So if the article “Could a Personal Trainer accelerate your results in one of these 5 ways” has opened your mind to possibly engaging a PT, even for a short while to learn some tips and accelerate your knowledge a year or two rather than the long hard route of self-discovery, the question is then one of how to find a good PT from the masses that the academies are churning out these days.
The first obvious criteria is the PT’s qualifications. Note that back in the 70’s and 80’s, PT’s were generally people who had been training at an elite level for some time and others sought their advice, leading eventually to them virtually moving into a role as a PT. This had advantages and disadvantages – their passion and years of experience had given them real world experience – but the lack of formal training potentially meant that some of their methods might be rather unconventional, limited to their own circumstances, and/or downright dangerous.
Moving forward to the 1990’s onwards and TV shows emerged, popularizing the notion of a body-transformation, glorifying the roles of the coaches in the shows as they motivated, inspired, or taunted their subjects (the latter is not a recommended technique but unfortunately appeals to some with masochistic tendencies who fancy like the idea of bossing around a businessman in drill-Sargent fashion).
This created interest and demand and academies sprung up to meet that demand. Advertising further glorified the business, showing a happy PT in a grassy field with happy clients enjoying the sun whilst they exercise.
This led to a flood of people who fancied certain aspects of the role. But they previously had no experience and no passion for training. This has the opposite advantages and disadvantages to the pre-90’s environment. The new breed of PT’s (a percentage of them) were taught some important techniques and safety measures – but many had no real idea of what it was really like to train hard, strive for a goal, suffer the pain of various physical issues that arise with frequent overload, or the pain of dieting, feeling weak and lethargic.
The ideal mix therefore is a PT who has experience in the field, has overcome their own challenges, and then wrapped it up into a comprehensive package with formal training that rounds out their experience with other important knowledge concerning safety, biomechanics, techniques, business, injuries, rehabilitation etc.
Check that your PT is accredited with a recognized training organization and that their qualifications are still current (i.e. they have not spent the last 10 years as a sheep herder in the Himalayas and then decided on a whim to return to PT). Most gyms are very careful in only employing accredited PT’s, simply to reduce their own liability.
Another important development with the advent of the “new” PT model is that a PT is required to take out liability insurance and they cannot get insurance without being certified by an accredited academy. This ensures that in the first place, the PT has completed the study to hopefully minimize the risk of injuring a client, and in the second place, if an injury does occur, financial compensation is available to a client should an injury occur and is proved to be the fault of the PT. Check that your PT has the required insurance.
As mentioned earlier, there is a new breed of PT’s. Some had not set foot in a gym prior to starting their PT course. They do not really know what it is like to train hard or try to transform their body.
That does not mean however that your PT must look like Mr. (or Ms.) Universe. Some people are excellent coaches without having the skill sets themselves. A classic example of this is a boxing coach to the world champion – why doesn’t the coach step into the ring and become the next champ if he knows so much that he can coach the champ? Conversely, why do most world champs not become coaches towards the end of their career? It could be that they can box, but cannot teach.
What is ideal is a mix of personal experience and proven experience in coaching others. Coaching is a skill that requires many innate and learned abilities and traits.
You need to check that your PT has experience on both sides of the fence. Don’t just pick the guy or girl who looks fantastic – they may not know how to teach the principles, or, worse still, they may look that way due to some lucky genetics and have no idea how they got in that shape themselves!
Find a PT who walks the walk as well as having experience and skills in coaching others.
Walking in your shoes
Talking about walking the walk – it is also ideal if you can find a PT who has overcome similar challenges that you may face. This does not necessarily mean that if you are trying to drop weight, you have to find someone who lost 40kg, or if you want to pack on muscle, that you PT must have transformed from a skinny wimp to Mr. Universe.
The principles of success and overcoming challenges are all very similar, so it could be that the former skinny wimp can still relate to your sufferings as you try to lose unwanted fat. However, it certainly can help if your PT has been through similar situation as yourself as they will be able to empathize with every step along the way, and may have learnt relevant tips and tricks to help you in your quest. I myself was never overweight to any degree, but trying to hit 4% body-fat for a competition presented a myriad of challenges with mood swings (in my earlier years before I perfected my dieting) weakness (again in my earlier years) and cravings. I Necessity, they say, is the mother of all invention – and I soon invented treats and snacks with the right nutrient profile to help me through. These same tricks were helpful for my clients who were dieting for comps or even just trying to get down to 14% body-fat.
Referring back to the ways in which people land in PT roles – either someone who went though their own transformation and have years of experience, or someone who saw an advert that looked glamorous and decided to switch career paths – it is important that your PT has passion.
The automatic assumption is that the former would be the best choice – but it is quite possible that the ex athlete or celebrated transformation hero, is not good at teaching others, as mentioned earlier, or they are only passionate about what they themselves are attempting. Similarly, the PT with no prior training experience may in fact be very knowledgeable and brilliant at inspiring others and has a tremendous drive to help others.
