Let’s be honest, the average person reading this, assuming they are not a Coach or Trainer themselves, really has no way of knowing whether a Trainer that they hire is any good or not.  That’s not an insult by any means.  Unless you are very knowledgeable in a particular field, it’s hard to tell the phonies in that field from the real deal.

For example, if I was talking to a mechanic, a computer programmer, or an insurance salesman, I wouldn’t have any clue if they were actually good at their job.  Sure I could base it off of how financially successful they are or how many clients/customers they have, but that’s not really a fair assessment.  What if their parents owned the business and passed it down to them recently? Or what if they just moved to the area and they haven’t had time to build a clientele?

 

How am I supposed to know if this guy is any good?

 

Think about what you do for a living and consider how many people that you know in your field that are really, really good at their jobs…?  It’s probably not very many, right? 5%? Maybe 10% if you’re feeling generous?  It’s the same way with Trainers, and maybe even worse as there is a relatively low barrier to entry to become a “Trainer” and even worse, for some reason every human with an XY chromosome believes that they know what they’re doing when it comes to the weight room (hint: you probably don’t!)

 

Being a guy does NOT mean you automatically know what to do in the gym. Sorry!

 

Keep in mind that it’s not your fault that you may have hired a less-than-stellar Trainer or Coach in the past (heck, even I have done it!)  You may have been subject to slick marketing tactics or you may have been wooed by a Trainer with a great six-pack or a cute smile.

 

Don’t be fooled! A 6-pack doesn’t always indicate a knowledgeable Trainer!

 

So how the heck are you supposed to know if they are good or not?  Are they a good Trainer if they have a good body?  Not necessarily as that can be chalked up to great genetics.  What about if they have tons of degrees/certifications?  Eh, much of that information is outdated and/or is more applicable in a laboratory than in a real world setting.  Well, what about if they have lots of good-looking, fit clients?  Well, sometimes Trainers offer to train people who are already good looking and fit at a reduced rate in order to make themselves look like better Trainers (shh…that’s one of those slick marketing tactics I mentioned above).   So how are you supposed to be able to determine if your Trainer knows what they are doing?  Hopefully the checklist below (to which you should be able to answer YES) will give you an idea of how good your Trainer is.

 

- Do they ask questions about your medical history and training history, pain, injuries, etc before your first training session?

- Do they assess the way you move before/during your first training session?

- Can they pinpoint specific issues you might have (weaknesses, imbalances, postural issues) during your assessment?

- Can they explain WHY you are doing the exercises you are doing and how those exercises are benefitting you and preparing you to progress to other exercises/movements?

- Do they ask you how you feel during the workout?  Do they ask you how you feel doing certain exercises (i.e. “Does that feel OK?  Do you have any pain doing that?  Can you feel a stretch in your hamstrings when you hinge back like that?”)

- Can they modify an exercise on the fly if you: aren’t able to do it, aren’t using the correct muscles groups to do the movement, the movement is too hard, the movement is too easy, or the movement causes pain?

- Do they cue and correct you when you are doing movements incorrectly or sub-optimally?

-  Do they continue to challenge you and give you more difficult progressions as you get better?

- Do they modify your workout based on how you are feeling that day?

-  Can they answer your questions in a way that you can understand them as opposed to trying to sound really complicated in order to mask the fact that they don’t know they answer?

-  Do you feel better after working out with them for a while? (i.e. less pain, better sleep, improved posture, more energy, feeling stronger, less winded, etc)

-  Do you look better after training with them for a while? (i.e. less body fat, more muscle, better posture, etc)

 

While the list above is not an exhaustive list, it’s a pretty good starting point for most people when looking for a good Trainer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that hiring a great Trainer does not have to be super expensive.  Do your research and look into Small Group Training (3-6 people) or Group Personal Training Classes (10-30 people).  You can also find out if a good Trainer in your area has anyone doing an internship or apprenticeship under them.  Those interns/apprentices will often train people just as well as the head Trainer at a fraction of the cost since they want to gain experience.

