Should You Hire a Personal Trainer?

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Does this image accurately reflect how you feel after work most days? Does the suggestion of exercise make you want to crawl into a cave with a wedding cake and unlimited wifi?

If so, hiring a personal trainer may rank somewhere on your to-do list alongside “make friendly conversation with the depressed Steve Buscemi look-alike next door.” But not surprisingly, motivation is among the top reasons many people try personal training – motivation, and uncertainty about how to exercise.

But is hiring a personal fitness trainer really worth it? They can be really expensive, and that money could definitely go toward other things.

Personal trainers ARE expensive. Moreover, an uncomfortable number aren’t worth your time, particularly at big, corporate gyms – the type you see everywhere. I should know. I work at one.

Don’t get me wrong. Trainers employed by gyms aren’t all bad. Some of them really do know what they’re doing. But too many do not.

Ever get a chance to watch a trainer with more than one client? If you’re considering hiring one, you should. Ask yourself some questions: Do they do the same exercises with all of their clients? Do they take the time to sit down and talk with their clients about their goals and exercise history? Do they focus on their clients? or do they spend their time texting and chatting with other gym rats while their clients struggle on a machine?

The uncomfortable truth is: It’s not that difficult to be certified as a personal trainer. Just Google it. There are numerous certifying organizations, and most of them just require that a candidate pass their test (many of which assess nearly none of the skills required to be an excellent trainer). And after you’ve been certified, gyms are often happy to hire trainers with an aptitude for gaining and maintaining clients rather than helping clients learn to become more independent exercisers. (Gyms take about two-thirds of the money you pay for training sessions – the other third going to the trainer.)

On the other hand, there is great deal that the average person can learn from a good personal trainer. Our culture has most of us completely confused when it comes to what constitutes effective exercise and good diet. We think a good workout involves a bulky trainer yelling at tired sweaty people who won’t be able to walk the next morning. Most of us don’t know that an excellent, healthy workout for one person can be a catastrophic, detrimental event for another. That’s why it’s important, if you’re considering a trainer, to find out something about them before you get started.

I recommend asking the following questions:

1) What certifications do you have? (Usually better if they have more than one. Listen for NASM, ACSM, or ACE. Be especially impressed if they have a degree in kinesiology, physiology, or exercise science.)

2) How long have you been training? (Sometimes best to avoid those with minimal experience)

3) What kind of clients do you specialize in working with? (Answers might include: athletes, obese, elderly, pregnant, disabled, diabetic, youth, etc… Everybody’s needs are unique. Not every trainer will be equipped to work with yours.)

4) What kind of exercise do you know the most about? What kind of workouts do you do yourself?

5) In what ways can you advise me on nutrition? (It is outside the scope of practice of many personal trainers to advise clients on what they should be eating specifically – although many of them do anyway. Most trainer certifications allow them to give general guidelines on food groups and macronutrients, but not to create diet plans. If you’re looking for someone to make a diet plan for you, make sure you find a trainer with that certification OR be willing to go see a nutritionist.)

A good trainer will have answers to these questions, and they will be confident in their response.

If you’re willing to try a personal trainer, do your research first. Ask your colleagues and friends if they know anybody who’s really worth your time and caters to your specific needs and exercise goals. If you go to a gym, observe the trainers there. Strike up a conversation with one if you think they might be a fit. And importantly, be willing to spend the money on a good one. Ten sessions with an excellent personal trainer will be far superior to a hundred sessions with someone who’s mediocre.

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