Is Your Personal Trainer Fit for You?

How do you choose the right personal trainer?

The time has come for you to get fit and shed that unwelcome body fat. Or perhaps you want to add some size to your frame, or train for an athletic event, such as a half marathon.  At this point, I always recommend seeking out the help of a professional personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach to get you started off on the right foot.

However, I implore you; please don’t just grab the first trainer who walks by. To put it simply, getting your personal training certificate is relatively easy – you can do it in a weekend – and so you’ll find “trainers” all over the city (or web if you choose to go the on-line route) that claim to be #1 at something.  Do not be mistaken – we are not all created equal and our experience can mean the difference between you achieving a strong, functionally sound and fit body and a stack of unnecessary chiropractic bills.

If you’re already a member of a gym, you can spy on its trainers to find a match; you can talk to friends who already have  trainers/coaches and the word of mouth is powerful; and of course, simply Google “trainers” in your neighbourhood.

Once you’ve identified a small selection of promising candidates, how do you select “The One?”  Well, every good relationship – with colleagues, with friends and with romantic partners – depends on solid communication.  How you interact with your trainer is no different.  You need to develop a rapport.

Start by asking for a consultation, either in person or on the phone.  If the trainer asks for money at this step – move on!  Take note as to whether or not the trainer is actually listening to you, genuinely interested in and understanding what it is that you hope to accomplish.  You don’t want a trainer who treats you like a number, to whom he or she will prescribe the same cookie cutter program they give to all of their other clients.  If you’ve found a couple of attentive trainers, then they’ve earned themselves a spot in the next round.

Don't be a victim of the "cookie cutter" money making schemes!
Don’t be a victim of the “cookie cutter” money making schemes!

At this stage, your future trainer should confirm that you are able to safely begin a workout program (a step you should have already taken with your physician) and ask you to complete a written health history and lifestyle information form, along with a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire). Both are extremely important, however it has been my experience that this is where most trainers stop. Unfortunately, the uninformed person usually trusts that these forms are sufficient, which encourages them to sign on the dotted line and start forking over their hard-earned cash. But guess what? It’s not enough. Not even close!

The next step is just as important as the last. The trainer must have you physically complete a thorough fitness test and a movement screen. Write that down.  I’m constantly working to raise awareness among trainers, gym owners and the general public about the importance of a these tests. A movement screen is a simple, but a very informative tool to assess a person’s ability to perform every day movements free of pain and dysfunction. I feel it should be mandatory in all gyms, all around the world.

Functional Movement Screen (FMS)
Functional Movement Screen (FMS)

If you don’t identify problems prior to beginning your training you’re in for a world of hurt, because you’re just going to build muscle over injury, or injure yourself even further. It’s completely counterproductive and a waste of time and money. It’s also important to note that movement screens should be performed at regular intervals throughout the year.

Alright, so your training candidates have made it through another round. What now? Next, you have to assess the trainer’s professionalism. Below is a list of qualities I feel you should consider:

  • Does your trainer have references? Personally, I have a list of long-term clients who are happy to share their experiences in working with me.
  • Does your trainer have a valid education? I’m not saying your trainer has to have a degree in health science (though, it doesn’t hurt), but you want to make sure they’ve continued their education above their original certification; that they’ve made an effort to educate themselves on the latest research in exercise science, and to learn new tools to assist their clients. Look for certifications from places such as NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) & ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine). A valid CPR certification and training insurance is also a must.
  • Does your trainer live the lifestyle he or she preaches? If your trainer could stand to lose a few inches around their middle, then perhaps they’re not right for you.
  • Is your trainer focused on your overall health, strength and lifestyle? A trainer should be more concerned with the circumference of your waist than how many pounds you lose on each week.
  • Does your trainer have a circle of allied health professionals that he or she works with?  Such as, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, registered nutritionists, etc.? Many people have extended health benefits through their jobs, which cover many of these services. Use them!  You’re paying for them anyway, and they can all help you bring you closer to your ultimate goal of a strong and healthy body. When your trainer has a network that communicates with each other about you and your body, you’re building a great platform for success.

Feeling confident that you’ve found a coach who truly cares about you and your progress?  Great, but you’re not done yet. After you’ve begun regularly attending and adhering to your 1-on-1 sessions or online –coaching program – here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • Does your trainer push you too hard? It can be hard to know this until you actually complete a session together but I assure you, no matter what you have seen on The Biggest Loser, pushing a client to the point of sickness or severe pain is not good training. It’s the worst kind of training out there.
  • Does your trainer continue to be professional?  This could mean arriving on time for appointments, following through with what was outlined in your consultation, and replying promptly to e-mails, etc.
  • Are your workout routines altered every four to six weeks to keep you motivated and challenged?
  • Does your trainer share his knowledge with you to better position you to adopt fitness as a lifestyle, rather than just a seasonal chore?
  • Does your trainer take part in workshops, clinics or courses to continue his/her own education?
  • Do you get along with your trainer?  This is a catch 22. You want to gel with your trainer, but not so much that you spend more time chatting than physically moving.
  • Does your trainer inspire and motivate you?
  • DO YOU SEE RESULTS?  (Providing you have followed the routine as prescribed)

There you have it, a complete guide to help you select your first trainer, or to gauge the effectiveness of your current trainer.  Print this page and keep it next to your computer or in your bag. Okay, one more thing. Information is power, so ask questions – no matter how silly they may seem. You’re investing money into your transformation and for that, you deserve the best coach possible.

Train Mind, Body & Spirit

Nathane L. Jackson cscs & kbts


Nathane Jackson conducts 1-on-1 and group training business in downtown Toronto, as well as offers a comprehensive International Online Coaching and Nutrition Program for general fitness and athletes, as well as special programs for golfers and physique competitors.

For more information about Nathane Jackson Fitness, please visit

3 thoughts on “Is Your Personal Trainer Fit for You?

  1. Great info, Nate.

    This line made me laugh, “If your trainer could stand to lose a few inches around their middle, then perhaps they’re not right for you.” I was just telling friends the other day how I can’t stand seeing trainers at the gym who aren’t in good shape themselves.

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