Finding Good Trainers

trainers-bicepsSomeone told me a story today about a trainer who wasn't listening to her client.  A small medical issue had come up, so the client asked for modifications to the routine and the trainer refused to adjust.  She wanted the client to continue pressing on as she had been and to "buck up."  I was fuming.  Part of the job as a trainer is to keep your ego out of the session.  It is always, always about the client, and never about you.   So how do you make sure you have a good trainer?  Here are some insider tips that normally don't get mentioned.   Being certified doesn't make someone qualified.  My first certification as a personal trainer took 16 hours!  The class didn't even cover how to use the equipment in the gym, spending most of the time teaching us how to use calipers to determine a person's body fat percentage.  We learned some evaluation techniques for flexibility and strength and then took a basic, easy test.   I was horrified!  I wasn't qualified to work with anyone!  But according to a piece of paper I was.  I immediately went on to train with several programs to gain more knowledge and I begged my friends to be "guinea pigs" before I unleashed myself on paying clients.  The feedback from my friends was far more valuable than that first class.  Certifications that I'm fond of are the NSCA and the ACSM.  I'm also a sucker for anyone with a degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or, the Holy Grail, physical therapy.  A personal trainer who has put in the time and effort to achieve these distinctions is likely to be intelligent and someone who will keep you safe and help you meet your goals. Good gyms hire good trainers.  In the fitness industry, some gyms are known as "head shops."  A head shop charges a low monthly fee and then hopes you don't come in very often or bother to cancel your membership.  The trainers at these facilities are often just starting out and are more likely to have only one of those weekend certifications. The good trainers will move on as soon as they have some experience.   A higher end gym will charge a higher rate, but you get what you pay for: trainers that have the experience you want and get paid more because of it.   Here's a tip; a good gym will have the staff's bios readily available for clients.  You'll see each trainers years of experience and multiple certifications or degrees in areas of the trainer's specialties.  If all a gym will tell you is, "Yeah, he's good; you'll like him" run, run away.  The less turnover a trainer has, the better the trainer.  My clients have been with me on average about 5 years. I try to keep their workouts varied, I keep them safe, and I keep chit-chat to a minimum.  (Okay, sometimes I do chit-chat a bit, but not always!) I am always taking additional training to freshen my skills, which keeps both me and my clients from getting bored or in a rut.  Ask your potential trainer what their turnover rate is (the average length of time they've been working with their clients).  I did have to figure mine out, but any trainer should at least have a pretty good estimate.  The industry average for personal trainers is six months. You want someone with a number longer than that, which can be challenging since they tend to have less openings for new clientele.  Finding a good trainer is just the first step.  Once you begin working with someone, if it doesn't feel right, it's okay to change.  Sometimes you'll find a talented trainer, but you just won't click.  Sometimes their schedule won't mesh with yours or you'll spot another trainer in the gym that you want to work with. I insist my instructors don't have an ego about clients switching (even me!).  It's always about what is best for the client.   After all, it's your body. If you're not happy for any reason, move on.

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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4 Responses to Finding Good Trainers

  1. David van Sunder March 26, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    A very good post. Most people don’t really know what to look for in a trainer, so this gives them some good things to look for. I’ve seen some people with some pretty questionable certifications doing some pretty questionable exercises with people. My wife is a physical therapist and we owned a clinic for awhile. So, between her patients and personal training clients, I was able to observe enough to cringe when I see a lot of trainers working with their clients.

    Sometimes the client only stayed because they thought quitting meant that they were wimping out. In reality, they would have been better off going with their gut instinct and quitting months before. If you’re not comfortable, there is probably a reason.

  2. Elissa Stein March 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm #

    Not all trainers are created equal. But, many people don’t think past the uniform and the title, assuming that because someone has the job, they’re qualified. My first gym, first trainer: he worked me so hard I pulled something in my leg and couldn’t walk up or down stairs for weeks. He was all no pain, no gain. Meanwhile, I had never worked out with a trainer before—it turned me off working one on one for years. In the end, for me, it’s all about a good fit, a common goal, with mutual listening and respect.

  3. Mel Hamada April 1, 2009 at 6:18 am #

    I am currently completing my PT certificate through the NASM. I agree that it isn’t just about the piece of paper – I have been teaching Physical Education to Grade 1-12 students for the past 10 years and that has taught me more about training then completing my course has thus far. I also find it interesting about keeping clientele – my question is how do you keep motivated? I realise the more courses can certainly keep motivation and energy up but where do you draw your intrinsic strength from? I find that is where I am lacking presently, the constant giving to clients – I do enjoy my work; but I am finding the energy giving very draining.

  4. Lisa Johnson April 1, 2009 at 11:22 am #


    I find my strength from my clients. I very much enjoy their company and I miss them when they are away. It is easy to get in a rut, especially now, I’ve been training for 13 years! I try to stay fresh by working out with friends who are personal trainers & other Pilates instructors and I throw in the occasional yoga class.

    I’ll also do little games with myself. Like I had 5 clients today and I gave each one a different ab workout, no repeats. I’ll do that with leg work too.

    Hope that helps,


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