How To Pick A Good Trainer Without Knowing Anything About Exercise…

I watch people very closely when they exercise.  I’ve done this for 35 years, even before I did it professionally.  I continue to be intrigued, because I can tell so much about a person by their behavior in a gym.  Here are some of the gym types I’ve seen most over time:

1. Does-The-Same-Routine-All-The-Time-Person: Nothing ever changes with them. Not their routines.  Not their bodies.  They learned what they do from some fitness magazine, DVD, or old exercise class and don’t dare change.

2. Well-Meaning-Friend (can substitute “Friend” with Boyfriend or Girlfriend): Here’s how this one works.  Well-Meaning-Friend comes in with partner and “shows” partner the entirely wrong way to exercise. I never know what WMF’s credentials are, but partner listens to WMF intently, as WMF instructs them on how to do most things wrong.  Sadly, partner becomes welded to these sad bits of misinformation.

3. Looks-Fit-Therefore-They-Must-Know-What-They’re-Doing-Person: This person, and others around them, think they know what they’re doing because they have a nice body. What they’re doing is obviously working for them, right?  But this person doesn’t know how to prevent injuries or balance their routine.  This person is usually never as fit as they look either and often just enjoys the benefits of good genetics.  Fashion models and celebrities often are the greatest examples of this.  They historically put out the most dangerous and ineffective exercise programs.  People buy these by the truckload, because they believe doing so will make them look like the celebrity and therefore their lives will be better.

4. Workout-Written-On-Paper-Person: This person comes into the gym with their workout written down on a sheet of paper (often written by Well-Meaning-Friend) and they walk around with it, like it’s the Bible. They think they must absolutely follow what’s on the paper, to the letter, or all will be lost.  This person has a very insecure knowledge base and fragile ego to go with it and usually won’t let anybody else suggest anything additionally, because it will screw them up.  The problem with this is that situations come up almost every workout that require knowledgeable recognition and adjustment.  A piece of paper can’t do that for you.

5. Flat-Out-Gets-It-Person: They’re not necessarily in the best shape, but their technique, form and varied approach, indicates, even to the untrained eye, that they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s like watching an great dancer.  Their movements reflect their knowledge.  You know that they know a lot, without knowing how they know.  Asking them how they know, usually confirms their experience.  This person is usually even and relaxed, because they know what they know.  All that’s left is to compliment them.

Your best chance of navigating the murky roads of gyms is still to use a good private trainer.  But how can you tell a good private trainer, if you don’t know anything about exercise?


1. Use Referrals of People Who Are Credible – Talk to professionals. Physical therapists, dietitians, doctors, psychotherapists, all have referral networks built up over time. Quality professionals recognize other quality professionals and care how their referrals reflect upon them.

2. Observe Your Potential Trainer Working – Watching a trainer work, even if you don’t know all the nuances of training, are very helpful. Do they pay attention to their clients’ technique, offering suggestions? Or are they constantly checking their smartphone or their reflection in the mirror?  Is their client flailing away, while the trainer chats with other people?  This will also give you a gauge of your compatibility with the potential trainer.

3. Check the Trainer’s Credentials – Has your trainer studied from a variety of credible organizations? Ask them. Research the organizations to gauge their quality.  Ask them what they learned from each?  Ask them how they would approach rehabilitating your injury?  How would they get you in shape for your wedding in 6 months?  How would they improve your posture?  Share these answers with other potential candidates and healthcare professionals, to gauge their reactions as well.

4. Find Out the Trainer’s Policies – Are their policies unfair or punitive? Do they have your best interest at heart? Do they even care enough about their business to have policies or is it just chaos?  What’s the cancellation policy?  The late policy?   What are their standards?  Good trainers take their craft very seriously and protect it with good policies.  Protect your body, hard earned money and precious time, by learning these.

5. Find Out How Long the Trainer Has Been Working – A brand new trainer will in all likelihood not know as much as a trainer who’s done it long enough to see most situations and injuries twice. Also, a trainer who’s been at it for a while has had many clients who’ve come to trust them for a reason.

6. Does This Trainer Continue Their Education? – A trainer who seeks new information cares about you and his or her job. That trainer is also going to have the latest information on most subjects, whether they agree with it or not and make you safer.

7. Does This Trainer Take The Time To Explain Why They Believe In Their Approach? – If a trainer explains why he or she does what they do, what effect it will SPECIFICALLY have AND this comes true, then most likely they know what they’re talking about. They also want you to be a partner in the outcome, which is empowering and should give you peace of mind.

8. Ask For A Trial Period – If you want to sample a trainer, they should make that easy for you to do. It takes time to see how well you work with somebody. Three to five sessions will give you a thorough sample of the experience.  But it only takes one session to have a bad experience.

Whenever I meet with a client, I observe them before we start.  How they carry themselves, their posture, their face, their energy.  I already gather information before we start.  I always ask them how they are feeling, to try to gauge their energy.  Then I ask them what they’ve consumed that day, to gauge their nutritional state.  I ask them how they slept, to gauge their level of stress and recovery.  Then I ask them if anything is hurting, to gauge what our priorities need to be on that given day.  Injuries always move to the top of the list.  I also ask what that person needs from exercise that day, or what’s going on in their lives, to try to fill in the remaining spaces of what needs to be done that day.  This is all in an attempt to meet the person where they are.  To help use their energy towards their own goals.  Some call this a “Mindful” approach.  But it’s been around long before it was called “Mindful”.  The goal is to be in sync with a person,  to help them be their best selves, with the tools that I have to offer.  I also know the process of burning fat, adding muscle and improving flexibility, also reduces stress.  So often, I’m achieving several purposes, with a single choice of action.  The confirmation that I’ve done my job well, comes afterwards, when the person says to me, “Wow, I feel so much better than before I came in.”  That makes me feel better too.

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