Personal trainers were once an exclusive luxury for movie stars and celebrities who needed to look good for their next big event. Nowadays, commercial gyms are making personal trainers much more accessible to the general public, but are they worth it?
Anyone can become a personal trainer
This may come as a surprise, but you do not need any previous experience or qualifications, not even GCSEs. The government even subsidise courses so you can qualify for free! Unfortunately, this means that the industry is becoming saturated with poor-quality trainers who are not doing it for the right reasons and do not have the right experience or knowledge to give their clients the best results. That said, there are some incredibly talented trainers out there who are passionate about what they do and go the extra mile to provide the best possible service for their clients. So how can you find the right personal trainer for you?
Tips for finding a good PT
- Ask to see their certificates and qualifications before you hand over any money.
- Ask if they are self-employed or employed by the gym they work at. There is a huge difference and employed personal trainers are far more restricted in what they can offer you.
- Book 1 session rather than a block. Most trainers will offer a free taster session.
- Make sure you're comfortable with the training location. Some PTs in commercial gyms do not have job stability and may leave at short notice, leaving you high and dry especially if you have paid for a block of sessions in advance.
- Don’t let them prescribe you shortcuts ie. diet shakes or fat burners.
- Make sure they do a pre-assessment with you before your first session. A good PT will want to know everything about you from your physical and mental health background to your family and home life, as these are all important factors when it comes to changing your lifestyle.
- Don't go for someone who offers 'transformation courses' as these are often copied and pasted and won't be a tailored training plan to you and your needs.
- Most personal trainers are not qualified or legally allowed to sell you an eating plan. Check their credentials first as only dietitians are qualified to do this, and there is a difference between a 'nutritionist' and a 'dietician'.
- Ask them how long they have been qualified. A PT who has only just qualified will not have any real world experience and will still have a lot to learn and mistakes to make. If you're happy with someone who has just qualified, you should at least get a reduced rate.
- Ask what their speciality is and what events they have done. If your personal trainer has never run a marathon, they should not be training you for one! It's all very well and good having the knowledge on paper, but until you have completed an event like a marathon, triathlon, or bodybuilding competition, you can't possibly know what it's like or what you need to be able to train for one. If they have never done an event or have no achievements, are they dedicated enough to sports and fitness to be training you? If you are going for a broader goal like weight loss which doesn't require competing in any events, find out if they know what it's like to go on a weight loss journey themselves.
Once you've found your PT, ask yourself these questions:
Do they turn up on time?
A good PT will never be late. Most of the time, they will already be at the gym so there's little chance they'll have the excuse of being stuck in traffic. There may be the occasional emergency which cannot be helped, but as a general rule if your PT turns up late to your session, this should be the last time you see them. At the same time, if you are late to your session, it may be hard for your trainer to make up the time as they often book sessions back to back with other clients.
Do they assess your current level of fitness and talk through your goals with you?
A good PT will test your fitness, take measurements, and talk through your goals with you. If neither of you knows your goals, then you won't know if you're making progress! Work together to set your goals, as it is your body and your life. There are more goals than just weight loss, so make sure you talk them through properly and check your progress regularly.
Do they outline what the programme will include and tailor it to you?
After your initial consultation, your PT should be able to clue you up as to what to expect from your time together. Watch out for cut-out programmes which offer every client the same session and avoid signing up for '12-week transformation' programmes as these seriously simplify the point of having a PT. Your personal trainer should be able to give you a copy of your plan to take away with you and work on in your own time.
Do they explain exercises fully?
Don't be afraid to ask your PT lots of questions, as this is a great way to catch out a bad trainer. If they can't answer your question, chances are they shouldn't be training you. If they are making you do a particular exercise, they should be able to clearly explain why you're doing it and how it will benefit you, in a way that you can understand.
Have they pre-planned the session?
This is a big deal-breaker. If your PT has just rocked up to the gym and seems to be making the session up as they go along, there is absolutely no point in training with them as you could have done that yourself! A good PT session is one that is meticulously planned and structured with reasoning behind each of the exercises and the way they are laid out. The session should take into account your goals, the progression of each week, and contain a variety of exercises rather than always the same things.
Do they adjust according to your ability?
A great personal trainer won't be phased if you turn up and tell them you've hurt your shoulder or are not feeling great. They will be able to alter and tailor your session so that you can still get the best out of your time with them. That being said, you should always try to warn your trainer in advance as they may have spent a lot of time writing a session plan which will then go to waste. This is also where experience comes in, as a PT who is fresh out of the academy will not have the experience behind them to know how to deal with this.
This is also a great way to spot a cowboy who makes all their clients do the same exercises, as if you have lower back pain or an injured leg you shouldn't be doing the same workout as a seasoned marathon runner.
Do they give you exercises to work on in between sessions?
Unless you're training with your PT 4+ times per week, you’re going to need to supplement your training sessions with your own workouts in between. Your personal trainer should feed you with knowledge that you can then use when creating your own gym sessions. Having a personal trainer should help you feel more confident in what your body can do and more confident making the most of the facilities at the gym.
Can they do the exercises themselves?
This may seem like an obvious one, but if your trainer doesn't fully demonstrate an exercise to you or are not able to fully complete it themselves, they shouldn't be making you do it. Don't let your trainer use you as a guinea pig for a weird new exercise they saw on the internet, make sure they do it in their own training because they know it works.
Does your PT make you feel good as a person?
This is the final point, but it's maybe the most important. You should be able to get on with your trainer almost like friends; in fact, sometimes trainers do become friends with their clients. It's not like a teacher/student relationship; you should be able to relate to your trainer and feel comfortable enough to tell them what you're really thinking and feeling. It's very common for PTs to also become a therapist for their clients as they are an unbiased third-party, and they don't mind you unloading all your worries and troubles onto them! If you don't like your trainer as a person or you feel intimidated by them, find a different one.
So, are they worth it?
Finding a great PT can be a tough process, but once you find one you get on with and who really knows their stuff, you will never look back. Good PTs are definitely worth it, so don't be afraid to 'shop around'. As a general rule, self-employed PTs will be better than ones who work in commercial gyms and make sure you find one who has lots of experience and other clients who can give glowing reviews. Make sure they know what they're talking about, especially if you are training for a specific sport or event.