How to Find the Best Personal Trainer for You

by Matt Giles

True fitness guys know that personal trainers are more than just gym rats. They’re also armchair psychiatrists, one-person support groups, nutritionists, and, in some instances, long-time friends. So it should come as no surprise that it’s really, really hard to find the perfect one. For this reason, Men’s Fitness asked some of the top trainers in the field—from celebrity gurus to Spinning instructors, performance specialists to conditioning coaches—to provide you with the ultimate to-do list for hiring the best guy or gal to get you ripped.

Step 1: Find Your Personal Trainer in a Group Class

So you want a trainer. First, let’s assume you haven’t received any glowing recommendations from friends or colleagues and that you’re on your own. Start by hitting up a lot of exercise classes and simply observing.

“A lot of great trainers teach classes, so go and see how they do and what they know,” says Jen Widerstrom, a personal trainer who’s trained contestants on The Biggest Loser. Whether you take a general fitness class or a boot camp, she says, “Nine times out of 10, the teacher also does private sessions. It’s like going on a first date with a trainer—if you take a class, there are no barriers to entry.”

Watch how the trainer interacts with the clientele. This prehiring assessment is crucial, says Jim Smith, founder of Diesel Strength and Conditioning. “You can see who’s being happily motivated, rather than being shouted at and made to do things they might not want to do.”

If you want to train for something a bit more specialized, like Spinning, that bond with your trainer can make or break your workout. “Cycling isn’t easy; it’s hard cardio,” says Jen Barnet, co-founder of XCycle Las Vegas, “so you need to establish a connection with someone who can push you to the limit.”

Once you’ve made a decision, be sure to ask questions. “A lot of people assume that a trainer knows best—that isn’t always the case,” says Holly Perkins, a strength and conditioning specialist. “Clients who don’t ask questions drive
me bonkers. If you don’t question your trainer, how will you know whether he/she cares what’s important to you.”

Also, check the ACSM or NSCA, national databases of certified trainers: Qualifying for either is a challenging series of science- and research-based tests, so you’ll know if your trainer has the right experience.

“It shows a trainer is willing to continue bettering himself,” Smith says. “The worst trainers are those who think they can’t learn anything new.”

Step 2: Three Questions You Must Ask a Would-Be Trainer 

If you don’t feel comfortable asking your potential coach/instructor/motivator/guru these questions, says our panel, it’s a sure sign you need to resume your search.

1. Is this your only job?

Right Answer: Yes

Why:  “Most trainers who do it as a living have a real passion for it, and if it’s not their go-to way of making an income, I wouldn’t trust them,” says Seedman. “If they’re mediocre, they’ll say they train only part-time.” Also: “A trainer should never be a salesperson. A good trainer is always training, and their competence with other clients should sell itself. They won’t have any trouble retaining clients—they should have a full roster. A master of their own art of training.”

2. What would you do for me if I became your client?

Right Answer: What are your goals?

Why: “A knowledgeable trainer knows a million things to do with any one person,” Perkins says. “It just comes down to what a client’s goals are. A personal trainer should reflect your goals and not just what’s trendy or has worked with other people they’ve trained. And they should stress in the sessions the need to do specific exercises to achieve your goals. If you tell them your goals right away, you’re giving them an easy out to your question.”

3. Do you do this workout yourself?

Right Answer: Yes

Why:  “This is important,” Smith says. “Make sure the person prescribing the workout also works out. It is a basic thing, but true. A lot of trainers create workouts with visually appealing exercises that they can’t do themselves. I wouldn’t tell you to deadlift for eight reps without showing you what I want to see.” Drew Little, of the Michael Johnson Performance center in Texas, agrees: “A trainer doesn’t need to look like Arnold, but they should practice what they preach.”

Also check out: Can You Date Your Personal Trainer? Plus 4 Other FAQ’s and The 5 Biggest Personal Training Myths.


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