So you want to hire a personal trainer. Great! How to choose a fitness trainer can sometimes be as stressful as looking for one. But it doesn't have to be. Since I teach (certify) personal trainers, I have some unique insights into how to pick a good fitness coach. My questions will be different than others you may have seen elsewhere. The goals of my questions are to weed out those you don't need and help you find a good personal trainer. The best thing of my questions is that there aren't many of them either. There's only 5. This makes your interviews of them pretty short.
Are You Slamming Trainers?
I'm pretty sure that some won't like what I'm about to say so, before we get started, let me be clear: I write this words, not to depreciate anyone. I know some very good fitness trainers and count them among my friends.
I decided to write this to help people find a trainer that is right for them. It's my experience that most people don't know what to ask when they are seeking a trainer. I want to make this task easier as well as help people avoid picking the wrong fitness trainer.
For the personal trainers reading this, feel free to critique what I am point out below.
Do You Want A Female or Male Trainer?
While there isn't a difference in quality between male or female, before you begin your search, you should think which gender you would be more comfortable with, if any. While I can understand the appeal of a woman being trained by a female trainer, for others, this might not matter.
I've worked with both men and women and it has not been an issue. I have also met people who said they were more comfortable with one gender more than another.
Either way, think about this and if it matters to you. I've had clients for over a decade so who you pick may be with you for a long time.
Can't I just Pick The Trainer With The Best Abs?
One mistake that some make (some fitness centers too) is choosing a trainer based on looks alone. As someone who trains trainers, I've noticed a trend over the years. It's not engraved in stone tablets, mind you. Rather, just something I've observed.
Here it is…
Those trainers who look good on the outside, tend to not always do so well on their certification exams. They also tend to not keep up with the science of exercise and health either.
In a nutshell, they might not know as much.
The only explanation I've come up for this is that those trainers with the 6 pack etc., spend more time in the gym than in the library.
I'm sorry but biceps don't solve problems. Brains do.
Mind you, this is not meant to be a blanket statement because I do know some very athletic trainers who are also very smart. Take my observation for what it is. Just an observation.
Either way, the 5 questions I give you below will let you quickly separate the wheat from the chaff and hopefully help you find someone who can suit your needs for years to come.
Where To Find A Personal Trainer?
If you want to hire a fitness coach, you may not have to look an farther than the gym you work out at. Most fitness centers have personal trainers on staff who can help you. Often times, their pictures may even be depicted on a wall so you can check them out beforehand. They are employed by the fitness center or an independent company that the facility uses to provide staff.
If you don't belong to a gym, no worries. You can do a online search for Personal Trainer and your zip code. A search like this may reveal several fitness professionals in your area, along with their websites too.
Another option is Craigslist. I know Craigslist can be a bit murky but I can tell you there are some quality fitness trainers there.
Caution. I recommend you by-pass any fitness trainer on Craigslist who:
- Posts naked or inappropriate pictures of themselves.
- Makes references to “bartering” services.
- Does not give their full name.
- Does not list a website where you can learn more about them.
Because Craigslist can be like the wild west, I want you to investigate who you consider before you reach out to them. I want you knowing who you are dealing with.
Groupon and Thumback are two other websites where you might find fitness trainers too. Another idea is to ask your friends if they employ a trainer.
5 Important Questions To Ask A Trainer First
Let me start off by giving you the 5 questions to ask a trainer before you hire them and then I'll explain why they are important below:
- Who are you certified by?
- What do the letters stand for?
- How long have you been a personal trainer?
- Do you have experience with my health issues/my goals?
- What do you know about rhabdomyolysis?
It doesn't matter if we are dealing with a trainer who works at your fitness center or an instructor who travels to your home, I believe these questions will help you find the best fitness coach for you.
Who Are You Certified By?
I'd bet 99% of the people who have a personal trainer have no idea who their instructors are certified by. I say this with confidence because when I meet people who have trainers and ask them this question, everybody responds the same way: “I dont know.”
By passing a certification, the trainer has demonstrated that they, at least, know the minimum amount of knowledge that fitness coaches are supposed to know. Yes, I know I said minimum. There is more to being a good trainer than passing a test. Either way, certification levels the playing field and helps ensure that everybody knows the same basic set of information.
Don't assume your personal trainer is certified. While I prefer not to drop names, I have been told that some fitness centers hire people -to work as trainers – before they are certified. That's how baldly they need fitness staff. This often occurs on the pretext that the individual get certified by a certain time period.
I have also met trainers who were self employed who were also not certified.
In both cases, this is unacceptable. It puts you at too much risk of being injured.
Also take notice of the expiration date on fitness certifications too. Many fitness certs expire every 1-2 years. Only hire trainers whose certifications have not expired.
Trainers who are not certified probably can't get liability insurance either. This put you at more risk if anything bad were to accidentally occur during a training session.
So, by asking “Who are you certified by?” -and getting an answer – you have taken your first step at ensuring you have a qualified personal trainer.
When trainers are asked this question, they usually respond by saying the letters of the organization they are certified by. Unless you are in the business, those letters mean nothing to you.
Make them tell you what those letters stand for.
Lets talk about that next…
What Do The Letters Stand For?
