How to find the right personal trainer

Expect motivation, not guarantees

For gyms, January is better than Christmas. According to one survey, about half of all resolutions made involve our health. So it’s no surprise that purchases of fitness club memberships tend to spike at the start of the year.

But it may only be the gyms that see the benefit; soon enough the dropoff begins. In fact, the location technology platform Foursquare thinks it can pinpoint when. In 2019, it predicted Feb. 9 as “Fall Off the Wagon Day,” when ambition gives way to apathy (it’s usually the second Saturday in the month).

The reasons are familiar to us all: we believe we don’t have time, we get bored, we don’t really know what we’re doing or how to get results, and, maybe most importantly, no one’s holding us accountable.

That’s why some people go one better than the gym pass and turn to personal trainers for one-on-one or small-group support. They need someone (a paid someone) to care that they’re still on the wagon, and to make sure it’s pointed in the direction of that promised land of health and wellness.

Where do you find that person? How do you make sure they’re qualified to crack the whip? And how do you know they’re a fit for you? We put those questions and more to Personal Fitness Trainer instructor Lorraine Glass.

Look in the right places

searching online for a personal trainerThere are several online directories to start your search off right:

  • The Canadian Society for Exercise and Physiology, a national independent organization of health and fitness professionals, keeps a list that can be narrowed down by city
  • The Provincial Fitness Unit of Alberta also has a vetted list of practitioners
  • Though based in the U.S., IDEA Health and Fitness Association also includes Canadian members, and includes their contact information, areas of specialization, and more

“I would say buyer beware.”

Should you choose to take your chances on a simple internet search, “I would say buyer beware,” says Glass. Kijiji, for example, is teeming with trainers but may not be reliable, as Canada has no laws about who can call themselves a trainer.

A gym might also assign you a trainer, but Glass adds that it’s up to you to determine if they’re right for you, something you’ll need to do with any professional.

Weigh knowledge against experience

personal fitness trainer

Once you’ve located a trainer, start sounding them out by asking about or verifying their formal qualifications. At the very least, they should have a related diploma, which might be supplemented with further accreditations, such as from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Then, consider where that trainer sits on a continuum.

Trainers new to the industry may have limited experience, says Glass, though she points out that the NAIT program includes a hands-on industry practicum. “On the other end, personal trainers may have experience in a sport or an activity, but do they have the depth or breadth to actually apply knowledge outside of their field?”

The sweet spot lies between, defined by your goals and motivations.

Be ready for big questions

chin up exercise

Naturally, a trainer will want to know your goals, says Glass. But they should also want to know why you have them.

“Motivational interviewing is the ability to draw out the reason why a person wants to work out,” says Glass. “You can get a client who says, ‘I want to lose weight.’ But what is the real reason they want to lose weight? If you can delve into that, you have a better chance of looking at quality of life.”

A good trainer knows that your goals won’t be just physical – they’ll also have mental and emotional aspects.

That is, a good trainer knows that your goals won’t be just physical – they’ll also have mental and emotional aspects that will influence success. A client might want to get into good enough shape to do a chin-up, for example, but what would that mean to improving their overall quality of life, rather than just their physique?

Good training, says Glass, involves “the art of listening.”

Expect a process (before results)

Training does not, however, involve guarantees. In fact, Glass sees any promise of them as a “red flag.”

Instead, a trainer should have the leadership and motivational skills needed to “direct behaviour.” To illustrate, Glass returns to that chin-up. If at first, the client can’t quite make it, “You're not going to go, ‘Oh, you almost had it.’ That means nothing.”

Glass sees any promise of guarantees as a “red flag.”

Instead, a good trainer would refocus on a slow, controlled lowering from the bar, which Glass points out is actually the harder part of the exercise. “Speak positively about that.”

Then, the pull-up may soon follow. When it does, expect some sort of measurement from a trainer, whether it’s a formal assessment or something as simple as video footage from when you started, showing how far you’ve come.

Know that it doesn’t need to last forever

woman running for exerciseIf a trainer has been a good listener and motivator, a bond between them and a trainee may have formed, says Glass. “It becomes a professional friendship.”

That bond is made to be broken. Certainly, there are pairs and groups that work together for years, says Glass, but trainers should always be “empowering their clients to leave.”

After all, that chin-up may be the thing that, say, allows a client to pull themself up into a boat after swimming in a lake, which is something that has been making them feel uncomfortable about enjoying vacations at the cottage. It’s not necessarily about muscles. It goes back to the why behind the training, says Glass.

“Ideally, a trainer should be really happy when somebody says, ‘I'm good enough to go out on my own,’” she says. “That's the ultimate goal, right?”

In that case, a trainer’s work may be done, especially if they’ve left you feeling good about carrying on without them.

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