So passion does not necessarily relate to experience or accomplishments. You ideally want someone who has passion about exercise or transformations, but also passion in helping others. The person who entered the PT industry because they like the idea of bossing others around is not likely to have you enjoying your sessions. Similarly, the PT who thought it might be “fun” to work as a PT and now is bored with it now that reality has hit them in the face, is not likely to motivate you. Nor are they likely to do the necessary research to remain current with new techniques.
The 6 R’s
Relevant skill sets
In a similar vein to the earlier mention of experience and “walking in your shoes”, you also want to ensure that you PT has the necessary skills. This does not simply mean that they know all about the goal you want to achieve. For instance, if your goal is losing weight, a person who advertises themselves as a “weight loss expert” is not necessarily the best choice – they may simply know how to starve people. I have seen examples of anorexic people being regarded as “guru’s” in weight loss.
You should ideally do a bit of research and find necessary skill sets that should accompany the knowledge of weight loss. This is quick and easy to do these days via the internet (but find a reliable source and not a few rants back and forth in a blog) For example, important considerations relating to weight loss are; maintenance of muscle (refer also to our blog “You don’t want to lose weightxxxx”), nutrition for health; aerobic exercise vs resistance exercise; body composition for health
You can then ask your intended PT relevant questions and see whether their knowledge is based on scientific or medical principles, or simply a fluke that they themselves discovered and neglects many important factors for sensible weight loss.
References or proof
This then brings us also to the matter of references and testimonials. Do not rely here on a few examples provided by the PT. Try to do a bit more research. It is quite easy (and common) for a PT to lay claim to someone else’s success – either the client held up as an example came to the PT in great shape to start with, or switched coaches part way through and achieved great condition two months after they left your proposed PT.
You may have carefully scrutinized a PT from all angles according to the guidelines in this article, and found a PT with excellent credentials and experience – but you cannot stand each other.
This is not uncommon and is simply a matter of personality types or training and learning styles.
Generally, you will get an idea in the first meeting, whether or not the two of you “click”. Sometimes however it may not be apparent until you have started training with the PT. In this case, do not be afraid to exit the arrangement (see later section “contracts, trials, and exit”)
Beware however, before pulling the pin, that the “clash” is not in fact the PT, but simply your own motivation to achieve your goal, or an unrealistic goal in the first place. You may in fact not be as dedicated to achieving what you stated in the initial induction – or the goal was set too aggressively since you wanted the results fast and thought it was possible.
Before pulling the pin too rashly, it is a good idea (as well as courteous) to give your PT the chance to discuss your concerns and see if there is a remedy. Ideally, the PT should be checking with you regularly on how you are coping, or should spot signs of discomfort – but not necessarily the case as we can often mask our true feelings.
This process of giving the PT a second chance does not apply however if you have suddenly found yourself in the grips of a lycra-clad sociopath or wanna-be frustrated drill sergeant with an inferiority complex.
Also check the resources that the PT has at their disposal. Think about and research the likely equipment needed for your goals and see if the PT can access them. You may have found a brilliant PT but if they are limited in what they can provide, it will do you no good.
Rates are an obvious aspect to check. You can compare them with those of other PT’s – but be careful also to compare apples with apples. If your chosen PT is highly skilled in a specific area that will help you achieve your goals quickly and safely, do not compare the rates with a PT with little experience, or, referring to the other criteria in this article, is not in the same league.
Be realistic also with what you want to achieve and what the value of that goal means to you. For example, if you want to be a world tennis champion and have found a coach with proven ability of turning out champions who may be your key to a million dollar career, then quibbling over an hourly rate of $120 may not be appropriate.
On matters more down to earth however and considering the “average” person, I have seen many who balk at PT services of $70 per hour and have second thoughts despite the high probability of serious health issues if they do not address matters right away. What price do you put on your health?
I think that these matters arise because people see the rate of $70 per hour and compare it to their own job at $52,000 per year, which equates to $1,000 per week or $26 per hour.
What they do not take into account however is that (for self-employed PT’s):
- The PT pays rent to the gym – generally $250 per week
- The PT has to pay insurance
- The PT does not get sick leave, superannuation, or annual leave (in a job where these are part of the package, they equate to 25% of the salary
- The PT has overhead activities that are not charged (admin, invoicing, planning, marketing etc)
- The PT has business costs such as marketing (brochures, cards, adverts, and the time to create them)
- The PT has “business wear” to purchase
- The PT has tools to purchase (even if it is just sponges or towels for you to use
- The PT has travel costs if they have to move to and from a gym or other venue
When you take these factors into account, you will soon find that the $70 per hour sessions are really equating to a wage of $25 per hour. (25 sessions per week is $1,750 – less $250 rent = $1,500 – less insurance, equipment, marketing materials, travel = $1,300. But allowing for sickness and holidays, actual income-producing time is 46 weeks, hence income is $59,800 – but the 25 sessions will mean 35 hours in the gym or travelling, plus there will be 10 hours in admin matters and planning sessions and documenting client notes so actual hours are 45, with an average weekly income of 1,150, giving an hourly rate of $25.55. However, the PT has the added stress of whether they will generate that much business each week, whether clients will leave, or not turn up for sessions – so it can be a stressful way to earn the $25 per hour that you take for granted.
