Looking for a trainer can be a daunting task. Whether I am in a gym, a supplement store, on an internet forum, or attending a bodybuilding and fitness contest, it seems that everywhere I turn, someone claims to be a personal trainer.
The health and fitness industry is no different than any other industry. There are many qualified people of all levels and also many people who claim to be qualified just to make money. If you are one of those poor souls that is tired of wasting their time in the gym and want to hire a coach or a trainer, then how do you know that you are hiring the right person? What if you already have a trainer and are not quite sure you are getting your money’s worth, or you’re not completely satisfied with the services being provided?
Based on my experience in the industry over the past fifteen years, I have brought together some information that may be of interest. My intent is to help you reflect on the subject of trainers or coaches and hopefully have you ask all the right questions to get the help you need and deserve.
Looking the part
Anyone working in the health or fitness industry should practice what they preach if they are to be taken seriously. There are many personal trainers and aerobics instructors in the industry that are either fat or look totally out of shape. Although they may be qualified and have the knowledge to help others achieve their goals, it just might be a little easier for them to gain respect and credibility if they look the part.
The opposite is also true. Just because people look great physically does not always mean that they know what they are doing in the gym or have the proper knowledge to help you achieve your goals. If something works for them, it does not mean it will necessarily work for you. Many people are blessed with great genetics and would look good no matter what they do.
It is often said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. This also holds true in the fitness industry. Although a trainer’s physique might get your attention at first, there might be some more important questions that you need to get answered before deciding if that person is right for you.
A person’s credentials are an important clue about their competence as a coach or a personal trainer. A university degree or certifications from various organizations are a great start. However, although certifications and university degrees form a solid foundation of knowledge, there are also many great trainers and coaches in the industry that don’t have either one.
Depending on your specific requirements, there may be other important questions whose answers will help determine whether a coach is qualified to answer your needs. For instance:
- How much experience does this trainer or coach have?
- Is s/he knowledgeable about a specific medical condition you might have?
- Does s/he know anything about nutrition or just follow Canada’s Food Guide?
- Are you looking for someone who is knowledgeable in the training of a specific sport?
- Does s/he promote or encourage the use of drugs?
- Does s/he still study and take specific courses, attend seminars or do research on a regular basis to stay on top of the latest research when it comes to training, nutrition, injury prevention, injury management, supplements, etc?
- Is this coach available to help me?
A person is not instantly qualified to teach or train someone just because s/he won something. The title simply means that they were better (or looked better) than other people on a given day. Yes, people win competitions through hard work and dedication, either by doing some research on their own or by hiring a coach or a trainer.
Yet many people also win because they are gifted genetically, regardless of what they do in the gym. They may not understand how to work with people who are genetically average, or who are just trying to get into better shape.
It takes a lot more than a title, trophy, or medal to be able to help people achieve their goals and look their best.
Most people want a basic understanding of nutrition and exercise. They want to know what they should eat and do to be healthy. The problem is that there are so many misconceptions, contradictions, and half-truths coming from scientific studies, magazines, books, the internet, and the media that people do not really know what to believe. This is one of the primary reasons people turn to a coach or a trainer.
The services provided by a trainer can be defined in many different ways and should involve more than just handing out training programs in exchange for money or holding someone’s hand while they are trying to work out.
Although most clients seek a trainer to guide them through training programs, you may actually want or expect more than that. Perhaps you want to learn about proper lifting or spotting techniques, how to increase intensity, improve cardiovascular fitness, eat better for health, eat better for improved performance, manage or rehabilitate injuries, or maybe just someone to motivate you. The experience with a personal trainer or coach then also becomes an educational one.
People generally have a thirst for knowledge. It is quite reasonable for a client to have several questions at the beginning of the client-trainer relationship, or when a new training program is introduced. You may want high-level answers to help you understand the reasoning behind the decisions that are made about your training plan. These kinds of discussions can help establish trust, cement commitment, and form a better relationship.
Although you may not completely figure things out on your own, as you learn from various sources, you will eventually develop some basic knowledge, putting you in a better position to eventually understand what you read on the subject. In time, the acquired knowledge will also give you the ability to form an opinion and certainly put you in a better position to understand if the information you are getting makes sense.
In other words, trying to educate yourself will improve your relationship with your trainer.
Beyond the basics, there may be other factors that may influence the quality of the services a trainer offers, ultimately determining whether or not you will be satisfied with that particular trainer. These factors certainly depend on your personal needs and expectations.
How will the training program be presented or given to you? Will the program be hand-written on a napkin or will you receive a binder with everything clearly laid out, easy to follow, where all that is left to do is enter the date, along with the reps and weights?
Will your trainer or coach follow up with you regularly to ensure that you are happy or that you are progressing the way you should? Does the trainer expect you to occasionally or regularly provide food logs or show your training logs? Is your trainer available to answer questions or concerns as they arise?
What sort of guarantee is the trainer willing to offer you? What happens if you do not particularly like your routine, you start feeling pain in your knees, shoulders, or back, you get injured, you feel you are gaining weight or not gaining weight, or you aren’t completely happy for whatever reason? Is it going to cost you another few hundred dollars to get another routine or make changes to the one you were given?
On days that you are not in the mood and feel like quitting, or you feel like you do not have any time to exercise, will your trainer be able to motivate you? Will he or she be able to help you figure out a way to make time to work out or offer alternatives?
Although you may not be able to get answers right away, answering these kinds of questions can show whether a trainer or coach cares about your needs and is dedicated to helping you achieve your goals. If you are unhappy, then you need to discuss the issues with your trainer or start looking for help elsewhere.
Here are a few questions that can help you consider whether a trainer is within your budget.
Most strength training programs should be changed every 4-6 weeks to keep stimulating progress, prevent boredom, avoid injuries, etc. Are the coach or trainer’s fees within your budget or will you have to save up for several months before you can afford another program?
Does the trainer or coach request each client pay a flat fee for a training program, a flat fee for a specific period of time, or simply charge clients by an hourly rate? Assuming the trainer in question also offers nutritional advice, does the fee include advice on nutrition or is it considered a separate cost? If you have questions or concerns and need to contact your trainer, is it part of the service offered or do you need to make a separate appointment to get the answers you need?
If your trainer is just about the money, then I suggest you keep looking.
The only way to get answers to your questions is to interview the prospective coach or trainer that you are thinking about hiring. Why not interview several until you find someone that best matches your criteria?
If you know people who are already training with a particular trainer or coach, it may be worthwhile to ask them for feedback. Are they happy with their trainer’s services? What do they like? What do they dislike? If you don’t know any of that specific trainer’s clients, then ask him or her for references. Information you get from other clients is often more valuable than what you hear directly from coaches that are trying to sell themselves.
Before committing to anyone, do your homework. You will minimize your chances of being disappointed and maximize your chances of getting exactly what you need.
A trainer can be an excellent guide. But you are the only person who truly knows what you want.
If you don’t think you’ll be happy with a particular coach, keep looking. If you already have a trainer or coach and are not happy with the services that you are getting, do not feel like you are getting any results, or simply do not feel that you are getting any value for your hard-earned money, then save your money. Look for someone who will give you what you seek.
About the Author
Based out of Ottawa, Canada, Steve Duperré has been helping people achieve their fitness goals for the past fifteen years. His clients range from bodybuilding, fitness, or figure competitors to average people just trying to lose weight or get in shape.
Steve is a well-respected bodybuilding, fitness, and figure judge for the Ontario Physique Association’s Eastern Ontario region. And he is also a very successful bodybuilding competitor, having won both the Lightweight and Classic Short divisions at the 2008 Ontario Natural Championships.
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