First, you need to ask yourself:
What are my needs & goals?
When hiring any service it’s important to shop around to find a professional who is suited to your needs. First, you need to figure out what your needs are. Why are you looking for a personal trainer? Do you want to lose weight, gain muscle, change your body composition, learn new exercises, learn proper exercise form, learn how to use equipment, get a kick-ass custom workout, or… the list goes on.
Are you sure what you need is a personal trainer? This is an important question to consider. There are many other health professionals (or a combination of a few) that might be better suited to your goals. Just to list a few…
- A registered dietitian (RD) or nutritionist will help coach you through healthy eating habits for weight loss, performance optimization, and more. An RD often has more education and experience in acute or chronic disease or allergies/food sensitivities, and your insurance may cover some sessions.
- A physical therapist will work with you to address injuries or other conditions that affect your daily movement, and sessions are also often entirely or partially covered by insurance.
- A “health coach” or “life coach” may have experience in working through a broad range of problems, promising to deliver a more holistic approach to your ailments. Just be aware that “health coach” and “life coach” are not regulated terms, and anyone can call themselves these things without much education, experience, or other credentials. Make sure these people have education and experience where it matters most.
As long as personal trainers don’t masquerade under a false credential or overstep their scope of practice with harmful advice, they certainly can help you address issues with nutrition, work toward injury prevention or recovery, or act as a friend or confidant to help you navigate other problems in your life. Some personal trainers are also registered dietitians or physical therapists. However, I want to emphasize that the main role of a personal trainer is to coach you through movement to reach your goals. Be sure you know what your goals are so you can communicate to find the most appropriate health professional(s) to address your needs.
Once you’ve determined that you need a professional who can, at the very minimum, coach you through a movement program, you can start seeking out a personal trainer!
Start your search
Finding a personal trainer isn’t the hard part. Finding a good personal trainer who fits your needs is more tricky. To begin your search:
- Ask friends or colleagues for recommendations.
- Call your local gym, and ask to speak to the personal training manager.
- If you’re not already a member of a gym, search for personal training studios in your area (like Saldare or Balans, in Boston!).
- Places like these do not charge for a monthly membership. You’ll save a ton of money by avoiding gym membership fees! Not to mention, independent personal trainers are often more experienced :) The only downside is… use of studio space is often reserved for client sessions only. You will not be able to come in and workout on your own.
- Do an online search for personal trainers in your area. Try Thumbtack, the MINDBODY website and app, or LinkedIn ProFinder (this is new, but I’m on it!).
- Do you have another suggestion for how to find a personal trainer? Let me know in the comments!
What to ask
Most trainers have a website or social media presence where you can read more about them before even having a full conversation. It’s really hard to cover all the bases in that bio sketch, so if you don’t see a service or modality that you’re interested in, just ask them! Once you’ve found one or more suitable personal trainers, send them a message, or give them a phone call.
I like to talk with my clients for 10-20 minutes on the phone before we meet in person for the initial assessment. In this way, I can do a brief screening to make sure that I offer the services they are looking for, and we can get to know each other to make sure our personalities align.
For the most part, when I speak with new potential clients, we have a very organic conversation about their fitness goals. I ask them what their goals are, what their most recent and previous exercise routines looked like, and what injuries they have had. I just let them talk, while I take notes. A typical phone conversation should cover the following points:
- About you (the client): fitness goals, exercise history, injuries, etc.
- About the trainer
- Additional questions
- I like you! Let’s schedule a time to meet! Or… Thank you for your time.
In your first conversation with a trainer, tell him or her as much or as little as you feel comfortable. This is a very low pressure interview. You should be getting to know them, gauging how you two interact together.
After hearing about a potential client’s goals and fitness background, I’ll give a short introduction about me. Let me tell you a little bit about myself:
- I’ve been working as a personal trainer for the last 5 years.
- I used to work at Equinox in NYC and here in Boston.
- I recently received my Master’s in Nutrition from Tufts University.
- I currently work as an independent trainer. I train at various personal training studios across Boston, and I occasionally travel to homes or apartment gyms. I also do nutrition coaching and write exercise programs for individuals to do on their own.
- My training style is influenced by my experiences in gymnastics and breakdancing. I coach bodyweight exercise as well as weight training, using a wide variety of equipment to help you reach your goals.
- I’ve worked with clients whose goals included ______ (this answer varies, depending on the goals that we’ve already talked about).
- I have experience working with ________ (specific injuries or conditions that the client has mentioned, such as a shoulder injury or pregnancy).
Not every trainer will approach the conversation in the same way. Here’s a list of questions that you might want to ask to guide the conversation and make sure the trainer is going to be a good fit for you.
- How long have you been working as a personal trainer?
- Can you describe your training style to me?
- I’m looking to achieve a specific goal, or I’m seeking a certain style of training (insert here). Can you tell me a bit about your experience in that? How would you approach an exercise program for me?
- I have ______ injury/condition. Do you have experience in addressing that issue or working around it?
- I’m looking for _______ service. Is that something you offer?
- I am available _______ days and times. Do you have availability during those times?
- How much do you charge? Do you offer a package discount?
BONUS ***extra question to screen for a gold star trainer***
Where do you learn about new fitness or nutrition information? What upcoming workshop or certification are you excited about or planning for?
After the conversation, you should feel relatively comfortable with the trainer and their approaches to help you reach your goals. Pat yourself on the back. You asked some great questions, and you can feel confident that your trainer has the skills and motivational drive to help you succeed. The next step is to schedule a session so your trainer can assess your fitness level, and you can test out their training style!
However, if you are not feeling comfortable with the responses, don’t feel obligated to work with this trainer. Assert yourself: “I’m sorry, but I’m not sure if we are a good fit. Is there another trainer you could recommend to me who has availability during ______ times, or who has more experience in ______? This aspect is very important to me.” Chances are, if you feel uncomfortable working with them, they might also feel uncomfortable working with you. Perhaps that’s because they do not have experience in addressing your injuries, or maybe you both got an overwhelming sense that your philosophies in fitness or life do not align.
Thanks for reading, and good luck in your search!
Do you have a story about trying to find a personal trainer? Any additions to my list of questions? Comment below!