I hope you enjoyed this post!  Hopefully it gives you some insight into what to look for when hiring a Trainer/Coach for yourself.  And if I left anything off the list, be sure to let me know below!  I would love to hear your feedback!

70 Responses to How To Tell If Your Trainer Knows What They’re Doing…

  1. Priscilla Fumic says:

    Very interesting but is so true.I’m sure there would of been a lot of trainers that would of answered no in their head but wouldnt admit it ,I have a question ,I would like to re register for my training ,I do have my cert 3 and 4.i am doing a few courses to receive my cec points.what I would like to know is there a course I can do to help with the questions that you should be approaching clients with ,to teach us about all this .
    I am really keen to get back into it but I would also like to refresh or learn a bit more .thank you .

    • molly says:

      Priscilla,

      I am sorry I am a little confused about what you are asking. Are you wanting to know a good organization through which you should get certified? (i.e. NSCA, ACE. ACSM, etc) or are you wanting to know how to make sure you can answer “yes” to all of the questions above? (i.e. how would you learn what questions to ask your clients when doing certain exercises, how would you learn how to properly asses them, etc?)

      And yes, I am afraid more trainers would answer NO to most of the questions above if they were being truthful about it. =-(

  2. Bill Phan says:

    I would agree with your summation about what things to look for in a trainer. I add one more criteria and this goes along with constantly assessing a client, and more importantly is the trainer aware of their posture. If a trainer has poor posture, does not sit or stand with it how can they teach it!?! Everyone is looking for that mind/body connection, why not pay attention to how we train ourselves throughout the day? Be aware that poor postural habits lead to many ailments and long term problems. If a trainer does NOT have good posture and cue you into it, look for another one.

    Bill Phan CSCS LCMT

    • molly says:

      Bill, great point! Assessments should be a lifelong process… not a one-time thing the first time you see your client. We are constantly watching our clients move, asking questions, and altering movements for them based off the feedback we receive.

      And yes, posture is so important! It’s so funny because if I see a man or women with what society would consider a “good body” and they have poor posture, I can’t get past it! Poor posture doesn’t not look attractive and you’re right.. it has so many long term implications! And NO ONE knows how to breathe properly anymore (myself included!) I am re-learning how to breathe properly and brace my core properly now and it’s HARD!

      Great comments! Thanks!

  3. Jay Ashman says:

    All good stuff here… so true.

    IMO assessments only go so far for some. You can often assess a client in the first session by doing basic exercises, some trainers go beyond the Gray Cook into the Dr. Jekyll and have clients doing crazy balance exercises on oblong balls, one foot jumps, etc. and sell programs that way. If you know what you are doing, basic assessments tell you a lot more than the crazed lunacy some masquerade as functional.

    • molly says:

      Jay – totally agree! Standing on one foot on a bosu ball while trying to press something overhead and sing the alphabet backwards to test “core stability” is crap, and yes, lots of people sell their stuff that way because it’s “cool” or “sexy.”

      My partner and I are familiar with the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) but neither of us are FMS certified, yet. We can tell plenty about our client by having them attempt simple movements like: a spiderman hip flexor stretch, a birddog, a split squat, a body weight box squat, a broomstick RDL, or any half kneeling exercise. (which we do most of those movements in our warm-ups or our extended warm-up/skill work portion of our sessions).

      Thanks for the reply and keep fighting the good fight Jay! =)

  4. Cortney says:

    Great article! I have tried a few different trainers before but always went back to being on my own because it felt like they were just putting me threw the exact same motions as they would every other female they train. Now I have a better idea of what to look for.

    Thanks!

  5. Cinthia says:

    My trainer’s pretty awesome!

  6. Susanne Alberto says:

    I’d like to add that not all certifications are created equal. There are a few in the industry that are quite difficult to attain. I am quite proud of the certifications that I hold, but I also will admit that it still doesn’t guarantee a lot. Just because someone has initials after their name doesn’t always mean they know everything. Look at some doctors! And, I’ve met quite a few trainers who have graduated with a degree in exercise physiology, but have no real-world experience. But, having a trainer with specific certifications is a good starting point, and should be considered a basic requirement. Like everything else, let the buyer beware! Do your homework, and research the trainer!

