By Jake Marx
For someone who has studied and coached movement for a long time with clients ranging from professional athletes to CEOs to business professionals to kids, I have seen it all when it comes to personal trainers. Over the years, I have helped many clients research, vet, and select the best movement coach for them. Too often what I see is personal trainers in fitness clubs falling into the category of frustrating, comedic, and sometimes... downright scary. The world of personal trainers is like the wild west when it comes to education, certifications, experience, and methodologies.
To be honest, some of the problems with personal trainers start with us as clients: our assumptions and our demands we put on them. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that finishing exhausted and sore is the hallmark of a good workout. Sometimes, we let our addiction to intensity create so much fatigue that we fail to leverage a critical intended benefit of movement - showing up at our best. This trap makes it easy for incompetent trainers to appear competent because all they have to do is make us tired. The truth is that any trainer can make us sore and tired, but a great trainer can make us better, more energized, in less pain (including post-workout soreness), and inspired to come back and do it again.
At this stage, you may be wondering: how do I actually go about finding a good trainer then? We've put together some key considerations for you below.
- Any personal trainer you hire should:
- Have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in an exercise science related field. While there are great trainers without this, don’t take the risk. You wouldn’t go to a doctor who’s never taken a medical school course; likewise, you don’t want a trainer who’s never taken biomechanics, exercise physiology, or functional anatomy. At higher end clubs, this is a requirement.
- Conduct some kind of assessment before you start. It’s important to ask your trainer how they’ll assess you and use that assessment to design your program. If they don’t have an answer, that’s a big problem. This typically takes the form of a movement screen to assess your mobility, stability, and aptitude. It should also include your work demands, your travel load, your stress level, and all the other loads that impact your ability to respond to and recover from exercise. If not, they will arbitrarily make workouts up as they go, knowing all they have to do is make you tired. If that’s the case, you’re better off saving the money and downloading an app or buying a program online.
- Have the ability to adjust your workouts based on your load. If they don’t seek to understand your travel load, workload, sleep status, etc. and adjust accordingly, you’ll get run into the ground. The majority of the time, you should leave with something left in the tank. If you're a traveler, a great question to ask would be, “How will you adjust my workouts if I’m jet-lagged?”
- Watch you continually during the workout and make adjustments on the fly. For example, if you have a sore shoulder and they planned to have you do a shoulder press, they should be able to give you a more shoulder-friendly exercise variation or remove it all together. Additionally, if they asked you to perform 15 repetitions of an exercise and after the fifth one your mechanics break down, they should tell you to stop rather than yelling at you to keep pushing (this is a fast track to injury). Ask to observe them training a client and pay attention to how they coach. It shouldn’t need to be said, but they should not be looking at their phone or paying attention to anything but you.
- Be fun and make workouts fun. You will spend a significant amount of time with this person. If you don’t enjoy their company or you dread going to workout with them, it’s not worth it. Ideally, they should model some of the same High Performance Mindset skills you’re aiming to develop.
Movement has many benefits, including improving your fitness and longevity, improving your brain performance, helping you reduce pain, helping you recover from your daily stress, and helping you achieve personal milestones. A great trainer is a huge asset in helping you experience these benefits and not leave you exhausted, sore, or worse yet... injured so you can't move at all.
We hope you find this helpful. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.