Finding the Right Trainer for You

Von Gillette is an evidence-based fitness and nutrition professional specializing in weight loss in the Twin Cities. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Von Gillette is an evidence-based fitness and nutrition professional specializing in weight loss in the Twin Cities. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

By Von Gillette

It might seem that every third person you hear is certified as a personal trainier or yoga teacher.  Heck, you probably have a family member  who was recently certified.  Should you really trust them though?  What exactly should you look for in a trainer?

Consider your personality. 

Are you easy going, anxious, type-A, cocky, or prone to outbursts? Ask yourself, what kind of personality fits best for me?  If you are easy going and quiet, you may want your trainer’s personality to be down to earth and focused. However, don’t just hire a friend or family member who can’t give it to you straight.  You want them to keep you accountable to your plan.

Anxious clients may want to go for a calm and relaxing trainer.  Nevertheless, these same people may thrive on a high energy personality and even having the trainer get in their face a little. Some clients thrive on knowing exactly why they are doing the exercises they do. During your consultation, it’s important to convey your personality to your potential trainer.


Make Sure Their Specialty is Your Primary Goal

Find out what your potential trainer’s specialty is. Your potential trainer is probably best at training for one particular type of goal.  These goals typically include weight loss, toning, athletic training, or muscular gain (bodybuilding).   If your goal is getting ripped, make sure your potential trainer specializes in this. In my case, I get mostly referrals, so I don’t have to show clients proof – they’ve already seen it. If, however, you are meeting your potential trainer without having seen any results, it’s a good idea to ask for some referrals or request some before and after pictures of their clients.  If possible, talk to their clients in person.

Does your potential trainer’s body reflect their specialty?  If you’re looking to get ripped yourself, you should expect to see a ripped potential trainer!  If you don’t, you have a right to inquire about this.  Some trainers who may not look like Hercules may have recently lost two hundred pounds, making them look normal.  This is a massive accomplishment.  If you’re looking for weight loss, this trainer could be a perfect fit for you because they know exactly what you have been through.


Certifications and Other Credentials 

Unlike the medical profession, certification in the personal training realm doesn’t mean much other than you studied and memorized some facts. Your potential trainer still does need to be certified however.  There is an abundance of certifications, but you should typically look for NSCA, ACSM, NASM, ISSA, NPTI, or ACE. Even better than a certification is a degree in exercise science, sports science, kinesiology, or a similar field.  Even with that, do your homework. It’s best to review their internships, clubs they’ve worked at, and publications they’ve written.  Look at any videos they’ve posted.  What is their quality of materials? This will give you a good idea of what style of training they do.

Regardless of all the paper credentials, look for a trainer who has passion.  This is key in motivating clients. If your potential trainer is passionate about their service, you will be impassioned about your training.  How can you know if they have passion?  They will express enthusiasm, interest in your goals, supportiveness (even in the consultation), and use words like “excited,” “thrilled,” and “let’s get this started.” While these may sound cheesy, this is your life and health we’re talking about, not simply deciding what color the bathroom rug will to be.


What to Look for at the Consultation


Providing What You Really Need

Let’s assume you know you can do a reasonable nutrition program, but you know you need accountability to be successful on your diet.  If your potential trainer keeps talking about the specialized training program they want you on, they’re missing the point.   If they emphasize what you really need in their own words and methods, this not only means they’re listening to you, it can mean you are on your way to achieving your goals.  A good potential trainer will listen for what you really need, not necessarily what they want.



The second factor is connection. Do you feel a connection at your consultation?  If you’ve ever been out on a date and you didn’t connect with that person, there’s a reason why there’s no real possible future. Connecting helps build motivation, trust, and a good relationship between you and your trainer.  At the consultation, if they’re all business, that’s not good enough.  It’s always preferable to have a connection if you will be spending a significant amount of time with that person.



Hopefully, your potential trainer will offer you an assessment. This should give you an idea how they work with their clients.  It can be a little uncomfortable weighing in, taking measurements, or taking pictures.  Understand, however, that these can be extremely valuable in determining the best exercises and progressions for your body.  Your potential trainer should try to make you feel at ease. Typically, the more information your potential trainer gathers, the better your program can be. At a minimum, your trainer should include these components for your assessment:

  • Current health conditions (especially if it includes the heart)
  • Medications and supplementation
  • Previous exercise history
  • Previous injuries or joint pain
  • Nutritional allergies or sensitivities
  • Static and moving assessment



Trainers can range from 5 to 500 dollars per session.  Just because a trainer is expensive, however, does not mean they can help you get the body of your dreams.  I’ve seen many Hollywood and Internet trainers gain fortune and fame through mass marketing and incredible training principles which I know don’t work.  Very cheap rates however indicate less business experience and possibly a new trainer to the business.  Ask yourself, “What can I realistically afford?” Remember, you’ll need to see enough of your trainer to be able to stay on track.  If you can’t afford to see your trainer enough, you won’t stay motivated.

Personal training is an investment in your health. The greater the monetary amount, the greater the investment.  Don’t forget, however, making significant  changes to your body is hard work.  While your trainer should establish a good plan to reach your goals, motivate you, and keep you accountable, you are the one who needs to show up and be consistent.


Online Trainer

Online training means your trainer will not physically see you, but will provide a training or nutritional plan electronically.  Unless you’ve done at least one year of consistent personal training, I recommend most people begin with seeing their trainer personally.  Before beginning online training, it’s critical to have a foundation of the different forms of push ups, dumbbell or barbell pressing, rows, chin ups (if not overweight), squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and planks. If you are a type-A person who has intrinsically high motivation, online training may be a good fit for you.  You should still be able to ask your online trainer questions about your training or nutritional plan.

I can attest that while online training is highly convenient, it is not as enjoyable nor as motivating as seeing your trainer in the flesh. With my last trainer who was online, there were some exercises which I interpreted differently than my trainer.  If you go with an online trainer, I highly recommend getting very specific instructions and videos on your exercises.  You should also create videos of your training sessions and especially for challenging exercises for your online trainer to see and critique.



Although your trainer can help you make significant changes, you are the one who must work the hardest and be consistent. If you can find a trainer whose personality is a good match, is affordable for you to see them enough, and keeps you accountable, you have probably made a good choice.  Now, go get the body of your dreams!

Von Gillette is an evidence-based fitness and nutrition professional specializing in weight loss in the Twin Cities.

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