What to Look for In a Qualified Trainer
Updated: Feb 13
Finding a qualified personal trainer or coach can be seriously tricky. Social media would have you believe every girl or guy with a nice physique and a friend with mediocre video skills could “whip you into shape”. The reality is, most people who appear like they'd be a great trainer probably aren’t, and the people who are great coaches don’t necessarily shine amongst butt photos and high-quality videos and editing skills. When looking to hire a coach or trainer (either online or in person), look for education, proof of experience, communication skills, and delivery of marketing promises.
Firstly, ensure your potential trainer holds valid training or coaching certifications
and/or an exercise science degree. You can easily conduct an online search of their name and certification number and discover their certification status. There are many certifying bodies but some of the most respected organizations are the NSCA, ACSM, ACE, NASM, and ISSA. There are also many different types of training certification specialties. Don’t be shy in asking a coach/trainer what they specialize in, to find out if their skillset matches up with your particular goals.
Next, there should be obvious proof of their coaching experience or positive client testimonial. Find out about previous and current workplaces and the types of populations the trainer has worked with. A person seeking to compete at the national level in powerlifting will need a different coach than a person who wants to change a sedentary lifestyle to being active and lose bodyfat for general health reasons. Again, a quality coach will be able to either talk about their work experiences, show you client testimonial, or perhaps even have before and after transformations or goal success stories. Someone of merit will also understand a client investigating their experience—anger at questions like these is likely a sign of inexperience.
Communication skills and a coach who listens are also extremely important elements. Not only that, but you should choose someone whose personality meshes with your needs. Are you motivated by someone who’s tough and will coach with a high level of discipline? Or are you sensitive and nervous about the gym and need someone who communicates through a more caring and calmer attitude? Not to say you should seek out an “easier” trainer but there are very different communication styles and we each do our best with certain types of communication methods. No matter their style, a skilled coach will listen to you and try their best to ensure they understand your goals and are modifying their methods to your personal needs.
If you get the feeling you’re being sold on a service for the rest of your life, run the other way! Great coaches teach clients in a way that leads to their eventual independence. My job is to teach clients how to properly lift and habits that support adherence to regular workouts and healthy nutrition choices. I want someone to take what they learn with me and be able to apply it to their movement and nutrition practices moving forward.
Unethical trainers and gyms are looking to make money at any cost. They don’t necessarily care about teaching proper movement or habits, just the money they make from sessions sold. Don’t get me wrong, if you love working with a coach and have the means to work with them long term, that’s awesome! But overall, be cautious of someone who appears to be dependent on your money and who doesn’t have a plan to eventually move you toward being independent.
Another aspect to consider is delivery on marketing promises. Are programs marketed as being completed customized? If you feel that what you received doesn’t seem individualized to your goals, you might reach out to a couple other clients and ask about their programming to compare. Many trainers claim to customize workout and nutrition programs but copy and paste the same plans for every client.
Does the marketing content promise easy results fast, or otherwise sound too good to be true? Not only do you want to find a trainer who delivers on their promises, you can also use marketing information like claims of “fast results” to decipher between someone who is being honest about the outcomes of their services vs. selling you on fitness industry gimmicks that we KNOW don’t actually work.
Finally, do they look the part? While I don’t think outward appearance should be the first element you analyze to consider someone’s credibility (remember: Instagram models don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about), it is true that someone credible should be experts on fitness and nutrition. Unless they have some unusual life circumstances, a person who has dedicated their career to helping others move more and eat better should model those behaviors. From my own personal experience, I’d say that my own trials in training and throughout learning healthy habits have been some of the most informative experiences which allow me to teach others.
I would also suggest that you favor people who are willing to say, “I don’t know”. The best coaches and trainers are always learning based on new research and practices. Sometimes our methods are proved wrong and we need to change our practices. Other times, there are client situations that we haven’t yet experienced or which may be outside of our scope of practice. In these cases, you want to have a coach who is willing to admit when they aren’t sure and will figure out the solution or find someone who can. Frauds or inexperienced trainers often claim to “know it all” and are unlikely to admit unknowing.
There are many clear signs of a high-quality trainer. While you should look for these elements, the best advice I can give you is to go with your gut. Trust yourself if you feel someone is giving you poor advice or even if you just don’t mesh well with someone. The great news is there are countless coaches out there so you can try out a few until you find the perfect coach for you and your goals.
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