So be careful that you get value for money – but also be realistic in how you view the PT’s rates!
This is another aspect that you may not be able to gauge until you have had a few sessions – unless you are able to ask another of the PT’s clients, or you have seen PT’s client in the gym, patiently waiting for the PT who is regularly running late.
Also, in relation to this, beware the PT who is on time but has to spend many minutes setting things up for you. I always arrived 10 or 15 minutes early and prepared equipment in advance if possible.
The other way in which you can lose value is where the PT books sessions back to back. This is ok if he or she sticks strictly to the times so that as you arrive, their last client is walking out the door. But in some cases, the session before yours can run a few minutes over, robbing you of valuable time.
Reliability can also relate to the PT saying they will do what they say they will do – designing your program or diet – researching some relating to a goal you have or issue you are experiencing.
Generally, if you are committing to a training program, the onus is on you to stick to that program – however there are some circumstances where that is difficult to achieve and you may need to check that the Pt is able to accommodate your changing schedules.
The PT, in relation to flexibility but on another matter, should also be skilled enough that if you need to change your workout for the day (you may have an injury, or need to “save” yourself for a sporting event the next day, or simply feel burned out and needing a rest) – the PT should be able to spin on a dime and adjust the workout to suit.
I always had a plan for my clients before they entered the gym – based on what we had been doing till now and in light of the grand scheme to meet their goals – but during the warm-up session, I would talk to them about recent events and how they were feeling. I would try to gauge their stress levels or other aspects that may affect their condition (such as a heavy weekend partying) and I would adjust the workout accordingly. On more than one occasion I stopped the session during the warm-up, turned off the “meter” (metaphorically speaking) and took them to a café to discuss the challenges at home or work that I could sense, had them at the verge of tears. There is no sense in trying to push someone who is in the wrong mental state – and besides, mental state is all part of the complete health program. A PT should be sensitive to all aspects of a person’s life that affect their health – and not just consider that “. . . I am only here to help you lift weights. . . ” – Nutrition, sleep, stress, and training are in fact a complete package that make up “health”.
At times, there is nothing apparently amiss during the warm-up, but it is very clear during the first exercise that they are under par or conversely, having a super-performance day when I may have scheduled a recovery session. I would, in these circumstances, dial the workout down or up respectively.
Your PT should be adept at adjusting and not locked into the same program regardless of whether you turn up hobbling through the door and sobbing quietly, or bounding in via the skylight like a super hero.
Holidays and breaks
Be sure that your PT and the agreement allow you to be able to take the occasional break. Some have clauses that commit you to a minimum number of sessions per month. This is to safeguard the PT against people who sign up and then never turn up, or decide to take 6 month off and then expect to return under the same conditions that are now outdated. So minimal attendance clauses can be quite reasonable and fair – so do not object outright – but instead check that there is a bit of give and take. You cannot expect your PT to sign into something that enables people to walk all over them – but at the same time, the terms must also reflect fair and reasonable occurrences and “life events”.
Contracts, trials, and exit
Do not sign up to a lengthy contract with a new PT without some sort of exit clause. Preferably, see if there is the possibility of a trial session – and a “probation” period in which you can change you mind – or only sign up for a few session
Location, timing, and Convenience
Again, you may have found a great PT but they are constrained to a particular location or timing that does not suit your schedule or movements. It may also be the case that they suit your schedule now, but you are due for some changes in future – possibly a change at work, or a baby on the way. Try to think ahead and see if these changes can be accommodated. It can be frustrating to become familiar with a particular PT and they know how your body and moods work, and just the right way to motivate you and progress you towards your goals – only to have to leave them and start all over again with someone else.
In summing up, there are many aspects to choosing a PT explained in this article and it may seem overwhelming. Do not be put off or paralyzed by over-analysis. Try to identify at least a few things that you think are important to you, and choose your PT based on those matters. Also, regardless of careful choice, always take into account the primary rule of getting a trial first or at least entering into an agreement with plenty of flexibility and the option to exit early if needed without being committed to paying for many sessions that you will never take.
Be sensible in your choice, give yourself some latitude – but do not delay – training with a PT may be the best thing you ever did. It may get you that medal you wanted, or the admiration of friends, or simply help your own self esteem.
The Ultimate Guidance – A PT With AMP Your Workout
Many of the benefits that come with a PT, as you will have noted from the article, require years of experience.
But does this mean you need to find a “mature” PT?
Not Necessarily – as mentioned in the “leverage” section, a PT can learn very quickly by leveraging the experience of mentors.
A PT can also “acquire” high-end skills quickly through powerful resources such as training equipment and monitoring devices – much like the mechanic using a modern dyno-tune with computerized feedback – or the accountant using a licensed product that includes all the latest information and calculators, enabling the accountant to work for you more strategically rather than spending all his time doing the research or calculations manually!
AMP Your Workout empowers PT’s in much the same way. The computations within AMP Your Workout are well beyond the capacity of most PT’s (they would take hours to calculate for each workout) – and they provide scientific analysis of your training, instantly to the PT, empowering the PT to work with you much more effectively.