From time to time people have suggested to me that I see a personal trainer. However, what I've read and also seen firsthand suggests to me that a lot of personal trainers aren't really good at making people fit and/or don't necessarily know what they're supposed to be teaching. Teaching people to do exercises with bad form, routinely working people out until they puke, etc, are things I've seen. Fear that getting bad advice from a trainer would be worse than not seeing one at all has thus far prevented me from seriously looking into this.

So my question is - if I were to see a personal trainer, how could I be sure to find one who really knows their stuff? Is there a special certification beyond the basic license (in the US) that I should look for? Are there certain questions I can ask? Do you even get to interview a trainer before you schedule a session with them? I really have no idea where to even start with this.

  • 1
    It's not an answer, but: some trainers train you for their problem areas and not yours. One of the first questions would be how they got their qualifications. There's a world of difference between someone who went to college to study physical training/rehabilitation and someone who got a certificate after a couple weeks of class. I suppose if they ask you to perform squats while balancing on an exercise ball, you should run, not walk away. May 24 '11 at 15:21

Well, firstly, if you're not outright given a chance to talk to a personal trainer before you start working with them, you should assertively insist upon being allowed to do so. You're absolutely within your rights to know who you're working with. Before I settled on my current gym, I went to multiple gyms and my interviews of the nutritionists and trainers there were extremely thinly veiled. I never once had one of them look at me cross-eyed for my questions. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the time to ask your questions, since some gyms have their staff very busy, but if you can get the time there isn't a soul who will find qualifying questions odd.

As far as what to ask, the best thing you can ask is 'What's the plan for getting me to my goals?' This puts the trainer's deeper understanding of a program on the spot. If they give you a reply that focuses on specific muscle groups, specific exercises, or specific numbers, you can be assured that their knowledge is pretty shallow and you probably don't want to work with them. Real trainers know that the numbers follow the program, not the other way around.

A good sign in answers to this question is the trainer talking about specific sub-goals to get you to your final goal. If your goal is to put on 15 pounds of muscle, you might hear that the first step is flexibility training, the second step is toning what you already have, and then the third step is full-on strength training to increase muscle size. Another good sign is to hear these sub-goals, and then hear an acknowledgment of a cycle of changing sub-goals. The body is very much interconnected, so you cannot simply do one thing all the time - this will cause other health problems. I met a bodybuilder at a local chiropractor's office who literally tore a ligament in his shoulder because his bicep was too big and heavy for it. That's a very extreme result of constant strength training without changing goals, but it can happen and a personal trainer needs to be aware of that.

Edit: Another good question to ask is to inquire how many other people they're currently training, and how many people have similar goals to you. If a trainer is seeing 15 people that all want to train for athletic competitions and you're the only one who is interested in good, old-fashioned health, it's not a good fit simply because of the trainer's current focus.

  • I'd add, try to find a trainer who is at least, say, thirty five years old. An older trainer is going to have experience and perspective that you can't get from any certification.
    – Chris
    Feb 9 '19 at 3:06

In addition to YYY's answer (an excellent answer):

  1. For the people who suggest a personal trainer, ask them who they see. Asking around, especially with friends, can point you in the direction of a good reference. If several people say "This person is awesome" that, in and of itself, is a personal reference. That would be like a hiring manager hearing about a person that's qualified for a job from ten of his friends. You can even ask your friends who suggest a trainer for specifics - where does the trainer excel?

  2. Ask a few questions to the trainer you know the answer to so that you can test the response. For instance, asking a question that requires someone who's medically qualified (MD) is a good test question - some trainers try to over-step their knowledge (danger) and enter realms they have no expertise.

  3. Ask the trainer where he/she lacks as a trainer. No trainer will be perfect, so don't go with one who pretends they have no faults as a trainer (they all do). Some will be great for strength, nutrition, flexibility, and others won't. Identify your weakness and choose a trainer who's best with your weakness and worst with with your strength.

  • Also see if you can find out their motivational style, ask if necessary, but watch them train if possible. What works for one client may not work for you. My wife had a trainer that would yell at clients (often cussing) during workouts and when he was not happy about their food journal contents. It worked for her, but it would not work for me.
    – BillN
    Jan 1 '13 at 18:25

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