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

Is your trainer educated in the field and certified? There are many degrees and certifications for personal trainers, so it's not always easy to sort out the good from the mediocre. Just because a trainer has a degree, it 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.

Your trainer should be able to demonstrate that they stay informed and actively pursue continuing education through classes, workshops, lots of reading or literature review, and industry networking opportunities. Some of the most well-known certifications to look for include: ACSM, NESTA, NETA, NSCA, NASM, ACE, and AFAA. Keep in mind that having passed the test doesn't necessarily translate into being a skilled coach or personal trainer. Great personal training is as much of an art as a science, and your trainer needs to 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 they also document your plan and 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. No competent trainer charging up to $100 an hour would even consider training a client without a thorough baseline fitness assessment and regular progress checks, so if you don't get these, you may want to look for another personal trainer.

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 fairly 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. In order to improve, you'll be doing some tough workouts (only after you learn proper technique and build up your core stability). These hard 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.

The worst trainers have no plan, no road map, and will throw random exercises into your sessions or make it up on the spot. It's one thing to make modifications to your training based upon your ability, injuries, or challenges, but it's not OK to wing it. If you feel your trainer is making up your workouts when you show up for your session, find a new trainer.

They Don't Ignore Nutrition

Endless exercise, squats, and dead-lifts are of little long-term value if your diet is awful. A good trainer recognizes that a huge part of building muscle, losing fat, and being healthy is based on what you consume. Unless you are planning on hours of cardio every day, what you eat matters. And even if you are an endurance exercise junkie, what you eat still matters. Your trainer should spend time talking with you about your nutrition plan, provide a basic meal plan, and offer a realistic, achievable nutritional approach to eating. If you require more information or can't get your nutrition under control, a good trainer will refer you to a sports nutritionist to sort out the details.

They Walk the Talk

Does your trainer struggle to do the workouts they assign you? Red flag. Is your trainer constantly snacking on chips or regularly eating fast food? Red flag. Great personal trainers practice what they preach, care about their health, and set a good example. Any trainer who tells you to do something that they won't do may not be the best authority on a healthy lifestyle. Of course, they don't need to be physical perfection; the fit bodies we see on magazine covers or on the web are often Photoshopped and portray unattainable standards. However, a personal trainer should be healthier, stronger, and generally fitter than the general population.

They Have Client Testimonials

Great trainers have happy, successful clients and can prove it. If your trainer can't demonstrate a history of previous successes with a variety of clients, why would you think they can improve your health outcomes? Personal training is not inexpensive, so before you spend lots of money with a given personal trainer, call a few of their past clients and ask about their experience with that trainer. Ask about their goals, outcomes, progression, and if what they learned is still working for them. Qualified trainers will be more than happy to have you talk to clients. If your trainer balks at the notion, look for someone who doesn't.

They Believe In You

If your trainer doesn't believe in you, reaching your goals will be a lot more difficult. You are hiring a trainer precisely because you don't want to go it alone, right? A good 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 own 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 own motivation to continually choose healthy behaviors outside of your training sessions.

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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. Updated April 10, 2020.

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

  3. Matthews J. Working with a Personal Trainer: What to Expect. American Council on Exercise. 2009.