Selecting the Right Personal Trainer - Part 1

I came across a post in a fitness forum not too long ago where the author was talking about how 'very, very, very sore' he was after his trainer cracked the whip at him for a couple training sessions. He went on to describe how he wanted to throw up during the session and how he could barely walk due to the soreness. Some of the forum respondents, who were 'in theory' knowledgeable fitness types, made light of it and said he'd get past it. My response was that the trainer was negligent and that the author of the post should find another trainer ASAP.

In reality the best solution is to be proactive instead of reactive. Instead of being browbeaten by a trainer you hardly know and wondering 'why is this so hard?' and 'will it get better?' you should instead be asking 'what should all of this look like in the first place?' But most people who are new to fitness can't really answer that question.

This series will help answer that question and provide you with some guidance on how to select a personal trainer. It's broken into 3 sections:

Part 1 - (this article) Understanding your goals and finding potential trainers.

Part 2 - Personal trainer qualifications and certifications.

Part 3 - Getting to know a trainer and having them get to know you.

Just as with any health decision, this is ultimately your responsibility. If your health is affected, either positively or negatively, it's not your trainer, doctor, or dentist that has to live with it. It's you. Be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible, and take ownership of your decisions. Don't allow an overzealous trainer to leave you unable to walk.

Without delaying further, let's discuss how you can understand and put in writing the goals you have for your fitness journey.

Your Fitness Goals

Your first step is to take an inventory of yourself and your goals before you can gauge whether or not a specific trainer can help. When you really understand what you need help with, you can more easily find the person who can help you get there, and you can also perform your own sanity check on the program they ultimately prescribe for you.

When creating this goals inventory, ask yourself the following questions:


  1. What is my ultimate goal? Be as specific and realistic as possible. For example - "I want to learn how to correctly perform basic exercises, lose 10 pounds of fat, and run 2 miles without stopping to catch my breath".
  2. What are my short term goals? Be even more realistic here, and focus on the month to month timeframe. Perhaps it would be to gain 1 pound of muscle per month and increase your bench press by 5 pounds per month.
  3. What are my preferred forms of exercise? If you enjoy doing a form of exercise, you're much more likely to stick with it. But be aware that your desired long and short term goals may drive the forms of exercise necessary to achieve them.
  4. What kind of time do I have to commit? A good trainer will customize your exercise plan to fit your available schedule.
  5. What kind of equipment do I have available? You'll need to know what's possible for you to do on those days you work out but aren't with the trainer. Do you belong to a club, have access to your own equipment, or will your program need to be more creatively designed?
  6. What kind of person would I like to work with? Do you need someone who is more of a teaching guide, or more of a drill Sergeant to keep you motivated?


Write down your answers to all these questions, and if you come up with anything else write that down too. Later in the process this is information you'll provide to your selected trainer.

Where To Find Personal Trainers

There are many ways to find personal trainers in your area. Here are a few to get you started:


  1. Friends, family members, and co-workers who have worked with or know a personal trainer. Don't totally rely on their advice, though, because a trainer that works well with them and their personality may not work well with you.
  2. Your health club or Rec Center. If you belong to a club, no doubt at one time you've been hit up to use one of their trainers. At a minimum you can get some names and maybe even talk to these trainers in person before agreeing to use their services.
  3. Certification organizations. I'll talk about the importance of certification in the next section, but you can always find nearby trainers that have been certified through the company that certified them. An example is the National Strength and Conditioning association's trainer locator.
  4. The Yellow Pages. Whether you use the paper version or an online one, you can get a list of trainers and begin calling them.


In the end you probably want to have a list of about 5 or more potential trainers that you will investigate further. Part 2 will discuss how to begin that investigation.

High Intensity Strength Training