10 Questions to Ask Your Trainer

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This blog post was inspired by several stories that I’ve heard recently, plus some things that I have seen in commercial gyms over the past year or so. Before you hop in and hire a trainer, realize that you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Why you might ask? Because hiring a personal trainer is a huge step for many people:

  1. You’re admitting that you need help. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need a trainer potentially to help you out with exercise form or to provide some extra motivation. If there’s one thing we as humans aren’t good at, it’s asking for help.
  2. You’re trusting someone else with your health. While they don’t have free reign, your personal trainer programs exercises that he/she thinks are appropriate. Hopefully they work, but more than that, you hope they don’t leave you in worse shape than you’re currently in.
  3. It costs money! If you don’t live in a world where you bathe in expendable income, that means you’re foregoing something else to have a personal trainer.
  4. You share personal details with your trainer. Unless you spend an hour talking about your favorite TV shows, you probably shared some intimate details that you would hope would stay private and not be the gossip of the break room.

So hiring a personal trainer is a big deal, and it isn’t just as simple as walking up to a guy dressed in black and filling out some forms. You want to make sure the fit is right. It’s similar to selecting a doctor. You wouldn’t go to a cardiologist to help you out with foot pain. Similarly, if you have a sense of humor, visiting Dr. Stone Cold probably isn’t going to be the most enjoyable experience, and you probably won’t come back as often as you should. Selecting a trainer is very similar. You should interview them about their expertise, personality, etc. You want to find an expert in whatever you need help with (weight loss, foot pain, etc). You can’t do that without asking questions. So, I’ve compiled the top 10 questions I would ask someone before forking over money and my health complete with the types of answers you should expect and why.

  1. What is your background in personal training/fitness? You would expect that they would have at least a couple of years of experience working with clients. Also, this should give you an inside look at their certification, experience with different types of clients, and their own personal interests. If you’re a weight loss client, but their expertise is training football players for the combine, you may want to go with someone else. Not that they couldn’t do it, but they might not be the best fit (unless you’re an ex-football player). For certification, I would look it up after your initial meeting. You’ll typically hear ACE, NASM, NSCA, ACSM, or some variation or combination. Look it up and make sure it’s nationally accredited!
  2. If I were to ask your current clients, what would they have to say about you? You’re looking to get an idea of their personality type and the relationship that they have with their clients. If you’re looking for an in-your-face type of trainer, then you better hear words like intense, hardcore, pushes me to my limits, etc. If you’re looking for more of a supportive type of trainer, I’d expect words like positive and encouraging.
  3. What do you do to continually stay current on fitness and training information? If all you hear is “I read magazine articles”, run! Magazine articles are great, and they are important for trainers to read since it’s what their clients are reading. But, they should also be attending conferences, reading journal articles (research based), listening to lectures online from top fitness sources, etc. You want to know that they take their job seriously and are always looking to constantly evolve rather than be complacent with where they are at.
  4. How long do your clients typically train with you? This is a longevity and value question. Good trainers retain clients because they demonstrate the continued value of their service. Hopefully, you’ll hear two things 1) something about their clients typically seeing notable improvements in 3 months 2) however, they continue to train with me because we set higher goals and attempt more complex exercises. This shows that the trainer is always looking towards setting higher expectations for future goals, but they also are capable of achieving progress in 3 months. While you probably won’t achieve your optimum physique in 3 months, you should see some progress. I wouldn’t worry about the total length of training (6 months, 2 years, etc) because every situation is different (unless you hear something incredibly low like 3 weeks which no trainer in their right mind would admit).
  5. What are your hobbies/interests? Simply put, you want to have something to talk about other than fitness during your training sessions. Hopefully, you have some common interests.
  6. What is your philosophy on fitness? If they don’t mesh with yours (or what you would like yours to be), they probably aren’t for you. For instance, my philosophy is that I believe fitness should be fun and effective, not in terms of being ripped, but being able to enjoy your favorite activities and experience life outside of the gym pain-free. Hence, I wouldn’t be the best choice for someone looking to compete in a figure competition. However, I would be a good choice for someone new to exercise that just wanted to feel better and get started on the right track. Your trainer should have a philosophy (or passion if you prefer to call it that). If they don’t, that’s a red flag for me. Sidebar: If in conversation, you find out that the trainer’s philosophy doesn’t match with yours, they should be able to direct you towards another trainer that is a perfect match. Good trainers know their fellow staff members and aren’t afraid to pass along business for the good of the client.
  7. What is your plan for me? Where do you see my workouts going? After listening to a client talk for a 10-15 minutes about their goals, I have an idea of what I’m going to do with them. In my head, I’m already formulating a plan of how to structure their workouts, what exercises to do, etc. You’re looking for not only a plan, but a plan that’s specific to you. If I said something like “We’re going to focus on a total body workout 2x a week that’s going to burn fat and build muscle.” That’s alright, but it’s pretty general. I’d rather hear, “Tony, with your background in strength training, you’ll benefit the most from starting with total body workouts. They’re going to burn fat and build muscle. Since you also want to get better at running, we’ll incorporate some single leg moves and some targeted cardio to improve your running capacity.” If it was me, I want to hear the personal one.
  8. They should do an assessment. This isn’t really a question, rather something your trainer should do and explain. If you go into your first workout without them seeing you move, it’s probably time to see another trainer. Assessments should be the foundation of your training program. If your trainer has no idea how you move, how would they possibly write a workout for you?
  9. What do you do for your own workouts? Not saying that all personal trainers should have a six pack, but they should be working out consistently. Your trainer should try all exercises on themselves before having you do them. It’s pretty difficult to do that if they aren’t working out themselves.
  10. Shadow your trainer in the gym. Again, this isn’t much of a question, but rather something you should do. Chances are, your trainer is working with clients while you’re at the gym. Take a few moments to watch them interact with clients. Here’s what you’re looking for:
  • Body language- Arms crossed, sitting down on a stability ball while their client does an exercise- not for me
  • Attentiveness- Are they watching TV or watching their client?
  • State of rapport between client and trainer- Do they seem to be enjoying the session?
  • Demeanor (are they calm or rushed)- Good trainers check their baggage at the door and put on a positive demeanor once they hit the gym.
  • Does each client do the exact same workout? This may be difficult to tell, but if you notice every client does the same exercises, the programs might not be as specific to the individual as they should be.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather some more important concepts that I think should be addressed prior to gearing up and hitting the bench press. What did I miss? What questions would you ask before hiring a trainer?

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