Ask a Trainer: How do I pick a trainer?

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Your personal trainer should be just that
By Michael Acre
You’ve begun your health and fitness journey—not an easy process. You decided that you were finally going to “join a gym or health club.” For some, that decision happens within the first seconds after walking into the club; for others, it may require using a trial pass and taking some classes. Either way, congratulations on your commitment to health and fitness!
At the beginning of your fitness journey you most likely laid out a set of realistic goals. “I want to lose 10 pounds in the first three months.” “I want to be able to run a mile without having to stop.” “I want to be able to bench press my body weight when I finally get my weight down to where it’s supposed to be!” During the goal-setting process, you realized that dieting and exercise are the two major players in results. As the saying goes, “you can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Personal training clients choose a trainer for results
Your diet is set. You’re going to the gym a few times a week. Yet, you’re just not getting the results you want. As you log in another 30 minute on a treadmill or do a solo workout in the weight area, you see a personal trainer leading a client to a specific area of the club. I remember the first time I saw a trainer work out a client at the club. It reminded me of a VIP experience. The trainer sets the workout: the client does the work. They talk. They laugh. At the end of the workout: they high-five, both looking forward to the next session.
I have hired a personal trainer several times during my fitness journey. It took about two years of “working on my own” to realize that the workouts I printed out online combined with the 20 minutes I spent running on the treadmill were not going to get me results. My results plateaued, particularly frustrating because I was less than 10 pounds from hitting my weight loss goal. I walked up to a personal trainer and started asking about sessions. Over ten years, I have repeated this process a few times—hiring a trainer to intensify my workouts and take my results to the next level.

What to look for when choosing your trainer
You are about to pay a professional for a service. Some people compare a trainer to their doctor, maybe a best friend or your favorite coach from school. Here are checkpoints I use when choosing my trainers:
1. Your goals should be their goals: This is a non-negotiable. When you first meet, your number one topic of conversation needs to cover your goals. A good trainer will ask you this right away and usually follow up with these questions: How long have you been working out? Where? Have you worked with a trainer before? Any injuries or medical conditions?
This is important because you are about to invest time and effort with your trainer and at the end of your session, you both need to be on the same page when it comes to evaluating your results. Sore muscles and sweat are not indicators that you are reaching your fitness goals. Your trainer should have an open conversation on assessing your progress through your fitness improvement (endurance, strength, performance), changes in your health metrics (body fat percentage, blood pressure, weight loss) as well as your personal feedback (clothes fit better, improved personal perception, healthy changes in your lifestyle).
Have this conversation upfront because your trainer, as a health professional, can help you set realistic goals. For example, it took me a few years to realize that my body type would not naturally support the body-builder look that I wanted. I learned this after talking with a trainer and setting up a workout plan that would help me reach my goals of endurance, body fat loss and maintenance training.
2. Drill sergeant vs. therapist: On the extreme ends of the personality spectrum, most of us envision a trainer that is either Jillian or Bob from “The Biggest Loser.” When meeting with your trainer, take note of how they talk with you, observe their workout style, and better yet, tell them what motivates you! I’m not the kind of guy who likes to have someone yell at me to finish a set, nor do I want someone to give me a hug after each session. A few encouraging words, explaining each exercise, demonstrating how to perform sets with proper form, helping me avoid re-aggravating existing injuries are major factors in my selection.
If you have a health history or injuries, make sure you are upfront with your trainer. For example, I have leg and lower back issues. It’s important that my trainer know this, before I put stress on these body parts. Otherwise, I could be back at the doctor’s office in great pain! This allows your trainer time to offer a modification to the exercise.
3. Ask about the trainer’s education and what all those letters mean: The stereotypical bodybuilder or “strongest guy in the gym” who gets personal training certification has been replaced with a generation of health and fitness professionals who are college educated, most with Master’s degrees and several accreditations and certifications from organizations that uphold basic exercise standards and guidelines for safe fitness practice.
Unlike your doctor, your trainer wears workout clothes. What may surprise you is the amount of continuing education that your trainer may possess that could enable them to give you important suggestions. I have had trainers who have noticed injury ailments or problems with my diet that I was then able to discuss with my doctor.
4. Other considerations—Cost. Availability. Location. These are additional factors when selecting a trainer. The main point is your personal trainer is just that—your trainer. Don’t be afraid to ask him/her for references or even a trial workout. Remember, you are about to enter into an exercise contract with them. Make sure you get the results YOU want!
Michael Acre is marketing and promotions manager, VENT Fitness, a results- based health and fitness club with four locations in the Capital Region with the motto “ReinVENT Yourself.”

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