Personal Trainer Traits To Look For
By: Paul W. Park M.S. CSCS
When I first became a personal trainer I remember a colleague saying “People become personal trainers when they don’t want to be waiters”. As a young trainer at the time it seemed a little condescending. Surely being a trainer required a special set of skills and proficiency that not everyone had? Fast forward a bunch of years and here I am today, a career trainer, with a an understanding of what he meant.
The fitness industry is not regulated. Legally speaking anyone is a trainer in their own right. There’s no overseeing body that gives out licenses and no state exam. We have independent companies giving out certifications but no one to accredit those institutions. The amount of choices out there is unfathomable. The masses have determined a select few to be well respected (NASM, ACSM, etc.) but that doesn’t mean you can’t go online and get a different cert in minutes. Don’t get me wrong, most gyms will not hire someone without a more accredited cert but that doesn’t change the overall landscape. You’re not going to find the best trainer by looking at a resume but watch their training and you’ll clearly distinguish between the ok trainers and the great ones.
Jim Bishop once said that a good drunk doesn’t necessarily make a good bartender. A fit person doesn’t necessarily make a good trainer. There’s simply a lot more to it. As I delved further into the industry I started to see all the different aspects needed to make a truly good trainer. So with that here are some things to look for:
1) Look for higher education. This is your health we’re talking about. Your trainer should be fully invested in fitness and in turn your well being. A degree in the field really means a lot. It’s not the end all and doesn’t automatically make someone good but it’s definitely a nice start. Also look for someone who wants to further their education. Continuing education is a huge part of the field as our understanding of the human body progresses. If your trainers education remains stagnant there’s a good chance you will too.
2) A passion for fitness. More directly a passion for your fitness. If a trainer shows no interest in your session then it’s time to move on. Look for a high energy individual who loves what they do and gets as excited as you do when you reach your goals.
3) Correction and Attentiveness. Let’s start with the obvious. A trainer does not need to be on the phone the whole session. If they aren’t particular about your movements and showing your correct forms then you need to look for another trainer. During the workout if at any point you don’t feel comfortable, you need to speak up. The trainer should attempt to fix, enlighten, or offer a replacement. If the trainer doesn’t respond constructively, you need another trainer! All the workouts in the world mean absolutely nothing if you walk away with injuries and cannot continue. I can’t overstate how important form is to all of this. It’s ok to ask questions, your comfort and well-being should be priority in all your sessions.
* A special side note for group fitness here. I recognize it can be difficult for a trainer to manage large workout classes but it’s all the more important you see them correcting improper form. This is why at Upfit we cap our group fitness classes at only 4 people. It’s important to us that all clients receive ample attention.
4) Look for programming. Often I see trainers throwing random workout routines at people. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why those movements were used. There’s no tracking, there’s no progression. Even worse they ask “What did we do last time?”. If your trainer doesn’t even know what they did with you during your last session that’s a huge red flag. How can you reach a specific goal if there’s no quantitative progression towards said goal? Look for a personal trainer who creates customized fitness regimens for their clientele.
5) Find a personality you mesh with. This one will be more so based on personal taste but you should enjoy being around your trainer. If you dread their personality or if you seem to clash then you need to move on. For many people staying consistent is hard enough, the last thing you need is a trainer who doesn’t brighten your day. I’m not saying we’re therapists but the word “personal” is in our job title so odds are you’re going to want to like the person. It goes both ways; a trainer has to be comfortable and enjoy training their client. While a session can be physically grueling it still needs to be absolutely enjoyable for all involved.
Paul W. Park is a personal trainer and co-owner of Upfit Training Academy a workout studio offering unique 4 person capacity fitness classes in NYC