Choosing a Personal Trainer

Why a trainer may be right for you

Finding the right personal trainer
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If you want to lose weight, get healthy and/or build muscle, hiring a personal trainer can be a step in the right direction. A good trainer can help you set up a program that meets your goals and teach you the best way to exercise. Finding and choosing a trainer can be a little confusing and, for some, intimidating. It's not easy asking for help, but going in with more knowledge about how personal training works can make it a little easier.

What is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer should be, at the least, educated and certified through a reputable fitness organization (see below). This person's job is to assess your fitness level, figure out what your goals are (or help you set goals) set up a program and keep you motivated. He or she will push you past your comfort level--something difficult to do on your own. A trainer also provides:

  • Guidance on reaching your goals
  • Education about strength training, cardio and basic nutrition
  • A reason to show up at the gym each week
  • Accountability
  • Aays to help track your progress

What is a Session Like?

Each session usually lasts about an hour. The first meeting is devoted to assessing fitness level, body measurements, exercise and health history and goals. Be prepared to step on the scale, have your body fat tested and answer specific questions about your goals. After that, you'll spend each session doing cardio, weight training, flexibility or other activities depending on what your goals are.

Your trainer will show you how to do the exercises, help you figure out how much weight to use and give you pointers for getting the most out of each exercise.

What to Look for In a Personal Trainer

  • CPR: your trainer should have an updated certification in CPR and/or first aid.
  • Experience: Make sure your trainer has experience, especially in relation to your goals. For example, if you're a bodybuilder, you want someone knowledgeable in that area.
  • Specifics: If you have a specific medical problem, injury or condition (such as being pregnant, difficulty getting pregnant, heart problems, diabetes, etc.) make sure your trainer has education in these areas and will work with your doctor.
  • A good listener: A good trainer will listen closely to what you say and make sure he understands your goals.
  • Attention: A good trainer will be focused only on you during your sessions.
  • Tracking progress: A good trainer will regularly assess your progress and change things if necessary.

Personality is important too since you'll be working very closely with this person. Make sure you get along with your trainer and feel comfortable asking questions.

How to Find a Personal Trainer

One place to look is your local gym.

Most gyms have personal trainers on staff and offer attractive packages for personal training. You can also look in your yellow pages or use IDEA Fitness Connect to find trainers in your area, or search for local personal training studios. The cost will vary depending on where you live and your trainer's experience and education. Typically, the cost will be anywhere from $30 to $100 a session.

At some clubs, you may get assigned a trainer. However, one of my readers sent me these tips for doing a bit of investigation before you take the plunge:

  • Get a referral from a friend who's had success in reaching their goals with a personal trainer
  • When you're at the gym, watch trainers with their clients and see how they interact. Make a note of trainers who get along with their clients and seem fully involved in their workouts...that may be a good one to choose.
  • If you do get assigned to a trainer, make sure you tell the manager if you'd prefer a male trainer over a female trainer or vice versa, or if there's anything special you'd like to work on (getting in shape before pregnancy, getting ready for a marathon, etc.) so you'll get a trainer with experience in that area.

Next: Warning Flags

Like all professions, personal training has its share of losers. But, just because you're assigned to one trainer doesn't mean you can't work with someone else. It may be a personality conflict or you may wonder if you're getting the best advice. Either way, here are some warning flags that it's time to switch.

Warning Flags

Beware if your trainer does any of the following:

  • Ignores or dismisses your questions
  • Works you so hard you're in pain for days. Soreness is normal, but you should still be able to get out of bed
  • Neglects any part of a complete program or recommends a level of training that's too hard for you
  • Recommends questionable supplements or herbs. Always talk to your doctor before taking anything
  • Diagnoses injuries or illnesses instead of referring you to a doctor
  • Interrupts your session to talk to friends or take phone calls (unless it's an emergency or can't be avoided)
  • Doesn't return phone calls or emails
  • Gives you detailed nutritional advice. If your trainer is also a nutritionist or registered dietician, that's fine. Otherwise, he or she shouldn't give you more than very basic information about your diet

A personal trainer should watch you, correct your alignment, and explain what you're doing and why. If you're having problems, talk to them--they may not be aware there's a problem.

Another option is to talk to the manager or stop your sessions and look for a different trainer. It's your money and your have a right to get what you want and a good trainer will understand that.

How to Help Your Trainer

You can help your trainer do a better job by being a good client.

  • Focus on what you're doing and try not to spend too much of your session talking.
  • Be prepared by eating before your workout, bringing your own towel and a full water bottle.
  • Give at least 24 hour notice if you need to cancel or reschedule.
  • If you have questions, write them down and bring them to your session--you'll spend less time talking and more time working out.
  • If you have a problem with your trainer, address it immediately.
  • Don't interrupt your trainer when she's with a client. Wait until she's finished before approaching her.
  • Recognize that your trainer is there to guide you--but you still have to do the work. If you're confused about your progress, or lack thereof, schedule a meeting where you can talk about your concerns. Personal training can help you get closer to your goals, but it isn't a magic bullet.

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