How to Spot a Terrific Trainer

I think it's fair to say that the majority of my questions below would have weeded this trainer out pretty quickly..

I think it's fair to say that the majority of my questions below would have weeded this trainer out pretty quickly..

In any profession, I think it's fair to say that only about 10% are truly great at their jobs.  While it's probably pretty tough to spot them, you can usually tell pretty quickly which of your coworkers "get it" and which ones are merely punching the clock.

The same is true in personal training and the fitness industry.  Yet, the mistakes that some of the not-so-great trainers make are often remembered much more than the successes of others.  For instance, most of my clients have worked with personal trainers before, and several of them have horror stories about how they were hurt from an improper exercise, or now have a convoluted notion about what it actually takes to "get in shape."

Before I go on, I do need to recognize the elephant in the room - writing this type of blog post implies that I, too, am a terrific trainer.  Whether or not you want to believe what I'm about to say is up to you, but I'd be the first one to tell you that I still have much to learn.  I am my own toughest critic, and I'm convinced that until I've worked at least 10,000 hours in this industry (which equates to 5 years), I can't even consider myself "good."

But, with that said, I can tell you what makes up the beginnings of a terrific trainer because I work with several of them every single day.  Most people don't know the first thing to look for when it comes to hiring a personal trainer, so I decided to make it a bit easier and give you some bullet points to look for:

  • Are they certified through the NSCA, ACSM or NASM?  There are a ton of personal trainer certifications out there, and these three are the gold standard.  Any others are OK too, but realize that these three have the toughest standards.
  • Do they know about the Functional Movement Screening (FMS)?  Better yet, are they FMS certified?
  • Have they worked with one of the leaders in the strength and conditioning field?  Some of the names that come to mind are Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Brett Jones, Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff, Dan John, and Pavel Tsatsouline.  Of course, there are a ton of others, but always ask about their work experience.
  • How many other clients are they training right now?  If someone isn't giving a straight answer, or you suspect they're lying, ask when they're available to train.  If they're busy with clients, odds are that people are returning to that individual because they're getting results and staying healthy.
  • What additional certifications do they have?  These additional certifications show that someone is actively pursuing opportunities to learn and grow.
  • What does the personal trainer look like?  If they're not in great shape, it's probably time to look elsewhere.  It may sound harsh, but people judge.  After all, you'd never trust a hair stylist with a terrible head of hair.
  • When you're working out with them, are they asking YOU the majority of the questions?  If they're inquiring as to where you feel a certain exercise, how your body feels, and adjusting their program to you as necessary, you're on the right track.
  • Do they like Crossfit?  If the answer is yes, run away from them as quickly as you can.

Just like picking out the right mechanic, a good trainer can be hard to find.  But now that you're armed with some great questions to ask, you're better prepared at knowing whether or not that trainer knows their stuff, or if they're simply counting your reps.