Hiring a personal trainer is a big decision. Firstly, it costs money, and selecting the best person for the job will also influence when (or even if) you achieve your goal.
Complicating the process is the choice prospective clients now have at their fingertips. In the past, your options were limited to the resident trainers at your local gym. In general, the gym already vetted their qualifications and other requirements before hiring them, which ensured a layer of quality control.
But the Internet has changed all that. Today, prospective clients can choose from a host of local and international trainers and coaches, each offering different levels of experience, qualifications, rates and availability.
However, online training has also lowered the barrier to entry, which means the market is flooded with athletes, gym enthusiasts and bodybuilders who believe their experience and success is sufficient to offer their services as a fitness professional.
As such, finding the best personal trainer or coach can be a minefield. To help you make an informed decision that will deliver a return on your time and money, and improve your chances of success, here are 5 vital questions to ask a fitness professional before signing up:
1. What are your qualifications?
There are many passionate, well-intentioned individuals out there who believe that they’ve paid their dues and have enough experience to effectively train or coach others. However, they often fail to grasp the fact that their approach may not be appropriate or even work for everyone.
A formal education equips fitness professionals with a broad foundation regarding the fundamentals of individualised exercise planning and prescription. Without this base, trainers may attempt to apply a cookie-cutter approach, using one form of training or workout structure for all clients.
A relevant certificate, diploma or degree from a reputable and established institution is, therefore, a mandatory requirement for anyone who plans to bill clients for their time and expertise. So ask to see their qualifications and don’t be afraid to research the institution online.
Keep in mind that a single qualification doesn’t guarantee competence. Due to the dynamic nature of the industry, trainers must continually keep up to date with new developments, and refresh their knowledge base on a regular basis.
Check that they’ve done more than the bare minimum required to become a qualified fitness professional and that they continually advance their knowledge and qualifications.
While it’s not a mandatory regulated requirement (at least not yet), trainers should voluntarily attain a specific number of Continued Education Credits (CECs) to meet industry best practice standards. Ask to see the courses or events they attended recently to meet their required annual CEC requirements. And if they’re not up to speed, ask why.
A trainer’s ability to offer various training modalities, like Olympic weightlifting, HIIT, functional training or yoga can also keep your training interesting and effective, and will ensure you can progress with one person as your training advances or your goals change.
And don’t forget to enquire about the additional qualifications fitness professionals require to comply with industry health and safety requirements, such as a valid first aid course (level 1).
2. How much success have you had in the past?
While a relevant qualification is a non-negotiable, an impressive CV littered with academic achievements does not always guarantee their effectiveness. Personal trainers must be able to apply their academic knowledge in the real-world.
Ask to read testimonials, success stories or endorsements from previous or current clients. It is also worth asking your potential new trainer about their client retention ratio. That will demonstrate if they experience high client churn, which should raise alarm bells. While clients come and go, good trainers will generally maintain a group of core long-term clients because they deliver results.
A personal trainer that has a loyal client base generally also indicates that they have the best interests of their clients at heart and have built strong relationships with them.
3. How do you operate and engage with clients?
Everyone has different preferences around interpersonal and digital engagement. Some people might like a hands-on trainer who is available (within reason) whenever they want to chat. Others might prefer a regular, regimented check-in from time to time.
Identifying the ‘soft’ or social skills that align with your personality and preferences is vital to create a healthy and mutually-beneficial relationship.
It’s always best to discuss the working relationship upfront to set expectations and ensure you know what you’re getting into. This can save a lot of the frustration that comes with having to switch trainers 3 weeks down the line because the relationship just isn’t clicking.
Prospective clients should also take the time to check out how the trainer interacts with their clients on social media and get a general feeling for their attitude and behaviour by reviewing their posts.
What isn’t negotiable is 100% focus and dedication to their clients during every training session. If you pay for their time, your trainer should have a no-phone policy during your sessions to ensure there are no distractions.
4. What value-adds do you offer?
Many trainers will include nutritional guidance or diet plans as an inclusive service, while others will charge for these services outside of the training and advice.
A trainer might also be part of an affiliate sales network, able to offer clients discounted rates on supplements or workout gear.
So, be sure to establish upfront what’s included in the contract and service offering before signing on the dotted line.
5. How much do you charge?
Lastly, it’s also worth assessing if the rate the trainer charges is commensurate with what they deliver in return.
Don’t hesitate to compare this with other offerings from different trainers to make a fair comparison.
It’s also important to determine if their rate is sustainable based on your financial situation because achieving success with a personal trainer will require at least 12-16 weeks.
What to consider as a potential client:
- Is the online trainer qualified? Ask to see qualifications and certificates.
- How individualised is the programme and engagement offered?
- Was the trainer recommended to you or did you simply stumble across them during online research?
- Does your trainer – online or one-on-one – keep up to date with his or her education?
- Do they offer testimonials? If so, be sure to confirm their validity whenever possible.
- Look for client reviews, or spend some time doing targeted web searches that may reveal complaints.
- Does the online trainer offer a basic service level agreement that covers elements such as session duration, online and social interactions? If you know the details and commitments upfront there is less room for disappointment or under-delivery.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.