Personal trainer or no personal trainer?

Choosing a personal trainer

Deciding if you need a trainer

When it comes to helping people who are in two minds about whether to employ a personal trainer I always say the following "If were seriously sick would you see a doctor or use your own medical training to self-diagnose?" Obviously anyone who isn't a doctor would prefer the former. On a more basic level the same can be said about personal training. Unless you have had training as a fitness professional you are probably not in the best position to advise yourself about how to best maximize your training results. Often gyms have fitness instructors who can design a basic program but they won't be there to make sure you keep the right technique and intensity.

If you already have a good knowledge of training techniques and nutrition then you may be ok. All I will say is that a good trainer can give you some new ideas and a little more motivation. Is that a bad thing?

Can I afford a trainer?

The question should be can you afford not to? Your body and your life should be your primary investment. Think about it. You pay a mechanic to service your car. You pay taxes to receive medical aid. Isn't it worth investing money into your body with the promise of maximizing your efficiency in the gym? I have seen literally hundreds of people over long periods trying to make it alone in the gym without guidance. I can honestly say that 99% of them are wasting their time and money. They lack direction, intensity and the knowledge to maximize their gym efficiency. They are accountable only to themselves. Having a trainer guide you and take on some of the responsibility for your body can be a great help and a tremendous time saving initiative.

Choosing the trainer

“Those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, teach gym.”

Woody Allen, Annie Hall


When it comes to choosing a personal trainer it can be a minefield. I have interviewed so many trainers in the past I have lost count. The only thing I can remember is that 90% of them were complete garbage. Now obviously I am measuring them against my own impossibly high standards (blushing) but it is important to realize two things.

The increase in home study courses and the proliferation of poorly conceived "qualifications" have created a large amount of supposedly qualified trainers. Gyms often employ trainers for free to do their dirty work instead of employing fitness instructors. Thus you have more poorly qualified fitness instructors doing personal training.



In the U.K. the Register of exercise Professionals (reps) is supposed to monitor trainers and grade them from level 1-4. This scheme sounds ideal except it is very easy to gain a level 3 personal training qualification and there is little to no quality control. I passed my course (which at the time was a well-respected qualification) with around 90+ % pass rates. Other people on the course scraped by with 65% after taking one to two re-sits of the exam. They came away with the exact same qualification as I did.

Understand the difference between a personal trainer, fitness instructor and a strength and conditioning coach

A fitness instructor is someone who has had basic training who should be able to put together a basic exercise routine for an average Jo. They have a basic grasp of physiology and technique. Level 1or 2

A personal trainer should have at least a level 3 qualification and should have a better understanding of anatomy and be better prepared for dealing with special circumstances like pregnancy, older citizens, arthritis and other ailments. Trainers have a great level of knowledge.

A strength and conditioning coach should have a great understanding of the science of training principles, anatomy and physiology and may have  experience working with athletes. They are great for getting the extra 1% out of the routine.


Usually the most telling sign of a good trainer is their reputation and experience. Many trainers are out of necessity great salesmen and many can make good business on the strength of that alone. However, time usually makes the difference. A great talker but bad trainer will usually be found out. Anyone who has been around for 5-6 years will probably be a good blend of motivator and should have had the time to develop their skill set to make than a more complete teacher.


Make sure the trainer speaks passionately about training and self-improvement. A lack of passion will be reflected in how much effort they put into planning and delivering your session.


Appearances can be deceiving

Just because someone looks in awesome shape doesn't mean they are the shining example of what a fitness professional should look like. Many trainers feel the pressure to look the part and will do everything they can do it including extreme dieting, poorly devised training regimens and performance enhancing drugs. Chat to a trainer about their own training habits to get a sense of what lengths they are willing to go to.


Avoid trainers who don't look like they train

They may have great technical knowledge but in my book if someone doesn't care enough about the advice they give to do it themselves then it’s a recipe for disaster. Who wants listen to someone who can't push themselves try and push you?

Ask how they monitor progress and ask them to for proof

A trainer who doesn't take the time or effort record their clients workouts is not a professional. They are simply someone who you pay to lift things up and down. Records are so important when assessing improvements, possible plateaus and the need for a change of routine. They provide you both with direction and motivation. Your body measurements, initial and continued fitness test results and your daily workouts should all be recorded in some way. If your trainer tries to convince you this isn't needed then start looking for someone else as you are training with a moron.  I trained alongside a colleague for 2 years. When he left because his performance was seriously lacking and other trainers were taking new clients he passed on his old clients to me and others. I didn't have a single record to use from anyone of them to refer to. I basically started again. When I did they were amazed at what seemed like a radically different approach and felt somehow cheated that during the last couple of years they hadn't received the same treatment.

Chain gym trainer vs studio trainer

Often but not always you will have a better chance of finding a good trainer at a private studio than a chain gym.  A small studio is usually the brain child of an already established and respected trainer. He will probably not employ idiots. Having said that, a poor owner may be less picky when it comes to qualifications than a chain gym who have health and safety inspections and head office to think about.

Experience vs education

Just because someone is experienced doesn't mean they are a good trainer. The same is true for education. They may have been successful but are they just a big fish in a small pond? One of the chaps on my course had just finished a degree in sports science yet when it came time to set himself up as a personal trainer he realized that he knew almost nothing about training the average Joe or special populations. He was used to working with athletes. He needed coaching on program design, technique coaching and motivation as he had been educated in a very niche area of fitness.

Use a trial session

Make use of any trial sessions a trainer may offer. They can give you a good idea about what to expect from each session and if you can build rapport with the trainer.



Don't be afraid to change trainers

This goes for a new trainer or one you have used for some time. Wanting to change trainer can be hard to do. You build a good relationship with a trainer on a personal level after a while making it hard to make a business decision.  After a while you may find that the trainer has limited depth of routine and that you need a change. Don't be afraid to make the change. You can still be friends and if the trainer is a true professional then he will accept your decision whether he agrees with it or not. Trainers can be very territorial.

Ask for a discount by committing to x sessions per week.
All trainers love the idea of consistency. If they know they are going to have guaranteed sessions they may be more willing to offer a discount. Also, instead of paying per session you could suggest you pay x amount per month and for that you will receive for example 2 workouts, a nutritional assessment and diet and a 30 minute session for a mini workout. Explore your options.