Don’t Hire a Personal Trainer Without Asking These Questions

Hiring a personal trainer is much like any other professional you’d hire, you want to make sure you find the right one.
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It’s the New Year’s resolution that tops the list each year: Get in shape. This means motivated people all over the country march right into the nearest gym, sign up for memberships and excitedly change into their new gear. THIS is going to be the workout that starts the transformation!

But when they emerge from the locker room, they discover an alternate universe — the land of intimidating contraptions. From ellipticals and Smith machines to Roman chairs and cables and pulley systems, it’s no wonder that 60 percent of gym memberships signed in January never get used or are forgotten about by mid-February. Between the lack of exercise knowledge most new gym-goers have combined with the lack of accountability they face working out alone, beginning a new fitness program can easily turn into a stressful and daunting experience.

Thankfully, hiring a personal trainer is proven to help solve both these problems. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, partnering with a personal trainer increases the success rate of your fitness goals by more than 30 percent. Unsurprisingly, the influence of direct supervision positively affects the outcome of your workouts — both because you have someone who can show you the ropes and also hold you accountable for showing up.

Hiring a personal trainer is much like any other professional you’d hire — whether it’s an accountant, hair stylist or life coach — you want to make sure you find the right one.

“It is essential to hire the right trainer because your time is valuable,” says Lalo Fuentes, CSCS, a Los Angeles–based certified personal trainer and strength specialist who has more than 17 years of experience. “I recommend interviewing and testing three different trainers to decide which one fits you best. Ultimately, you should find a trainer who matches your goals.”

Look for Similar Interests

Usually, a trainer is or has been an athlete before deciding to become a trainer. For example, if you are looking to go into bodybuilding, you probably want to hire somebody who has competed onstage before. Are you a dancer? Look for a trainer who has a dancing background.

“It can be hard for a regular trainer to switch channels and go from bodybuilding to postpartum women to dancers,” Fuentes explains. “There are also the elite trainers who I call ‘the cleaners.’ They can switch channels without a problem and get the job done quickly.”

The Reverse Interview

When you meet with a prospective trainer, the first thing you should be listening for are his or her questions for you. “When you hire a trainer, it is not about them, it’s about you,” Fuentes says. “So if the trainer doesn’t ask many questions about you when you first meet, I’d be hesitant to sign up for training with them.”

Aside from filling out a health history form, some of the trainer’s questions should include the following:

  • What drove your decision to start working out again?
  • Do you have any past or current injuries? 
  • What are your eating habits?
  • Have you had a trainer before? 
  • If so, what made you stop?
  • What are your fitness goals? 
  • By when would you like to achieve your fitness goal?

Be as open and honest as possible with your responses. “It’s important to share all your expectations before you sign up with a trainer, instead of during a session,” Fuentes advises. “This will give the trainer time to prepare.”

The Traditional Interview

After the trainer is done with his or her questions, you can start asking yours. Some of those could include the following:

  • What is your experience working with somebody with my same injuries or goals?
  • How did you learn about fitness and nutrition? Listen for details about bachelor’s or master’s degrees in kinesiology or other health-related fields.
  • Which certifications do you have and how many years of experience? Listen for certifications such as CSCS, NSCA, ACSM, NASM, ISSA or ACE.
  • What experience do you have getting xyz results? Hint: Go ahead and ask for references if you’d like — you can ask to chat with a client.

Additional Considerations

While there’s no shortage of questions to ask your potential trainer or behaviors to watch for, here are a few others to take note of:

  • Cost. There’s nothing wrong with asking a trainer his or her rates before the meeting to make sure it fits your budget. And if you’re price shopping, be sure to keep value in mind: “What an OK trainer can do in nine months, a good one could do in six weeks,” Fuentes says. “Yeah, he or she might be more expensive, but when you compare the numbers, the right trainer ends up being the same price or cheaper.”
  • First session. Every trainer and client is different, but Fuentes prefers the first session to be focused on learning about the client’s body. “I want to assess your strengths and weaknesses, what we need to focus on, if there any imbalances and how flexible you are,” he says. “This is usually done by using only your bodyweight because if the trainer makes you lift weights or puts you on machines the first session, then neither of you is going to learn the current status of your body.”
  • Follow-up. Check to see whether your trainer follows up a day or two after your first session to see how your body feels or how it reacted to the first session. Fuentes says this is important because your answers will provide valuable information for program design.

“The conversation should feel very natural,” Fuentes says. “If you feel that you are at a used car dealership, take that as a hint and move on to your next prospect.”    

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