Though working out with a pro is awesome (it’s been proven to boost your attitude and physical activity, teach you new things, and even help you stick to a routine), doing so regularly just isn’t in the cards for many a workout warrior. So when given the chance to work one-on-one with a trainer or coach at no cost—like when you first join a new gym—make the most of it with these tips.
1. Figure out your fitness goals Before you hit the gym with a trainer, know what you want to get out of it. Your fitness goals are must-knows so that you can reap all the benefits possible from a free training session—and your workout routine in general. In fact, research shows that setting fitness goals essentially propels you to achieve success while working out, and experts believe that visualizing yourself clinching said goals helps you commit to them.
Your game plan: Almost every pro we talked to suggests figuring out what results you want to see from your fitness routine. Do you want to simply learn your way around the machines? Are you looking to gain muscle mass? Want to whittle off some weight? Dream of training for a marathon? Find your focus, and remember: trainers are fitness experts but not so much mind-readers, so be sure to clue your trainer into your goals.
2. Know what gets you going When it comes to tough workouts, your mind needs as much fuel as your body to make it through. Make the most of working with a pro by showing up motivated, psyched, ready to learn, and ready to sweat.
Your game plan: Whether you’re driven by outcome-based goals (like losing 10 pounds) or process-based goals (like committing to get your sweat on five times per week), focusing on the reason you’re working out will help you during this first, free workout and basically every one after that, says Jonathan Angelilli, a personal trainer and creator of Train Deep Exercise Alchemy. You can also choose an inspiring phrase or mantra to say to yourself over and over as you work out.
3. Do your homework “Picking a trainer is like picking a doctor or physical therapist,” says Linda LaRue, a top trainer and creator of the Crunchless Abs DVD series. Though it’s easy to sit back and let the gym simply assign you a trainer, it’s in your best interest to participate in the process. Without your input, gyms may pair you with someone who isn’t a good fit, either in terms of your likes and dislikes, goals, or even personality.
Your game plan: Read trainers’ bios to see what their specialties are (the key is to choose one whose expertise will help you achieve your fitness goals—even if you’re only working with them the one time), observe how they interact with their clients, and actually talk to the ones you think might be a good match. Angelilli also suggests watching them at work with clients and asking yourself these questions: “Are they engaged and focused on the client?” “Are they fit?” “Do they inspire you?”
“When you say ‘personal training,’ the first word is ‘personal,’” LaRue says. “Your personality has to flow and bind and fit with their personality, and it has to be a personal experience that fits for you.”
4. Focus on learning technique Not knowing what you’re doing at the gym can be one of the biggest obstacles to a great workout. It can make you feel self-conscious enough to want to avoid hitting the gym and can even lead to injury, says Greatist Expert Jason Edmonds, a research scientist and specialist in Olympic weightlifting. The solution? Learning how to do exercises the right way—and an introductory session with a trained professional is a great time to do just that.
Your game plan: “Be really engaged in building your arsenal of exercises,” Angelilli says. And since that arsenal includes basic movements that you’ll build upon, it certainly doesn’t have to be complicated. Make it your goal to learn how to properly execute between three to five exercises, suggests strength coach and Greatist Expert Jordan Syatt.
5. Be vocal During this training session (and any others, should you choose to purchase a package), communication is key, so be prepared to speak up.
Your game plan: First and foremost, own up to the fact that you’re not interested in purchasing a series, LaRue says. If you’re only into learning how to properly use the equipment, ask your trainer to take you through the movements a few times so that it really sticks, she says. And don’t be afraid to get a little chatty about what you’re doing.
“You should be able to ask your coach questions, and they should be excited to answer and excited that you’re curious and wanting to learn more,” Syatt says. Need clarification on a movement or position? Want extra pointers on a technique? That dumbbell feeling way too heavy for this move? If you need something, say something!
6. Learn programming 101 Creating a fitness program—whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro—may be as much art as it is science. While the format of your first workout will vary, depending on the trainer and on your goals, try to learn the basics of how to build a program based on that criteria, Edmonds says.
Your game plan: Chat with your trainer about how many reps of each exercise you should do, how hard you should go, and how often you should be doing it. “This might at least save some of the beginners at the gym from the common pitfalls, like doing too much volume too soon, using excessive weight or resistance, and training too often and resting too little,” he says. So while you may not walk away with a set program, you’ll have the framework for what you should—and shouldn’t—be attempting.
7. Write it down Jotting down notes isn’t just for work and school—it’s actually a great fitness tool, especially when you’re trying to remember what you learned during a whirlwind training session. “Most people are going to forget 60 percent of what the session is all about,” LaRue says. Plus, tracking your workouts (and your progress) can also help ward off the dreaded fitness plateau, so it’s a habit that’ll help you in the long run too. Talk about a win-win!
Your game plan: After your workout, take note of the exercises you went through with your trainer and check with him or her to make sure you’re documenting it all correctly. Also, don’t be afraid to get specific. Angelilli suggests asking your trainer to pinpoint the top exercises that are best for your particular goals. And, hey, why not take notes during your session as thoughts and questions come to you?
—Alexandra Duron for Greatist
- Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004 Apr;36(4):674-88.