    • molly says:

      Susanne,

      You are 100% correct! Some are very difficult to obtain and require not only tons of studying, but also hands-on coaching, and demonstrations of incredible strength and stamina. Thanks for that reminder and thank you for commenting!

  7. Dawn says:

    This is a great list not only for people choosing a trainer but for us trainers as well. Sometimes we are so comfortable with our clients that we instinctively know where they are at and don’t verbalize the questions. This has been a great reminder to me to remember to treat EVERYONE as if we don’t know them so we make sure all bases are covered for our clients

    • molly says:

      Dawn, agreed! It’s easy to get “lazy” with long-term clients and assume that they know what they’re doing, don’t need as much coaching/cuing, or that they will pipe up if something doesn’t feel right… but that’s not always the case!

  8. michelle says:

    Mine meets all the criteria!

  9. Carmen Bott says:

    I like this; it’s a good, simple article….I hope I can re-publish on my facebook page.
    I must say though, I scrolled down to read who you follow and I went on an un-named person’s site. She has all kinds of you-tube videos of herself training – terrible form, using machines that we know are back for spine health and so on. Care to comment on why you would write such a brilliant piece, yet endorse the types of trainers (as they appear on youtube – I really have no idea how good they are, but if you are going to post a video of yourself, be prepared to be scrutinized) that demonstrate without precision? Thanks in advance for your reply.

    Carmen Bott
    MSc. CSCS RKC

    • molly says:

      Carmen,

      I apologize for the late reply… please do post this on your page if you’d like!

      And thank you for taking the time to look around my site… much appreciated. I also appreciate you taking the time to ask such an important question. It shows that you care enough to hold those in our industry responsible for their actions.

      While we talked about this a bit in private, I do want to address your question publicly as well. Everyone on my “resources” page is someone whose stuff I watch and read on a very regular basis and the majority of them I have:seen in person, coached in person, been coached by them in person, etc and feel very confident in their abilities. There are a couple of people on there that I only know through the “interwebz” but I have liked their stuff enough to recommend them to my readers/followers. The one particular person/youtube video you are referring to was the first video I had seen like that from that person and I hadn’t seen it until you pointed it out. Was I horrified? Absolutely! Do I think that’s the norm from the person? No.

      In our industry (or any industry for that matter) it is very difficult to find people whom you agree with 100% on everything. In fact, even my business partner and I will sometimes disagree on the best approach to take with a client! Almost every single person whom I respect in the industry has said or done something that I disagree with at some point, but I do what I can to understand their perspective, try to figure out why they have that particular belief, and see what I can learn from their different point of view (I am sure my Youtube videos of Krow rows make some people cringe, but during the 7 week cycle that I added those into my training I had some of the best muscle and strength gains of my entire life).

      I will likely add something to my resource page that states that while I respect and learn from each of these individuals on a regular basis, we don’t agree 100% on everything training, nutrition, supplement related, etc.

      I am very glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for having the integrity to pose that question using your real name and really “hold my feet to the fire” when it comes to whom I recommend. =)

  10. chris says:

    Hmmmm….I’m damn good.

    Good read.

  11. Greg R says:

    Enjoyed this! I’ll add a good trainer is willing to say “I don’t know” and be honest. They will find the answer or solution for you though. The suspect trainers always seem to have the answers, especially the ones you want to hear.

    • molly says:

      SO TRUE! I can’t believe I left that one out! I used to never feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know…” I honestly believe that the more you DO know, the more comfortable you are saying I DON’T KNOW! =) It’s still not my favorite thing to say but I still have so much to learn it’s ridiculous!

