In the age of celebrity or Instagram-famous personal trainers, it's important to know that a big name doesn't tell you a whole lot. While some high-profile trainers may have credentials, others might not.
“Celebrity trainers aren't necessarily good trainers. They could just be in the right area at the right time,” says Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS, Former Head Physical Therapist / Strength Coach with the New York Mets and Men’s Health advisor. Keep in mind that celebrity trainers are only worth the investment if they have safely generated results for their clients and are still being hired by other celebrities, he adds. So if someone lists a celebrity client on their website, that doesn't necessarily mean much by itself.
Get this: technically, literally anyone can advertise themselves as a personal trainer. That’s why it’s important to find someone with credentials (a.k.a. letters at the end of their name). “If you don't know what the letters mean, ask...and then look it up,” says Cavaliere. “If they come from graduate degrees in related health/science fields from accredited universities...even better.”
Every personal trainer has their own focus. Some trainers work with those struggling with joint pain, while others might work solely with elderly clients building bone density and improving balance. It’s important to find a program that works best for you. If a trainer encourages you to do HIIT workouts that leave you drenched in sweat and out of breath, that type of warrior-style mentality won’t cut it if you love doing yoga, or if you struggle with chronic knee pain.
“There is definitely more than one way to program workouts for fat loss, muscle growth, etc. So find the one that meshes best with your style and go with that. There’s nothing worse than hating everything you're doing in a workout,” says Cavaliere.
If you’re still unsure, ask the trainer for a general client list. If your trainer works mostly with CrossFit junkies or bodybuilders, you’ll know their style is geared towards building bigger muscles and strength. So if you’re looking to work on leaning out (rather than bulking up), you’ll want to hire someone else.
“Trainers can differ in their method of motivation (some are more prone to screaming, while others can be steely-eyed but encouraging), or their methods of getting the job done,” explains Cavaliere. If the trainer seems rigid and uncompromising, and you’re more of a laid-back type, it’s probably not going to be a good fit.
Make sure your trainer checks in with you before trying to put you on a program. That means asking questions about your diet and previous fitness routine beyond your current weight. Cavaliere recommends that trainers assess body fat by using a set of high-quality calipers, which can help measure your body fat percentage.
The trainer should also ask you if you are on any medications, as some, like certain asthma medications, can influence your heart rate. If you’re asked to do 10 burpees in 20 seconds, you could be causing undue strain on your heart, so this is really important for them to know.
A good trainer will also inquire about your history of injuries (recent or chronic). “I'd evaluate every major joint (ankles, knees, hips, lower back, thoracic spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists) to see if I could uncover reasons for the injury or potential weak links in the kinetic chain that will cause future breakdown,” Cavaliere explains.
“I'd also ask about any current training regimens. What have they been doing most recently and at what consistency level?," he says. This is to identify a client's goals and motivation level.
As with most things in life, a personal trainer will cost you. Prices vary based on geographic location, gym affiliation (some trainers are affiliated with a gym, while others have an independent practice), and more. But a trainer can have a hefty price tag, especially if the trainer has higher education or a large Instagram following.
“I'd say a normal high quality experience trainer can charge between $125 and $200 per session. There are certainly those who can command much higher fees, but those are based on demand and a long track record of proven results,” says Cavaliere.
Before burning a hole in your wallet, discuss the possibility of a discount. Perhaps there’s a deal for getting a package and paying up front, or maybe you can even split the session and cost with a friend.
If your personality doesn’t mesh with that of your trainer, that’s a problem. But it’s also a problem if you get along too well. If you’re too busy chatting during workouts to get in another set of deadlifts, it’s going to interfere with the rate of your progress. While you want a trainer who is encouraging and fun to be around (you don’t want to spend all that time with a drill-sergeant-type you can’t stand, right?), you need to make sure you’re still being pushed to your limits and are achieving your goals.
If you’ve been training for a while but you’re not seeing tangible results, it’s OK to move on and find someone new. Sometimes it’s just not the right match, but it might take a few months to see that. Give it a good 4-6 weeks, says Cavaliere, at which point you should start seeing some definite physical changes.
And remember, “the best trainers listen to what the client is trying to accomplish and provide them with the shortest, most direct path for getting there,” says Cavaliere. “Great trainers do not create clients that are dependent on them for their fitness, but rather choose to use them simply because they feel they get more out of them than they can do on their own.” If your trainer doesn’t check those boxes for you, it’s OK to kick them to the curb.
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