How to Find the Best Personal Trainer for You

A little homework can go a long way toward your fitness experience.

By + More

The first day of January brings a flurry of new clients for personal trainers, but there is also a second busy season for fitness professionals: when summer rolls around.

It starts with the first warm weekend. Women take out their shorts from last summer to discover they no longer fit. It keeps going into July after the family vacation. After purchasing new shorts and shopping for a bathing suit, a woman may make the decision that something has to change. The real shock to the system occurs when she cannot keep up on the family adventure. She is winded on hikes and has to rest while everyone else goes on. She is so sore she cannot get out of bed after a day of kayaking or water skiing. She watches family and friends enjoying themselves and feels left out, because her body won’t let her participate. When she returns home, she decides it is time to ask for help.

Where should she turn for guidance? Hiring a personal trainer can be a frustrating and confusing process. Most people don't know where to start. Some may join a local gym where they are offered a few sessions for free to get them started. At that point, you are paired with the “trainer of the day” and given a workout that may or may not exactly fit you and your goals. This can be enough to get you started, but there are other options. You can seek out a more personalized fitness experience by doing some homework ahead of time.

[Read: The Unspoken Rules of the Gym.]

The first step is to create a list of candidates. You can get a list of potential partners in a variety of ways:

  • Ask for referrals. Friends and family with similar goals (and success!) are great resources.
  • Do a Google search. Search for “personal trainers” in your city. See who comes up first and check any potential reviews. Think of their website as the front door of their business. What does it say about them? Does it make you feel comfortable? If you like what you see, add them to your list.
  • Search on a fitness association website. I like IDEA FitnessConnect for its customized search capability. You’ll be able to choose from a large pool of certified fitness professionals with a variety of specialties.
  • If you've joined a gym, watch trainers as they interact with their other clients. Does she stay engaged with the client? Do the client and trainer have good rapport? Does he do the same workout all day with different clients or does he appear to be matching the workout to the client?

[Read: 'Salute You' Program Helps Veterans Become Personal Trainers.]

Once you have created your list, start contacting the candidates. Your list may be long to start with, but a simple phone call or email may help you eliminate some of the candidates:

  • How long does it take for the trainer to return your call or email? This will give you an indication of how responsive he or she will be to your needs as a client.
  • Does the trainer offer a free consultation? A fitness professional should want to meet with you and review your health history and goals before ever having you pick up a weight. If this person wants to skip straight to workouts without assessing you, scratch him or her off your list.

I often tell perspective clients to interview at least two to three different coaches before making a decision. The client-trainer relationship is very personal, and it's important to make sure you and your chosen trainer are a good fit. Here is a list of potential questions to ask your personal trainer candidate:

  • Are you insured? All personal trainers should carry some form of liability insurance. Safety should be the No. 1 priority, but accidents can happen even under the best conditions.
  • At what times are you available? It's important to be realistic about your training schedule. If you are not a morning person, do not sign up for 6 a.m. sessions – no matter how much you like the personal trainer.
  • What is the cost? While cost is a factor, it should not be the determining one. Be realistic with your budget, but do not necessarily go for the lowest-cost option.
  • What does a typical workout look like? While they may not be able to give you specifics until they assess you, a personal trainer should be able to describe the flow of an average session and what types of training (such as TRX, kettlebells or free weights) she prefers to use with clients.
  • Do you cover nutrition as well? Some personal trainers charge extra for nutritional guidance. Some do not offer any nutritional support at all. You can’t out-train a bad diet, so your fitness plan should include basic education on how to eat to support your fitness goals.
  • Why should I hire you versus someone else? Ask about the trainer’s fitness philosophy and what makes the experience different. This is a great way to make sure your goals and the trainer’s methods match.

Doing a little work ahead of time will make your personal training experience a much more positive and successful one! 

[Read: 14 Simple Ways to Be Happier and Healthier in 2014.]