A good personal trainer will help you achieve fitness goals you thought were impossible—get a six-pack, add 10 pounds of muscle, or climb stairs without fainting. They will build training programs to move you forward, teach you new habits that fuel your goals, and encourage you from the start.
When most people look for a trainer, however, they often overvalue what doesn’t matter and undervalue what does. And trust me, there are a lot of bad trainers out there. If you want the best fitness coach, spend time hunting for one and use your consultations as a useful Q&A session—don’t accept their philosophies on faith, challenge them, and keep asking “why.” After all, with coaches ranging from $80 to $120 an hour (more if you live in LA or New York), they better be good.
Here are a six signposts to see if a personal trainer is worth the price.
They Seek Knowledge
Great trainers constantly learn and improve: They’re always—and I mean always—reading a new fitness book, taking a new course, attending a seminar, or flying to different cities just to meet respected coaches.
In my experience, this rule instantly eliminates 80 percent of trainers at least, most of whom just don’t crave knowledge or personal development with zeal.
Pro Tip: Ask your trainer which trainers or coaches they admire; if they can’t name at least seven (or, worse, say Jillian Michaels or Tony Horton), something’s up.
USE YOUR CONSULTATIONS AS A USEFUL Q&A SESSION—DON’T ACCEPT THEIR PHILOSOPHIES ON FAITH, CHALLENGE THEM, AND KEEP ASKING “WHY.”
They Write ‘Programs,’ Not ‘Workouts’
When I worked at a commercial gym, I knew trainers who put together workouts just minutes before their clients arrived. Great trainers decide that in advance: They design long-term programs to build specific training adaptations and systematically generate results over the course of months. That way, you don’t show up to your workout to do whatever the hell your trainer feels like doing—instead, you follow the plan and reap the rewards.
Pro Tip: Ask your trainer what training “phase” you’re currently in and which one is next. For example, are you in a “basic strength” phase, a “hypertrophy” phase, or a “work capacity” phase? They should know.
They Know Exercises Inside And Out
Great trainers live and breathe perfect technique and will even film themselves to improve—like reviewing game tape. (Hell, they’ll admire a new barbell like it’s a Porsche.) But I’ve seen trainers with master’s degrees, years of “experience,” and loads of certifications teach clients hideous exercise technique.
Go online and watch videos on correct technique and see if it looks like yours. If it’s not, show your trainer and ask them what the deal is. Also, your trainer should be able to easily coach you through new exercises, not confuse you.
Pro Tip: You can often tell how good a trainer is by the warm-up drills they give you. Do they ask you to do jumping jacks and walk on a treadmill? Or do they take you through a dynamic warmup that activates weak muscles, corrects your movement patterns, repositions your body, and fixes your limitations? Guess which is better.
They Aren’t Flashy
I used to know trainers who purposely showed off in the gym to try to get more clients. But here’s the secret: Amazing workouts often look boring.
The most effective programs are brutally simple. Sure, speed ladders and hurdles might look cool, but if you’re trying to lose 20 pounds, those aren’t going to do shit for you. Simple, efficient programs give you the minimum effective dose to gets results; they’re not constant beat downs that make you feel like crap at the end.
Pro Tip: Don’t worry about how “cool” the workout looks; focus on how “cool” your trainer can make the basics look.
They Focus on You
You already know trainers shouldn’t play on their phones during your workout. But their attention should go further, tailoring their program to your needs and making specific adjustments if you’re tired, struggling, or dealing with knee pain during your workout.
Intelligent trainers always customize their workouts to your current state. Poor trainers, however, already have their workout programs established, meaning they put everyone through the exact same paces.
Pro Tip: Ask your trainer how they would adjust the workout if you were feeling tired, and why.
HERE’S THE SECRET: AMAZING WORKOUTS OFTEN LOOK BORING.
They Don’t Claim to Know It All
The very best trainers constantly tweak and improve their training philosophy—maybe they discover new subtleties of how the body works, new approaches to teaching certain exercises, or better technique to classic lifts. That’s part of the reason they readily admit they don’t have all the answers—or at least, they should. If your trainer isn’t blowing their own mind on a consistent basis, they’re falling behind.
Pro Tip: Ask them how and why their workout philosophy has changed specifically in the past year.