When most people who are in my physical condition decide they really need to get into shape, one of the first things they should do is to engage a reliable trainer and work with them. This goes especially true if you are older (especially if you are over 40), have never been physically active, have any physical impediments, or have medical issues. A good physical trainer who is experienced in weight loss, who understands how to work with medical issues and communicate with your healthcare providers if necessary, and who understands your nutritional needs, can make all the difference between success and failure. Very few people can make the transformation from obesity to fit without extensive help from professionals.
Despite that, I will not be using one at this point. Why? Well, for me this physical transformation is an opportunity to put a lifetime of knowledge to use. A long time ago, in what seems like a galaxy far away, I was a personal trainer. While in the Army I went through the Master Fitness Trainer course, though it was way different from what it is now, and as a civilian I held an ACE CPT certification. At one time I thought I knew it all. So this lifestyle change is an opportunity for me to go back and dig up all that old knowledge and apply it. In addition, I am learning all of the new techniques, theories, and approaches to exercise, fitness, and nutrition that have really changed in the past 20 years. I am basically being my own trainer and coach.
That being said, I am not stupid. Once I start lifting I know that I will have some physical issues to overcome. 20 years of no exercise will make it impossible for me to lift properly, without some training. In order to avoid injuries and to be certain that I am practicing good form and developing an even balance in my body, as well as work on some posture issues, I will be working with a trainer. But my overall fitness, weight loss, nutrition, etc., is all me.
Now let’s say you have made the wise decision in your own path to fitness to go ahead and hire a personal trainer. What do you look for? Let me give you a list, in no particular order, of a few things I would recommend.
- What is your impression when you meet the trainer? Trust your instincts on this. Are they punctual, friendly, engaging? Do they look you in the eye? Are they neat, clean, professional appearing? Does their physique look like you imagine a trainer should, are they scrawny, fat, or out-of-shape? But remember that trainers may specialize their own bodies for their own athletic interests so a bodybuilder may not look like a power lifter or a fitness model or pro cyclist. But you should be able to tell that they practice what they preach.
- Do they talk to you or at you? It is easy for a personal trainer to throw a ton of jargon at you, to overwhelm you with physiology and anatomy terminology. But a good trainer will make certain that you understand, and learn to apply, everything they tell you. They will explain and teach you. They communicate with you, not just once a week or at your scheduled sessions, but they take the time to check up on you in between those training periods as well. If you’re paying someone to help you, make sure it is someone who will actually care.
- Are they certified by a serious accrediting agency. Personal trainer certifications are widely varied. There are a lot of online, pretty much bogus organizations that will sell anyone a personal trainer certification with little real education or skill to back it up. Some of the things these people teach can even be downright dangerous or just plain wrong. Look for trainers with serious credentials behind them. Most good credentialing agencies are NCCA accredited themselves. A few that have good reputations include ACSM, NCSA, NASM, and ACE. Bonus points if your trainer has advanced certifications and nutritional certifications. Super bonus points if they have college degrees that relate to their field.
- What is their experience? And not just as a personal trainer. If they specialize in weight loss transformations, have they ever been fat and out of shape. If they are working with seniors, are they older themselves. Give me someone who has been fat, gotten into great shape, and kept fit for years, over the college kid who has always been an athlete and has no idea how to loose a lot of fat except on paper. If you’re a martial artist looking for training, are you going to a bodybuilding specialist, or to someone who know what you need specifically.
- Are they patient? Do they understand that getting into shape is a long-term project and not a 6 month goal? When someone tries to tell you they can help you loose a hundred pounds in 6 months and you’ll be in great shape, sign on the dotted line and pay up, run away. It’s pure bullshit. More than that, a really good trainer should be teaching you life-long habits, helping you to take over your own fitness at some point. You should walk away from every session with a good trainer a little bit smarter about your exercise and nutritional habits, a little bit more ready to not need the trainer. Personal trainers should not be crutches that you use to stay in shape forever.
- Can you afford them and will they work with you and your schedule? Some trainers, especially the celebs (or trainers who think they are celebrities) can be very expensive. But a good trainer does not have to be. Even if you can’t hire one to work with you once or twice a week, they should be able to help you on a less regular basis, and give you some guidance for those long stretches in between.
There is so much more that can be said about trainers, look around online and you’ll find all kinds of articles about what to look for. Just remember that a good personal trainer can transform your entire life while a bad one can ruin your health and cause physical, emotional, and mental damage and set your fitness goals way back.