you choose to actually work together only, say, every other week, having your trainer present on the floor during your other workout times can be great for support. Your trainer can see how you’re doing on your own, and you can benefit from his/her observations during your next conversation. Not to mention…never discount the motivational value of a passing high five.

Most trainers work a set weekly schedule (e.g Monday-Friday, Tuesday-Saturday, Sunday-Thursday). If you happen to have some flexibility in your weekly calendar, this might not be an issue.

Consider, too, what times of day you’d like to commit for a regular session. Trainers who work in the morning typically start at 6:00 a.m. and are done around 2:00 p.m. Some are certainly willing to work with clients earlier than 6:00, but this is generally a case-by-case scenario. Likewise, trainers who work the evening shift usually take clients until 8:00 p.m. (finishing by 9:00 p.m.). As with early morning arrangements, you may find a trainer who’s willing to stay later. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Will the Two of You Gel?

Now we’re digging into the meat of the decision….

Rapport is essential in a fitness partnership. The fact is, if you don’t look forward to the time you spend with your trainer, you won’t see the benefits.

When personality is a good fit between the two of you, your work with a trainer usually transfers into a WWMTS (What would my trainer say?) model. In other words, you feel invested enough in your trainer’s perspective and have enough faith in his/her direction that you start applying it outside your sessions. This is a good place to be. When a trainer can influence your decision-making and behavior outside of your in-person sessions, he/she has really earned your trust—and your business!

While shopping for your ideal trainer, you may think you want someone with a similar personality, but let yourself consider how others might work, too. Sometimes opposites attract! Don’t be afraid to do some soul-searching and see what’s going to be best for your needs. Maybe you’d be better off with someone who would give you messages in a different way than you’d give them to yourself.

If you find yourself on the fence, by all means browse and try out a few trainers before making a final choice. In the meantime, here are a few trainer personality types I see in action. 

What you might want…

The Hugger

This kind of trainer embraces you with every step of your journey. Generous support comes naturally to them, and they’re going to be there for you every step of the way with a soft touch.

The Cheerleader

They have enough energy for both of you—when you need it and when you don’t! This kind of trainer always has your back and will push you every day in every workout.

The Tough Love Provider

This type of trainer smiles at you while letting you know you “need to get a little more serious.” And he/she is serious about that!

The Drill Sergeant

These trainers will push you 2-3 steps further than you would on your own—pushing and pulling you, in fact! They most definitely have a whistle and a stopwatch in their drawer somewhere (if not their pocket).

The Coach

This kind of trainer is something of a hybrid and has traits in common with a few of the types above. You may hate them at times but love that they know you personally and—because of that—know how to motivate you to be better. This is the ideal trainer for many people because they’re not satisfied just training you for an hour. They want you to be accountable to your own success and will (in their own individual ways) educate and inspire you to change your behaviors during all of the other hours you aren’t with them in an actual appointment.

And now a bit about what you may not want…

The Enabler

I’ve known some people who think they want this—infinite understanding in a trainer, but that’s not what will serve them in the long run. “It’s ok! Everything’s ok! You’re ok! Pizza really is hard to resist, isn’t it? At least you only ate half the pie, right?” This might seem great at the outset, but you’ll probably get minimal progress (if any) here because they’re going to support your excuses.

The Finger Pointer

I’ve seen tough love work wonders for people—and their infinite gratitude for it later. However, you might meet someone who puts too much “tough” into that equation. Maybe it’s continual pressure on you to be 100% perfect with your diet. Or maybe it’s something like, “You mean you didn’t work out at home when the snowstorm dumped four feet of snow on your driveway? No wonder you only lost 1/2 a pound this week.” This isn’t likely to be someone who can offer the best, balanced motivation for your program.

The God/Goddess

Trainers as a whole love to live a healthy lifestyle, but not everyone practices this the same way. And it also doesn’t mean you need to do everything they do to be successful with your personal goals. “I eat organic, grass-fed, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, sugar-free every day. It’s not hard. You can do it. Plus, don’t you want abs like this?” Or, “I don’t do cardio at all, and I’m super ripped, so you don’t need to either.” Listen, everyone’s metabolism is different and unique. The choices and goals that work for your trainer may or may not work for you!

The High School Hero

Sometimes you meet a former athlete who thinks you should be one, too! That person may have been in great shape back then, and maybe they look like they still might be. The problem is, they take their identity as a trainer more from that previous athletic endeavor than from expertise about up-to-date training advances. They could love their job and have a great personality, but they might not be as knowledgeable about or committed to the latest strategies that are best for your personal needs and goals.

What Kinds of Specialties Should Your Ideal Trainer Have?

For some people this might be the most integral factor in making the best training partnership. Most trainers have been certified by a professional organization of some sort. Most also have a college degree of some kind (e.g. bachelor’s, master’s, and/or doctorate) in health, exercise or nutrition.

Truth be told, you really want to work with a trainer who has the specialties that complement your personal needs and goals. If you have a physical limitation or restriction, you may also want a trainer who has extensive experience or certification in that realm.

You might want to lose substantial weight or train for a fitness related performance event. Here are some examples of questions you can ask in a consultation to see if the trainer’s experience and style might dovetail well with your physical or athletic goals.

  • I have A, B and C aesthetic goals in mind. Can this trainer both support my core intentions and offer practical perspective as well as assistance with those goals?
  • I want to lose a certain amount of weight/body fat. Does this trainer frequently work with clients whose primary goal is weight/fat loss? What strategies and approaches does he/she believe work effectively for this goal?
  • I’m recovering from a significant injury. Does this trainer have special knowledge about my type of injury and the accepted recovery techniques? Is he/she willing to build a fitness regimen that complements my rehabilitation needs? Will he/she consult my physician or physical therapy professional? 
  • I consider myself at a maintenance point in my program. Can this trainer embrace that goal and also design a program that keeps me both motivated and at the top of my game?
  • My primary goal is training for my personal athletic pursuits (e.g. triathlons, etc.). Does this trainer have solid experience working with people in my situation and understand the demands of my sport?
  • I’m interested in developing a specific fitness capacity (e.g. speed, agility, endurance, power, strength). Does this trainer have interest in helping me with that, and what kinds of approaches does he/she use for this specific goal? 

Knowledge, education, motivation and confidence are all things you should gain from each training session—no matter what your particular goal.

There are thousands of trainers to choose from at Life Time. The best place to start is by doing some research and observation. Think about what you’re looking for, and see what might be available. You can always connect with a Training Manager as well to discuss your interests and to benefit from his/her expertise and recommendation.

Choosing to work with a trainer can be one of the best investments you’ll make for your end goal and your overall experience. Whether your training partnership will be a short-term or long-term commitment, you should come away a better person for it.

Are you ready to invest in your success with a training partnership? Connect with our fitness professionals today.

If you want to learn more about how we design our programs to support fitness and performance using our Core 3 Training™ methodologies,

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

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The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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