There are hundreds of organizations that certify personal trainers. While there really is no best fitness certification, When trainers talk to other trainers, they usually just recite the acronym and it's understood who they are referring to.
Here is a short list of the acronyms that represent some popular fitness organizations:
- AAAI (or AAAI/ISMA): American Aerobics Association/International Sports Medicine Association
- ACSM: American College of Sports Medicine
- ACE: American Counsel on Exercise
- AFAA: Athletes and Fitness Association of America
- IFTA: Interactive Fitness Trainers of America
- ISSA: International Sports Science Association
- NASM: National Academy of Sports Medicine
- NCCPT: National Council for Certified Personal Trainers
- NSCA: National Strength and Conditioning Association
These are not the only organizations and you do NOT have to be familiar with what the letters mean either.
Rather, I want you to ask what the letters mean because….
If the trainer CANNOT tell you in 1 second what those letters stand for, I recommend you move on to someone else.
I call this my 1 question litmus test for hiring personal trainers.
You see, it's been my experience that trainers who can only recite the letters (and not what the letters stand for) might be those who only care about being certified – but not qualified.
In other words, after they get certified, they might not do anything else to educate themselves or maintain their fitness cert until the last minute when it comes up for renewal (usually every 1-2 years).
Is asking this question always accurate? No. There are always exceptions. But, after quizzing many people with this question over the years, I believe it's right more than it's wrong.
Give it a try and let me know what happens.
How Long Have You Been Training?
I hesitated to add this to the list because everybody has to start somewhere. Being a new personal trainer does not mean someone is not good at their job. By the same token, someone who has been a trainer for 10 years may not be a good trainer either.
Of all the questions on this list, this one is the least important to me. For example, what if the individual is just starting out, yet has a college degree in exercise science? Sometimes, that might make up for a lack of practical training experience.
Ask the question and see what their answer is. No matter what they tell you, their answer is less important than how they answer the next question in our list….
Do You Have Experience With My Issues?
If you have a specific fitness goal, or health issue, wouldn't it be good to know if the trainer you are hiring has any past experience in those areas? For example, suppose you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, HIV or high blood pressure? Suppose you want someone to train you to run half marathon.
Fitness trainers with prior experience or who have knowledge of what you are trying to accomplish will be more valuable to you than one who doesn't.
What if you find a trainer who you like, who does not know how to work with someone like you? They will need to learn about it. It's that simple.
Learning on the job can work for some issues, although I don't usually recommend it for trainers who are dealing with certain health problems like heart disease. At the least, they need to study that problem – and the exercise guidelines – before the first training session begins.
This is a good book for those who need to learn about health problems.
What Do You Know About Rhabdomyolysis?
I feel this is the most critical question you can ask a personal trainer.
Rhabdomyolysis (“Rhabdo”) is a serious medical disorder that can occur from doing too much exercise. It's pronounced “Rab-do-my-O-lie-sis.” The word basically means muscle fiber death.
Just a few things that can result from developing rhabdo include:
- Kidney failure requiring dialysis
- Swollen limbs / in ability to bend or extend arms or legs
- Surgery to relieve swelling
- Heart rhythm problems/ heart attack
As you can tell, this is pretty serious stuff.
Why is this important you ask about rhabdo?
1. Most trainers have not heard about it (unfortunately).
2. Personal trainers have caused rhabdo in their clients.
It's accidental of course and is mostly caused by the trainer not knowing about it. That's why you need to ask.
How many personal trainers have caused rhabdo is not known. There are no statistics. I can tell you that in the 10+ years that I've been lecturing about rhabdo, I've spoken to many people who have gotten it, often after the very first workout.
When you ask this question and they say “yeah I know about it,” insist they tell you what it is.
Have them explain it to you.
Also have them explain why it happens and how not to cause it.
If the trainer does not know what rhabdomyolysis is or cannot tell you now to not get it, do NOT work with that personal trainer.
I'm not kidding.
I've spoken to people who have spent weeks in the hospital suffering through pain and sometimes surgery after developing this disorder. One woman told me the pain was worse than giving birth! After being discharged form the hospital, they deal with muscle weakness and fatigue that can last for a long time afterward.
Depending on insurance, some people are left on the hook for unpaid medical bills. This is an aspect of rhabdo not often discussed.
I've been educating fitness trainers for over 10 years about this medical disorder. The book you see here is mine. I wrote it. It's the first book in the US – maybe the world – that educates the public about the dangers of rhabdomyolysis.
So you get the point. If they don't know about rhabdo, hire a different personal trainer.
Personal Trainer Check List
If you are interviewing several fitness trainers, you can make a check list form like this for each persona you interview to keep track of them all and compare them to each other:
|Employed by gym/self employed|
|Experience with my goal/health issues?|
|Understands rhabdo (Y/N)|
Use the notes section for adding any additional information you feel is important to help you decide.
Some of the questions I've listed here are challenging. Some might say I'm being hard on personal trainers. I would not be surprised if some people squirm when you ask these interview questions- or if I get hate mail because I've told you these “secrets.” Regardless, my intention here is to help people hire the best fitness coach for them and their particular needs. Hopefully, some of these fitness interview questions have served that purpose.