What You Need to Know About Choosing a Personal Trainer

Getting Motivated to Exercise

Some personal trainers are wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing. How can you tell?
Some personal trainers are wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing. How can you tell?.

What qualities make a great personal trainer? This is valuable information to know before you buy the introductory 12-pack of personal training sessions at your local gym.

Some trainers feel they are qualified because they can count to 20 while talking on a cell phone. They like to work out, they’re in shape, or they look great in a bathing suit. Others feel they’re qualified because they completed an online or weekend course in personal training, and received a piece of paper saying that they’re certified.

You also have a select group of trainers who feel qualified based on their experience and track record, and view training as an art form that integrates the complexities of biomechanics with the simplicity of the human form. There are many stigmas that plague the fitness industry, and it’s rather disappointing that many gyms reinforce these stigmas.

Experience Needed

In order for someone to become a physical therapist, he or she needs a doctorate degree, typically requiring four years of undergraduate college studies costing about $150,000, three years of graduate college studies costing about $125,000, and a great deal of unpaid apprenticeship and work hours in the field. 

Before these would-be health gurus even get their first opportunity, they have already incurred nearly a quarter million dollars in debt.  It borders inhumane to ask a person to incur that type of debt to simply help other human beings achieve a seemingly unattainable goal.


For someone to understand the human body well enough to manipulate it for the purpose of achieving goals, like losing 50 pounds or regaining strength after an injury, it takes a great deal of research, studying and experience to know exactly what to do.   

Personal trainers obviously don’t need the detailed and vast knowledge of physical therapists, but both professionals do work with the human body and more often than not, they work with a human body which isn’t moving properly and has muscle imbalances.

Nearly everyone has a movement problem.  Optimally, the body should move with ease as its bones, joints, and muscles work together in harmony. 

If someone has bad posture, it’s a red flag that certain muscles are too tight, other muscles are too weak, certain joints are too immobile, and certain bad postural habits exist.  The proper exercises need to be prescribed in order to address and fix the underlying problems causing the bad posture. It takes time for a trainer to develop a deep enough understanding of the human body in order to recognize and correct these issues.

Industry Standards

So why are the majority of trainers so unequipped to recognize these issues? 

The answer is simple: they are not held to a high enough standard, and they can get away with training people poorly at their gyms. Even though certain qualities and competencies are needed to be an effective exercise professional, the fitness industry remains mostly unregulated and lacks a unified standard.  

There are numerous personal trainer certification companies with varying degrees of legitimacy.

  However, the majority of these programs fail to produce qualified trainers, and as a result, put future clients in harm’s way.  Each gym has its own criteria for hiring personal trainers and many gyms hire people with absolutely no experience. Some of these gyms offer on-the-job training or education classes that may not begin until months after a date of hire.

Why I Became A Personal Trainer

Here’s a disappointing story about a mid-level trainer who I met at a popular chain fitness center in New York City.  Let’s call this personal trainer “Mike." He moved to New York City from a small southern town with a dream of making it big in the acting world. I asked Mike why he chose to become a personal trainer, and he said, “Well, it was either that or bartending, and here I get a free gym membership. It’s an easy job, the pay is decent, and I just show up to the gym after acting class and train some fat people.  I have them go on the treadmill and do jumping jacks followed by some machines."

I looked around the room and saw trainers texting on their cell phones, weights and barbells scattered all over the gym floor, overweight clients being instructed to destroy their joints with jumping jacks, and exercises being performed so terribly incorrectly that I could have slipped a disc by just watching them. 

Trainers like Mike give the fitness industry a bad name. Exercise done properly can help heal the human body, but exercise done improperly can harm, hurt, and eventually ruin the body.  

I chose this as my career and it’s allowed me to travel the world and make a difference in so many people’s lives. I take it seriously, which is why it bothers me so much to see trainers, like Mike, lurking in gyms. 

Should You Feel Pain After Exercising?

Someone should not feel real pain in a workout. If he does, it’s necessary to scale back and modify the exercise to avoid pain. He can feel muscle soreness or fatigue, but if he feels real pain characteristic of injury, he should stop doing anything further that would further magnify that pain.

Pain from exercise can oftentimes be the result of performing an exercise improperly, so it’s very important for the trainer to educate and guide the client as to proper form to avoid injury.  It’s also important for the trainer to let his client know if his form is becoming problematic and to stop the exercise if the client is not able to perform it correctly. 

Lack of motivation is one of the biggest reasons that people decide to hire a personal trainer.  In addition to education, experience, professionalism, and ethics, it’s crucial for trainers to possess motivational skills, empathy, patience and social skills.

5 Stages of Motivation to Exercise

  • One’s motivational readiness for adopting exercise can be broken down into five major stages:
  • Pre-contemplation is the first stage where the individual has no intention of making a change.
  • Contemplation is the second phase where a change is finally being considered. 
  • Preparation is the third phase where the individual is getting ready to make a change.
  • Action is the fourth phase where he is actively engaged in making a meaningful change for a short period of time. 
  • The fifth stage is maintenance where the individual actively sustains the change he has created over time. This is the end goal. 

A study was performed on 129 clients, of which 27 were already in the highest stage of motivational readiness, maintenance. Clients worked with a personal trainer for 10 weeks, then reassessed their motivational readiness levels to adopt exercise.

The 27 clients in the maintenance stage stayed there. As for the remaining 102 clients, 60 percent moved up one stage, 13 percent moved up two stages, 26 percent stayed at the same stage, and 1 percent moved down a stage.  The clients who showed the most improvement started off in the contemplation stage, of which 85 percent increased their stage of motivational readiness over the 10-week experiment. 

This study demonstrates that personal training is an effective way to change people’s attitudes towards exercise and to increase their levels of physical activity. The goal is for clients to willingly incorporate the habit of exercise into their daily routines to achieve a healthy level of physical performance that can be realistically maintained for the long term.

Finally, a personal trainer genuinely cares about his clients and will have the expertise needed to understand their unique conditions. If he doesn’t have the necessary expertise for a particular client, he needs the judgment to refer that client out to the proper professional who is equipped to handle the client.  Education, experience, and specializations are important credentials that will help clients qualify and find the best trainer for them.


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