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What should I look for in a personal trainer?

For many, the general thought is that personal trainers, are all the same. They are not. Each of them has their philosophy, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Some personal trainers favour cardio, some favour weight lifting, some a balance between the two, and some (like myself) like to balance cardio with sports activities to make things more fun and interesting. After all, do you really need a personal trainer to watch you while you lift weights? Not really. What you do need is someone who can motivate you.

The primary role of personal trainers is to provide encouragement, motivation, and to give a client "a good push" whenever they need it. Some people have difficulty giving themselves motivation and they wouldn’t be able to give themselves the encouragement on their own.

But it goes beyond that. Some personal trainers also like to measure things. It takes a more scientific approach. Every personal trainers has the potential to design effective, personalized programming using the correct balance of science and lifestyle anecdotes in an effort to help the trainee maximize their goals and be able to see the actual differences.

But how do you find a good trainer?

To find a good trainer, it goes beyond mere credentials. Any one get some bogus personal training credentials to stick on their wall. They can go through training programs or they might simply have life experience. If they're in the business of personal training they know what their doing in their respective fields. Some of them may even have had weight problems in the past and have gone on their own personal journey of "zero to hero".

Granted, an university degree / background in exercise science, kinesiology, or human kinetics can be beneficial, but the amount of independent research the trainer does is what really matters. For all you know they might be a bonafide university graduate of kinesiology, but they also might have slacked off and rarely attended classes... graduated with a really low grade point average.

Obviously what you really want is someone who is about being proactive, and making strides to deliver the best service to clients – and that takes time and hard work. You’ll be able to notice the differences between good trainers and fluffy ones if you pay attention to this checklist:

1. Take note of how often a trainer references a cosmetic advantage specific to an exercise. eg. “This exercise will help shape the chest, while this one will help widen it”. Humans aren’t made of moulding clay, and this kind of talk reflects a lack of true theoretical knowledge.

2. Look for the difference between strict ‘rep counters’ versus 'tip trainers' constantly giving cues and feedback during sets of work. The latter group are more engaged, and vigilant with the client’s safety in mind. A rep counter will just tell you to do 100 of this, 100 of that, blah blah blah... That isn't motivation and they're not paying attention to whether you are doing it correctly. Its just someone telling you the numbers and then standing back while you do all the work. Counting reps is handy, because you should keep track and measure these things, but the tip trainer will make sure you are doing those 100 pushups properly and will give you tips on how to do it properly. There is also a third type: Drill Sergeants. Those are really a matter of personal taste and they're not for everyone.

3. Ask your prospective trainer about programming. Does he or she follow any protocols that would encourage a consistent, disciplined client to reach set goals? You should be able to judge from their response how well organized they are.

4. Pay attention to “fads” and fitness trends. Does the trainer in question often implement the most popular and commercialized methods of training with clients? Good examples would be overuse of the BOSU ball, CrossFit training, or TRX Suspension training. Or anything with a trademarked name or acronym. Chances are likely they are getting a commission every time a client buys the item in question. Also all of these systems are usable for certain purposes and populations, but should be used with discretion and people should not feel 'forced to buy' whatever product the personal trainer is pushing.

5. Note whether the trainer addresses weak links in his or her clients. It’s a safe move for a coach to go through some form of screening process to determine a client’s muscular and skeletal balance. This can be done through muscle testing, specific exercises, and mobility drills. It would be unsafe to simply jump into full workouts right off the mark without first assessing the client.

6. Above all, pay attention and look for the equipment and methods that are most commonly used with that trainer. Does he or she stay away from key equipment like barbells and dumbbells, to replace them with machines, cables, and bands? Are major primal movement patterns like squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses avoided for instability training, or arm dominant or “core” dominant exercises?

7. Remember what your core purpose is for getting a personal trainer. Lose weight? Strap on more muscle? General athleticism? Training for a specific sport? Find a trainer which suits the reason why you are training in the first place.

At the present time, it’s relatively simple to achieve certification to be a “personal trainer”. You can even do it online (do a Google search and you can find them being sold as an online test for $69.99). So really anyone can get certification, even little kids. That doesn't mean they actually have the skills to train you.

You may have extra requirements that you are looking for in a personal trainer. You might prefer someone older, more experienced, or you might prefer to have a female instructor because you feel uncomfortable around male trainers. There certainly are more things to add to the list, but the message is clear. Finding a good personal trainer goes beyond finding someone who can make you sweat, breathe heavy, and get sore the next day. Exercise is a science, and choosing the right “scientist” can make the difference between reaching your goals or getting owned by a plateau.

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