Exercise and accountability go hand in hand. That’s why people faithfully track steps and calories, keeping records of every squat, rep or lunge they do.
Another way to monitor progress and add a layer of accountability is to work with a personal trainer. Many gyms offer training services as an add-on to membership, and other are freelance trainers will meet you at a facility for your allotted workout time.
Hiring a trainer can be costly, so it’s vital to do research up front to make sure the connection will be solid, and that you’ll get the most out of this fitness partnership, says Kyle Bush, director of corporate fitness for Onlife Health, who also manages the on-site fitness center at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
“The best way to get started is to ask the gym what training services it has, and then give them all the information you can up front,” Bush says.
“That may include:
- Whether you want a male or female trainer
- The age range of trainer you’d like to work with
- Any old or current injuries that limit certain types of exercise, and
- What overall intensity you’re looking for in a training program.”
If you’re looking at a freelance trainer, here are some other aspects to consider:
Does he or she have a fitness certification? The following organizations offer exams, and a certification from one or more indicates that the trainer is competent:
- American Council on Exercise
- National Academy of Sports Medicine
- National Strength and Conditioning Association
How long has he or she been training people? There is nothing wrong with someone being new or relatively inexperienced; just know that you may be training them as much as they are training you. It’s also good to consider whether you’d be more comfortable with someone your own age, or someone who’s older or younger. Everyone is different, and there’s no wrong answer.
Personality & reputation
Do you want a drill sergeant, or a soft, encouraging voice? Style matters as much as substance when it comes to an effective training relationship, so watch trainers at work to see what they’re like with clients. It’s also smart to ask to speak to current clients and get some feedback.
Favorites & pet peeves
Some trainers only work indoors. Others use only free weights and hate machines. Ask specific questions about what a trainer does and doesn’t like, or want to do, in order to ensure a good fit.
Most trainers charge by the hour. Find out that rate, and if there are discounts for buying multiple sessions at once. Also find out about cancellation policies, which often favor the trainer by requiring you to give 24-hour notice before canceling a session, but don’t require the trainer to give you a bonus hour if he or she doesn’t extend the same courtesy.
Trainers, especially freelance ones, often overbook. If your session is due to start at 5:30 p.m. and you get a text at 5:25 saying, “I’m running late, can we start at 6:00?” it can wreck your evening plans. Ask how many clients he or she has, and what days and times are the least booked. Don’t be afraid to demand punctuality; you’re paying for a service and have every right to expect professionalism.
Area of expertise
If you’re looking to build up a training regimen for marathons or a 10K, don’t book a trainer whose specialty is weightlifting. Trainers come in all shapes, sizes and specialties, so find one that matches your fitness interests.
Measurement is important. After six months, are you seeing progress in strength, endurance, weight loss or other key goals? If not, don’t rush to blame the trainer: eating a pint of ice cream after an hour’s worth of strength training is, at best, a trade-off. But if your diet is under control and you’re doing plenty of cardio and other exercise in tandem with trainer-controlled strength work, take a look at the program the two of you have crafted, and see if there’s room to step it up.
“You’re going to have the most success if you have a program that works for you, and that’s true of exercising by yourself or with a trainer,” Bush says. “You’re the expert on your body, and that person is the expert on how to train it. If you can combine your fields of expertise, you’ll get the best results.”