Personal trainers are like romantic comedies: there are loads of them out there, new ones are made all the time, and most of them are terrible.
Nobody understands this better than good personal trainers.
With so much choice, you’ve got to be sharp if you want When Harry Might Sally and not From Justin to Kelly. Here are a few ideas to consider before you book your first training session.
1. Seek Out Trainers Who Are Curious
Look for someone who attends workshops and continuing-education coursework, and who researches outside their specialties. People who carry credentials in multiple disciplines—like Pilates and personal training, or pole dancing and tai chi—often fit that description; they’re not drinking anyone’s Kool-Aid, and so they’re able to form their own opinions about what works and what doesn’t.
Basically: People who express a general interest in the human body are more likely to treat yours with the respect it deserves.
2. Beware of Insecurity and Defensiveness
When I worked at a gym, I saw this constantly: a trainer would set a client up doing something stupid, the client would get hurt, and the trainer would immediately set about making it clear that it was somehow all the client’s fault. Bad trainers get freaked out when their material doesn’t work. They aren’t willing to consider that maybe their training is the problem.
A trainer’s first objective is the same as a doctor’s: do no harm. Of course, no health professional is prepared for everything; when something goes wrong—from a minor, misplaced diagnosis to actually hurting someone—the first response should be contrition, followed by an inquiry into how and why the mistake happened in the first place.
Basically: The first time you see a defensive reaction to an exercise that didn’t go as intended, find someone new.
3. Ignore Your Trainer’s Physique
Despite the conventional wisdom to find a trainer who has the body you want, there’s zero correlation between what a trainer looks like and what they know about bodies. There’s no guarantee that the hyper-flexible yoga star or the beast who deadlifts 500 pounds has any intention, or ability, to meet you where you are.
Listen to them talk; listen for confidence and compassion; listen for listening. Of course, smart, compassionate listeners can be hardbodied hotties, and that’s awesome, but the relationship a person has with their own body is trickier to decipher than it might seem. The assumption that a person got their chiseled abs from sensible, healthy choices is a specious one. Insecurity runs very deep in personal-training circles.
Basically: Your trainer’s ability to interpret your goals and determine your needs is vastly more important than their physique.
Now tell us about your best (or worst) personal-training experience. We’d love to hear from you!