I get asked fairly often about the experience of personal training. Just last week, a group of ladies at the gym stopped Mat and I after a session, and jokingly said to me: "you PAY him to torture you? Don't you have anything better to do with your money?" Well, no, actually. Other people invest in a house, or RRSP, or education. I'm investing in my health, in me. I may have been able to lose weight on my own (doubtful, but maybe), but there is no question that I would not have had the attitude shift that came with strength training, and I would never have picked up weights or tried something like TRX or boot camp if it weren't for Mat. Working with a personal trainer and fitness coach changed my life, plain and simple.
A few friends have mentioned their interest or intent to get a personal trainer, and it is a growing trend. I used to think that hiring someone to help you get fit was only for the super-rich, celebrity types. Not any more! Thank goodness I forgot about that conversation with Robyn, pulled my ego out of my butt, and eventually found a coach to guide me on my way.
I've only had the one experience, as far as working with a coach - which is Mat, to whom I so often refer - so I polled our group on Facebook for advice and tips. Not surprisingly, people who'd had positive experiences all said the same kinds of things. And the people who have had the biggest weight loss successes, who have maintained for the longest time and who are heavily invested in their health and fitness, all have something in common: they hired someone to help them.
So, here are a few things to keep in mind if you're looking for a personal trainer. Because you can't all have mine! (Though I'm sure Mat is always willing and eager to consult with potential new clients. He comes highly recommended, if you trust me).
The reasons to invest in a personal trainer are fairly universal. Most people are going to fall into at least one category for needing a coach by their side. Usually, all of these apply on some level:
- Motivation. Let's face it, some days you don't want to get out of bed. Paying for a session is incentive to show up. Having someone encourage, congratulate, cajole, push - whatever it is that motivates you, when a coach figures it out, you go a lot further, faster. The number one answer, when I asked why my friends got personal trainers, was "I needed someone to kick my butt!"
- Accountability. Similar to motivation, a trainer should hold you accountable. Are you tracking your nutrition? Are you showing up regularly? Do they see progress, whether it's in inches and pounds, or in sets, reps, and weights? If you sleep in or cancel too many times, do they call you on it or charge you for missed sessions? Having someone to answer to keeps you accountable to yourself, and makes it easier to establish the habit.
- Knowledge. You save your own time because they've done the work of learning, of planning a program, of researching various methods. It's their job to wade through the mountains of information and help to decide what's right for you.
- Form correction. Safety first, friends! When someone who knows what they're doing is watching you, they correct as you go, meaning you learn what proper form should feel like and you reduce the chances of getting hurt. Even the most seasoned gym-goer can benefit from having someone observe their form from a few steps away; something that is not always easy to do with just a mirror or by how you think you're doing.
- Comfort. For the newbie, everything about fitness and a gym and working out can be intimidating. A personal trainer can eliminate or reduce some of the barriers early on, even if you're only using a few sessions with them in order to become familiar with the facility.
HOW TO CHOOSE
It's important to acknowledge why you decided to look for one-on-one training in the first place. That will determine what kind of trainer you look for. Whatever your primary reason may be, once you decide to make the investment, it becomes a bit of a personal choice.
- Word of mouth / Recommendation. Ask your friends who they use and what they like about their person. It may not end up being the best fit, but there's a certain safety in knowing that others have had positive experiences.
- Observe, if you can. If you're able to watch someone in action, with other clients, work with them in a small group setting, or take a class they teach, you'll get a better sense of the person than if you're only meeting with them in a consult where they're probably putting on their best sales face.
- Ask them why they became a personal trainer. One would hope that their answer has to do with helping people. For me, I needed to know that Mat had some kind of understanding of the struggle I was in. How has weight or health impacted the trainer's life, or affected their loved ones? Is there a deeply emotional reason behind their career choice, or do they just love working out and figure they might as well get paid to do it?
OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER, IF POSSIBLE
These aren't always easy to assess right away. It may take a few sessions with someone before you figure it out. Choosing a personal trainer is a lot like finding a good therapist, doctor, or hair stylist! When you find one that you connect with, you know it and you're loyal for life. It doesn't always happen, and it's far better to walk away than to stay in a bad situation. It doesn't mean they're a bad trainer. It just means that different things are important to people. You have to be honest with yourself about what you want and need, or it's as unfair to your personal trainer as it is to you.
Humility and Learning
A trainer's education and previous work experience can be important, especially if you're considering someone with a private business. If you're going through a commercial gym, it's pretty safe to assume that the organization has hired someone with the necessary education and certification. What I looked for was the ability to learn, and the ability to say "I don't know, but I can find out" because nobody knows everything about everything. I'd rather know that my coach is being honest about limitations, and when Mat takes the time to research or to talk to colleagues who have specialized skills, it solidifies my trust in him.
Looking the Part
Not once did any of my fitness friends mention a personal trainer's looks being important, and yet I have seen it stated in numerous articles that they should look the part. Again, you have to decide what's right for you. For some people, they feel that a trainer should, well, look like a fitness model, as if it's a reflection on what they know or well they coach. Frankly, I'd rather have someone who knows what they're talking about and is able to explain it, who can motivate me and who understands the importance of the personal and emotional connection, than someone who simply looks the part. That's both because of my background as a teacher and librarian (therefore, knowledge is power and the ability to explain and teach is more important than the ability to just DO), and my history with emotional eating and terrible, terrible body image. In fact, looking too much like a body-building fitness model almost worked against Mat. I made assumptions and judgments about him based on how he looked, and it was through observing him as an instructor and with other clients that I realized there was much more underneath the pearly whites. It was how he dealt with me once I became a regular in his class, and then as a participant in Biggest Loser, that I finally came around to buy into personal training sessions because I got over the meat-head personal trainer stereotype. (Sorry, Mat. I pre-judged. Thank goodness you're not a meat-head, just 'cuz you look all fitness-model-ish! This is why we don't assume).
What do you anticipate will work for you?
Refer back to the reasons that people invest in trainers in the first place. The "why" before the "how." If you primarily want someone to stand over you and yell at you, military-style, it's because you may know what to do and lack the motivation. If you're completely new to fitness, you may need the knowledge the most. I started on my own with the easy stuff, and it was when I wanted to progress into weights and needed guidance and accountability that I made the transition. It was the knowledge and accountability that was key. Within those realms, I also knew that someone who talked down to me or used shame in any way was probably going to get an earful and no more of my money, whereas for someone else that could be motivating for them. Personality matters, a lot, because you end up spending quite a bit of time with someone and you might as well get along.
Ultimately, you have to find what works for you, or it doesn't work at all. A lot of people get lucky. They show up, looking for a trainer, and they get paired up with the first person who's available. Preferably, there is some sort of system that helps to match your criteria with the skills and specialties of the trainers working at the facility. If you're flying blind, keep some of these tips and questions in mind. Above all, speak up if you're not clear about anything. A good trainer will address it.
Personal trainers and fitness coaches are people, too. At times it seems like they are meant to be magicians, but they can't read minds and only the most versatile can pull a rabbit out of a hat. Talk to them and let them know what works for you, and what doesn't. They'll learn as much as you, and together you'll grow and get closer to your personal goals.
That's their ultimate goal, too.
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