      I attended a Charlie Weingroff seminar yesterday and felt like an INFANT in my knowledge of training and the body. Oh, and I should add that Charlie said, “I don’t know…” at lest 50 times yesterday while presenting. =)

  12. Greg Spatz says:

    Great questions that trainers, coaches, and even therapists should be able to answer if they’ve got experience and good knowledge of function/dysfunction.

  13. Caza says:

    Wow, really pleased to say that my trainer passes all of the questions with a resounding YES! – hope this doesn’t mean that he’ll be putting his prices up tho! ; – )

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  19. karam says:

    This is definitely a tricky one!!..
    love the post!!

  20. eugene says:

    I’ve been going to the same gym for over five years. I am the ultimate “steady eddie” and am in the gym 6 days a week. I’m the friendly type and say Hi to everyone, everyone knows me. I’m polite, say Hi, shake a few hands and get to work. No BS. Sadly, I have to honestly say that in a gym of about 300, that’s in a gym of about 60000 square feet, I have yet to see, one time, a trainer, who knew, his ass from his elbow. Honestly, for the most part, I can’t watch, not the ones with trainers, and not those who go it alone. Not one person has a clue, has read a book or gone to a “reputable” website. They all look the same as they looked for as long as they’ve been there except for the young uns who grow somehow whatever they do, and that’s just a scant few. A few times, I couldn’t stop myself , and being polite as I possibly could offered to show someone, eg. how to squat/ deadlift when I thought they were in mortal danger otherwise, I don’t say anything. The number of people just bouncing around on Swiss balls or swooped into a partial pushup is mind-numbing. So that’s the gym I go to. NOT ONE QUALIFIED TRAINER out of about 50 that i’ve seen there over the years. OY VEY.

  21. Denis says:

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  44. I would also add that a good trainer should have multiple certifications, or somehow demonstrate continued desire to learn and improve. (got that from Precision Nutrition, but I naturally love to learn anyway.) This also applies to having good mentors and role model as opposed to just following the internet.

    And oh, um, since I mention PN, a good trainer need to know about the nutrition it takes to get results, in ways that clients can apply.

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  46. Great article! I think another few missing from this list are:

    1. Do they keep their attention focused on you throughout the entire session? – I’ve seen so many trainers get their clients started on an exercise and then play with their phone (NOT taking notes!), chat to other trainers, or just gaze off into the distance. I was taught what was called 360-degree PT: In other words, watch what the client is doing, keep your eyes on them, keep cuing them but also keep moving around them so you see them from 360 degrees. It feels odd at first, circling clients, but there have been so many little form problems that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d just stood in one position watching them. So many trainers “Set and forget” their clients and frankly we’re being paid good money to make sure our clients are safe: so wandering attention is a bad sign!

    2. Do they adapt the routines just for you or do they give the same thing to everyone? – I know it can be tough when one has back-to-back clients, but so many trainers just have one routine that they pretty much give everyone that day, and will only make small modifications for individuals. In the end, you should be setting goals and working towards those with your PT, not just doing their own personal ‘workout of the day’.

    3. Do they listen to you and adapt to what you want? Similar to the last one, so many PTs don’t actually listen to what their clients want. I had an experience when I was searching for a trainer myself, I said “I want to learn C&Js and Snatches, I’m not concerned about aesthetics right now”: and he proceeded to give me a hypertrophy routine with no skill work at all: not even foundational movements! Lots of the women on /r/xxfitness talk about trainers who they ask to teach them the basics of Starting Strength, but who continue to give them machine routines with no freeweight work at all. In the end YOU are the client and you have the right to guide what you want from your sessions: if a PT isn’t able to help you with that, they can (and should) say so, but if you want to learn X, Y and Z and they give you A, B and C – then you have a right to ask questions and, well, fire them if they won’t give you the service you’re paying for.

    Of course, we could go into detail about goal setting, measurements, etc. but suffice it to say that your PT should know what one of your performance-based goals is, and then be able to explain how each exercise fits into that (this was touched on in the article above). Anyway, rant over – just wanted to add my 2c!

    -Anna

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