How to Find a Good Personal Trainer

Podcast Episode #021: How to Find a Good Personal Trainer

When you sign up for a gym membership you can almost count on getting a few extra sales pitches, one of which will surely be the services of a personal trainer.

Before you sign on the dotter line to hire a fitness coach, make sure you're getting what you pay for. Not all personal trainers are created equal, and they certainly won't all be able to help you get you equivalent results. Here's how to make an informed decision.

Episode Resources:

How to Find a Good Personal Trainer [Full Text]

Hey! Thanks so much for joining me for this episode of Make Your Body Work podcast. This show is all about providing you with great and practical answers to your health, fitness, weight loss questions and basically we talk about anything that can improve the quality of your life from a health standpoint.

As I mentioned last week we just recently switched over to this podcast being named the Make Your Body Work podcast and that was a transition from it previously being called the Lose 10 in 4 podcast.

The Lose 10 in 4 references one of my weight loss programs that helps people lose 10 pounds in four weeks. One of the things that I noticed over the months of doing this show is a lot of the questions that were coming in weren't always just focused on weight loss. We're broadening the scope and hence the Make Your Body Work podcast.

I just want to say thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to join me and thanks for everyone who's been writing in, sending me emails at with questions and ideas for future episodes. I get so many awesome ideas every single week it's tempting me to do more than one podcast per week. I really really appreciate that. Thank you!

I'd also like to give a quick little thank you to anyone who has either reviewed or rated this show on iTunes. It really helps other people find the show and it gives me feedback about what I can do to improve the show in the future. If you'd like to do that as well you can go to

Let's get into the show today...

I've got a really great question from Frieda and she's actually not the only one that's asked this question but she said it very well. Let's dive into Frieda's question. Frieda says,

"Hey Dave I really like your podcast. I find it interesting and informative. (Dave: Thanks Frieda!) I have a question that perhaps you could answer. What advice would you give people that are looking to hire a personal trainer? Many large fitness chains appear like they are out for monetary gain with trainers who just want the commission. What should people look for in a good trainer? Thanks a bunch, Frieda."

Frieda, this is a question that I know a lot of people ask and I've been asked so many times like I said so thanks for bringing this up. I just want to start out by saying there is benefit for sure in working with a trainer...

Will Working With a Personal Trainer Improve Your Results?

There's a famous study that was done out of Ball State University in Indiana and basically, this particular one was done with men, they took a group of men over a 12 week period and have them doing a strength training protocol and half the group was working with a trainer and the other half was just self directed. They were given a program but they took themselves through that program.

The results were pretty amazing...

The group that worked with a trainer they got between 32% and 47% better results than those who worked on their own. Those results were measured in strength. This is a strength training program versus the ones that didn't have a trainer. That's just in 12 weeks.

Research shows that working with a fitness coach will get you 32-47% better results!

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Having a trainer definitively can help someone get better results. Going back to what you said in your question, not all trainers are created equal and you're definitely right. The fitness industry is a huge multi-billion dollar industry so there's always going to be that incentive for companies to want to make money and of course that's what they do.

I do have some suggestions that I typically give people when they ask this question...

What Are Your Specific Needs?

The first thing that I'd like to suggest ... I'm actually going to tell you a bit of a story. Last year I was doing some renovations to my house and hired a handyman to come in and rip up ceramic tile floor for me. It's one of those jobs that I was just dreading doing so I thought I would be better to get somebody who comes in they know what they're doing, they'll get this done quickly and he did a great job.

Then he asked me when he was about to leave, he saw that I was going to install a new vanity in the bathroom and he said, "Hey did you want help with the plumbing on that. I can do plumbing too." He done a great job and was great to work with and so I thought okay I'll give him a shot at the plumbing.

He came back the next day and started doing the plumbing. I went away, came back a few hours later and the plumbing was a disaster. Just even watching him for a few minutes. I'm not the worlds greatest handyman but I know how to do plumbing and just watching him I could tell this guy he was not a plumber. I took over for him and finished it from there on my own but it was such a good lesson that when you're hiring someone, whether it's in the fitness industry the construction industry whatever it is, hiring someone for their specialty is so important.

What are your specific goals? Hire a coach who specializes in exactly that!

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That's so true when it comes to personal training. You want someone who specializes in what you actually need.

I know Frieda you alluded to these big box gyms where they have these personal trainers and you know maybe their training anyone who comes into the gym and I'll be honest with you when I started out my career years ago back in 2001, that's exactly the approach I took. I was excited to work with basically anyone, I wanted to grow my business. I made myself into a jack of all trades but we all know how that saying goes. You're a jack of all trades and therefore your a master of none. I'd say that's something you really want to look out for.

If you're going to a trainer because you're training to compete in a specific sport you want a trainer whose specialization is training athletes, or maybe even better training people who are competing in that exact sport. That type of training could be completely different from a trainer who specializes in weight loss and that's what I do. That's my specialty. That is the clientele that I work with. The strategies that I use are going to be a lot different from a trainer for example who trains people who are competing maybe in a fear competition or a body building show.

The first thing that I'd say is think about specifically what your goals are and then seek out someone who specializes in helping people meet those goals.

What Results Have Others Achieved?

The second that I would suggest is it's really important that you ask a trainer to see their body of work. A trainer's body of work is their clientele. How successful have their pass clients been?

When you interview a trainer, when you start working with a trainer, you know quite often it's easy to ask them questions and I use the work interview. Ask them some questions. Just like in the work world or in business it's pretty unlikely that interview style questions are really going to tell you that much about a trainer's skill or their ability to help you. You need to see specifically what tangible results have they been able to get for clients like yourself.

