10 Things to Look for in Your Personal Trainer

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This time it’s serious. You’ve written down your goals for 2017. You’ve got the gym membership and the new workout clothes. You’re ready to take your fitness to the next level. Now it’s time to take that crucial step toward making those goals a reality: Hiring a personal trainer.

Working with a personal trainer is an investment in yourself that can pay dividends for years to come — if you get the one that’s right for you. As a trainer who’s worked in commercial gyms, private facilities and college weight rooms, I’ve learned what separates good trainers from great ones.

Here are 10 criteria for hiring the right trainer for you.


A great trainer will have a track record of success and results to show for their efforts. While most gyms require their trainers to have certifications from credible organizations, the most important thing a trainer needs is a list of happy, successful clients.

Ask your trainer for references from people they’ve worked with who have goals similar to yours. If they can prove they’ve helped others get where you want to go, you’ve made the right choice.


The Number 1 reason people hire a trainer is for accountability. They need someone to get them to show up, work hard and feel good about it.

That doesn’t mean a trainer needs to be a drill sergeant. They should be firm yet understanding. They should give you tough love when you need a boost and show empathy when you’re struggling. Look for a trainer who shows up prepared with a customized workout. That means they’ve done their homework, and they’ve taken the time to consider your individual needs.

On the flip side, they must be accountable to you, too. They should show up on time, put their phone away and give you their undivided attention.


A good trainer will get to know you from head to toe, physically and emotionally. While injury history and medical questionnaires are crucial, a great trainer will ask you about your goals first and foremost. They’ll ask you why you want to achieve those goals. If they understand your “why,” they’ll be able to take care of the “how” more effectively.

Look for someone who uses a screening that assesses strength, mobility and coordination so they can pick the right exercises for you. Finally, they should follow up with a mini workout to test-drive those exercises. Day one should feel more like a training session than a doctor’s appointment.


Great trainers listen more than they talk. They ask the right questions and focus intensely on the answers. They should ask about your goals and expectations — and adjust them appropriately. They should constantly ask for feedback during workouts. If your trainer isn’t asking, “How does that feel?” or “Where do you feel this exercise?” then you’re not getting your money’s worth.


Most people respond best to positive reinforcement. A quality trainer will stay upbeat and positive even if you’re struggling. Fitness is about progress, not perfection.

Does your trainer say things like: “That’s wrong,” or “Don’t do that”? Or do they say, “Let’s try this instead,” and “You’ll do better next time”? Look for someone who reminds you that you’re a work in progress and encourages you to get a little bit better every day.


Ask your trainer, “How will I know if I’m making progress?” As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. If you’re feeling lost, don’t be afraid to ask your trainer to show you concrete evidence of your progress.

They should have tangible ways of measuring your progress based on your goals, including:

  • Weight lifted
  • Scale weight
  • Nutritional intake
  • Range of motion
  • Sleep quality


The best trainers aren’t always the leanest, strongest or fastest people, but they should at least work out. A trainer who “walks the walk” will lead by example and inspire you to train hard.

Ask your potential trainer about their own workouts. Do they compete in something, like marathons or powerlifting? A competitive person is a motivated person, and they’ll pass that onto you.


A great trainer should be able to pick the right exercises and appropriate weights, sets and reps based on your individual needs. If something doesn’t feel right about an exercise or the amount of weight you’re using, speak up. A worthy trainer will adjust as needed to keep you safe while still providing a challenging workout.


The best trainers know how to design a thorough, yet time efficient, warmup. A couple half-hearted arm swings and toe touches won’t cut it, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing a yoga class or physical therapy session, either. Look for a trainer who designs a custom warmup based on your mobility and stability needs. You should feel like a million bucks after warming up, not like you’ve already done a full workout.


Nobody knows it all, and the best trainers aren’t afraid to admit it. If you’re working with someone who claims they know everything, beware.

You’ll undoubtedly run into roadblocks during your workouts, and your trainer should be able to summon the right person to help you. Your results may require a team effort, so a deep referral network of specialists is key. Ask your trainer for referrals for things outside their scope of practice, including nutrition, physical therapy or massage therapy.


Picking the right trainer can make the difference between spinning your wheels and smashing your goals. Consider these 10 qualities before hiring someone to guide you on your fitness journey.

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