As much as some individuals may be happy to plan and execute their workouts as a solitary activity, other people really benefit from having a personal trainer to guide and motivate them. However – finding a good trainer can be a tricky business. When qualifications are now so easy to obtain and there are too many dodgy people out to make a quick buck, how can you tell who to trust with your fitness goals?
1) They listen to and evaluate your situation before dishing out a plan
In the eyes of some unscrupulous trainers, the gym has only two camps. Women who want to lose weight, and men who want to gain muscle.
While we obviously know this is not true, some trainers use it as an opportunity to manufacture cookie cutter programs they can throw at their unsuspecting clients at short notice, promising them that their plan is ‘unique’ and will get them the results they deserve. Little do the clients know that this is just the same generic plan they dish out to every man or every woman with minimal effort on their part.
While this plan may produce some results, the best kind of plan is one that is tailored to you. Also – you’re going to be paying good money for their services, so you deserve to be getting a professional, personal service rather than a generic one. You could just as easily find a generic muscle building plan on the internet for free that’ll get you decent results – you’re paying a personal trainer for a reason.
The best way of telling whether or not it is ‘the same old plan’ a trainer gives to everyone remotely similar to you is to speak to other clients. This can be tricky as they will train at different times to you, but you should come across them naturally if you are spending time in the gym. However, Googling your plan is another good bet as it is surprising how many dishonest trainers not worthy of their credentials will rip plans straight from the net.
It’s also fairly easy to tell if it’s the same plan they give everyone if it doesn’t take into account any particular imbalances, injuries or preferences you may have. The plan should suit you; you shouldn’t be made to suit a plan.
2) Your trainer is open to ideas and doesn’t enforce any one eating or training regime
This one is linked to the ‘one size fits all’ plans given out by trainers. If a personal trainer insists that every one of their clients should go gluten free, or paleo, or low carb, or do IIFYM, or go vegan, or have detoxes or what have you, they probably aren’t worth your time or money. There’s no questioning that each of these approaches can be effective and can give individuals results. However; a trainer should never brush off different training styles and plans just because it goes against their personal preference or experience.
A trainer worth their salt should be well informed in several different eating styles (even if they don’t know about them all) so that they can develop strategies that suit their client. People respond well to different things and so your trainer should be able to think flexibly and to introduce these different ideas as your training progresses. Your diet is often regarded as the biggest driving force for success when it comes to improving your fitness and physique – so they should be well versed in several approaches that can be fine tuned to your individual needs.
This is equally applicable to training. We are all comprised of a different ratio of slow and fast twitch muscle fibres and we all are at different experience levels and ages. So, the volume and intensity of training sessions should also considered on a client by client basis – not because the trainer is adamant that ‘this will get consistent results across the board’. The last thing you want is to risk burnout or even serious injury because you’re trusting someone who ends up pushing you too far too often. I’m all for working hard, but working past your safe limits on a regular basis is a recipe for disaster.
3) They shouldn’t starve you (particularly pertinent to women!)
“Eat less, move more”… when it comes to losing weight (particularly for female clients), poor trainers often set out a plan that STARTS below 1200 calories (which is often regarded as the absolute ‘safe minimum’ for a calorie deficit) and has a lot of cardio from the get-go. While this does produce fast results initially, your body will quickly adapt to protect you and the infamous plateaus will quickly rear their heads.
Because these ‘crash diets’ start out so low, it leaves little to no room to add in further caloric decreases or cardio increases. It gets to a stage where you can eat no less and where you can do no more cardio, either because of lack of time, lack of motivation or lack of energy (or a combination of those factors).
The worrying thing is that many people, particularly women, believe that they do have to follow these ultra low calorie diets to see any results at all. The truth is, a good trainer should see weight loss as a gradual process that takes some time and should therefore be undertaken sustainably. You shouldn’t be cutting all of your calories in the first week or two and you shouldn’t be increasing cardio dramatically right at the start either. You want to keep as many tools available to push past those ‘sticking points’ or ‘plateaus’ when you come across them. Further caloric decreases and perhaps an increase in cardio are exactly those tools you will have to use down the line – so you don’t want to use them all up in one go.
Basically – your calories will have to decrease as you reach plateaus in your weight loss journey. However, you want to cut as few calories as possible while still seeing results so that you have a ‘backup plan’ to keep things rolling.
4) Common-sense adjustments to your plan are made in response to your progress (which they track!) and no blame is placed upon you if things don’t turn out as hoped
A good trainer will make a lot of notes. Not just how many sets you’re doing or what weight you’re lifting, but they should be noting your motivation, how your energy levels are doing, which types of exercises you enjoy, how quickly you’re completing reps, what muscular imbalances you have and of course your other measurements such as weight and waist size. They should also be taking note of how these observations evolve over time.
As a result of your progress (or lack of), your trainer should also be confident in making consistent changes to your routine. However, perhaps most importantly of all, they should be able to explain these changes to you. Don’t be afraid of asking questions about what they’re prescribing you. After all, it’s your health, your fitness and your money.
Furthermore, a good trainer won’t blame a client for lack of progress. They won’t automatically assume that ‘you’re not following the plan properly’. Also, if you’ve ever heard about a trainer or coach that has ‘dumped’ a client (this is particularly relevant to contestants if they don’t win a bodybuilding show or meet), don’t go near them and certainly don’t pay them anything. Your trainer should stick with you through thick and thin and they should do their utmost to help you get AND sustain the results you achieve. For example, a decent coach or trainer will know how to help you lose weight in a safe way. However, a great trainer will also then support you in the reverse dieting process so that you can sustain this progress in the long term and also perhaps open the door for further progress once your metabolism is less suppressed after a dieting phase.
5) They’re friendly and motivational, but not distractional
Regardless of all of the points about plans, one of the main reasons why personal trainers have a job is because people want an individual who can help them push those last few reps in a particularly challenging set. A rapport should build up between the two of you and you should become decent friends with your trainer. However, that being said, your trainer shouldn’t be more interested in talking about last night’s football with you rather than getting on with your workout. You’re paying them to help you improve your fitness and talking too much can distract you from your goals. If you’re talking about your favourite sports teams or your friends or anything other than the exercises you’re performing at that time, you’re not able to solely focus on having a quality workout. As much as your trainer may be a nice guy, don’t waste your time with them. You’re paying for it!
Hopefully these pointers will help you to assess whether or not your trainer knows their stuff. With the personal training industry being one that is growing rapidly, it is unfortunately one that is seen as an easy one to manipulate.
Even if they do have good intentions and are just misinformed – you deserve to have a trainer who really knows their stuff. And while they can be expensive, often the price trainers charge can be a misleading indicator of quality as well. Just because someone charges the most doesn’t mean they’re the best! Follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to question what you’re being told. A good trainer will be able to answer your questions and will actually welcome a client that shows an interest in the whys as well as the hows.