Signs of a Great Personal Trainer

Healthy Female Stretching in Gym Before Workout

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If you don't have a personal trainer, odds are you know someone who does. Personal training is a growing industry with more and more options, styles, and personalities to choose from.

You can find a trainer to meet you at your home or join an outdoor boot camp class. You could hire a sport-specific trainer or one who works exclusively with women, or seniors, or even children.

Competition for personal training clients is fierce, and some trainers market themselves on their unique expertise or athletic coaching experience, while others claim to do it all. So how do you know if your trainer is worth their hourly fee?

Regardless of the type of trainer you select, it's helpful to review the following checklist and give your trainer an objective assessment of your own. If your personal trainer doesn't pass each item on the list, you may want to continue looking for a trainer who does.

Education and Certifications

You should check to see if your trainer is certified. There are many degrees and certifications for personal trainers, so it's not always easy to distinguish the good from the mediocre.

Just because a trainer has a certification doesn't necessarily mean they are a great coach, but it's a starting point. The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is evolving quickly, and staying current is challenging even for the most dedicated professionals.

Ask you trainer how they stay informed and actively pursue continuing education through classes, workshops, lots of reading or literature reviews, and industry networking opportunities. Some of the most well-known certifications to look for include: ACSM, NESTA, NETA, NSCA, NASM, ACE, and AFAA.

Remember that having passed the test doesn't necessarily translate into being a skilled coach or personal trainer. Excellent personal training is as much of an art as a science, and your trainer should be able to translate all the research and best practice into a routine that works for you.

They Perform Assessments

A competent, qualified personal trainer not only has a plan but also documents your plan and tracks your progress. Without a baseline assessment, fitness training is like setting off on a journey with no map: you can still have a lot of fun, challenge yourself, learn something, and maybe even get results, but it's far less efficient and focused than when you have a map.

Of course, the goals and desires you have for yourself in terms of your training program are up to you. No trainer should force you to pressure you to track things you don't want to, including bodyweight or circumference measurements if you'd rather avoid those.

Assessments should also be ongoing, checking in every few weeks to see how you are progressing. These assessments should align with the goals that you set for yourself with the help of your trainer. If you do not wish to track some metrics, such as bodyweight, then those should be left out and your trainer should respect your wishes.

They Focus on Progression and Rest

After you've completed your baseline assessment and had a fairly extensive discussion about your goals, history, and lifestyle, a great trainer will do some homework. By the time you return for your first session, they'll have spent time reviewing your fitness assessment results, your daily commitments, and your overall goals, and they will have determined a reasonably detailed training plan.

This is your road map. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. It will likely be about three months long with monthly checkpoints, adjustments, and rest days built-in. To improve, you'll be doing some tough workouts (only after you learn proper technique and build up your core stability).

These strenuous efforts will progress naturally and be followed by rest days. You will also continue adding intensity and new exercises in a progressive manner that makes sense.

You shouldn't feel overworked, nor should you feel unchallenged. Your progression should be monitored and tracked so you know how far you've come. As well, your trainer should be able to adapt your plan based on how you are responding. Nothing should be rigid or set in stone.

Making up a training plan is different than programming one based on your abilities that day. Your trainer may have had a plan but if you show up fatigued, sore, or stiff, they may adapt your plan based on these factors. This is actually a sign of a good trainer.

They Have Happy Clients

Most great trainers have happy, successful clients. You can ask for references and call a few of their past clients, if you have permission, and ask about their experience with that trainer. You can also have a meet and greet session to introduce yourself and get to know each other. Being able to get along and mesh well with your trainer is vital to a successful relationship.

New trainers can be very valuable as well. Hiring a trainer based on client testimonials alone is not necessarily the best strategy. See if you get along with and enjoy being with the trainer before dismissing them solely because they are new to the field. Newer trainers may even have more up to date training.

They Believe In You

If your trainer doesn't believe in you, reaching your goals will be more difficult. You are hiring a trainer precisely because you don't want to go it alone. An excellent personal trainer believes that every client has the capacity and the potential to succeed. They will get you excited to train, energize your workouts, and show you how to get where you want to go.

A really great trainer will take it to the next level. Great personal trainers will help you learn to believe in yourself and help you uncover your strength and motivation. You may always need the road map, but a great trainer will also provide you with the tools to help change your beliefs, grow your confidence, and uncover your motivation to continually choose healthy behaviors outside of your training sessions.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fitness Trainers and Instructors. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  2. Institute for Credentialing Excellence. NCCA Accredited Certification Programs.

  3. Matthews J. Working with a Personal Trainer: What to Expect. American Council on Exercise.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.