I think this is especially true in the personal training industry because it's sort of an unfortunate fact that when becoming a personal trainer, there isn't really a very high barrier to entry. It's very easy for people to take a weekend course or take a part time course over several weeks and then all of a sudden their certified as a "personal trainer."

Results speak for themselves. What results have others achieved working with this trainer?

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They can go and start working at a gym or start working on their own and if you were to come across a trainer like that and ask them some questions, they might have all the right answers but are they actually able to get those results?

A couple years ago I was putting together this big event and I wanted to have a photographer for it and sort of a friend of a friend I knew was a photographer and so I hired her to do this job. I'll be honest with you I didn't really do my due diligence. I didn't get references. I took a quick look on her website and saw a couple pictures and though okay, it looks like she knows what she's doing.

When the event was done, and it was an awesome event, everyone had a great time and I was so excited to get these pictures back. When she sent me the files for the pictures I started clicking through them and no, no, no, like one picture after another just didn't look that good. They just weren't of the professional quality I was looking for.

Again that just illustrates that idea of two things really. Photography much like personal training, there's not a high barrier to entry. Someone can grab a camera and have a computer and all of a sudden put a website up and say they're a photographer, not much different than someone can say they're a personal trainer. The quality of that trainer, the quality of the photographer could be vastly different from someone else in that industry. That's why I just learned my lesson from working with that photographer, having referrals is huge.

Speak to at least 3 referrals BEFORE you hire a personal trainer. Do your homework.

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Not only just asking them for referrals but when you go to find a personal trainer specifically, ask them for referrals and then call those referrals. Ask the referrals:,

  • What did this trainer do well?
  • What difference did you see?
  • Do you think that the trainer helped you reach your goals much faster?
  • Do you still work with him or her and if not why not?
  • If you needed a trainer again is this the first person you would go see?

All those sorts of questions start to give some qualitative proof as to whether the trainer's actually a good trainer or not as opposed to just relying on them being able to answer some questions when you meet with that trainer in person.

I'm going to give you another example...

Within the last year I was looking to hire a business coach and I had some questions about my business and was just looking for some outside eyeballs to look at the way that I was doing things and give me some suggestions much like a personal trainer does with their clients. Giving them those outside eyeballs and giving them some feedback and pushing them to maybe expand their horizons more than they would on their own.

I was talking to a specific business coach and I asked her for three referrals and I called the first two and both of them gave her raving reviews. They said that she's fantastic and they explained some ways that she had really helped their business grow and I'll be honest I almost didn't call the third reference because the first two sounded really good.

But I did. I called the third reference just had the phone number, thought okay better safe than sorry...

As I got talking with this third referral I realized that the first two referrals I'd spoken with maybe were a little bit more novice or beginners in the business world and their perspective on this business coach was the business coach was very very knowledgeable.

When I spoke with the third referral, this woman had been in business a number of years longer than the other two referrals and had a bit of different perspective. She said, "You know Dave, I think that you from a business perspective are maybe to advanced for this business coach and I actually have recommendation for you." She gave me a recommendation for a business coach that she thought would be a better fit.

That's why I recommend definitely following up with the referrals because you might get a similar story. Chances are if the referrals had a good experience with the personal trainer they'll convey that to you. Chances are also if they had a bad experience or had some insight that they think would be valuable, they'll likely also be honest. They have no reason not to be.

Number one we want to find a personal trainer who specializes in exactly what your goals are and then we want to check into the body of work of that personal trainer. Get some referrals, speak with some referrals, have a set of questions that you're going to ask those referrals. Don't just ask the questions, or some interview style questions of the personal trainer because what does that really tell you?

You Should Never Have to Lock Yourself Into a Long Contract

Third again Frieda this sort of alludes back to that idea of a lot of trainers or gyms might be out there to make a buck and of course they are. So it's important you find someone who shows that they actually are looking out for your best interest.

Again I have a story that is just so relevant on this point. Earlier in this year I wanted to find a swimming coach - You can tell I like to have people that are coaching me and feeding into my life! I like having someone who is better than I am at certain areas and I know that they can help me become better. I've talked a lot about swimming on this podcast. I do triathlons and swimming is definitely my weak point so I wanted to get a swimming coach.

I was referred to a swimming coach in my city and got in touch with her and she said, "You know just come out and try the first class for free."

I went out and had a great time and chatted with her a little bit afterwards. She said, "You know what, I don't need you to commit, just come out again next week and see what you think."

This went on for a couple weeks and I said to her, "Barb, shouldn't I be paying you?" She said, "You know you can pay me I just want you to be sure that this is the right fit for you."

I thought that that was so telling of the quality of her instruction. This swim coach was so confident in the value that she was going to be able to bring to me that she wasn't jumping all over me paying her up front or committing to a huge number of classes. She knew that she was going to deliver the goods and that I would therefore want to stick it out with her.

A good coach doesn't need to lock you into long-term contracts. You will want to stay because of the results you get!

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I actually noticed something else: Everyone else who was in this class (There was a group of us that was being trained by her at the same time) - They'd all been with her for a year or two years or whatever or even more. Which is really indicative of the quality of coaching that she is providing.

What does this have to do with personal training specifically?...

I know that a lot of personal trainers, particularly those who work for a big chain or a fitness club chain, will be likely to put on a little bit of pressure to sell a bulk number of packages up front. I would say that if that's the case and they're really pushing for that, it waves a little bit of a red flag to me.

If they were really confident in the service they could provide, why would they need you to buy a huge bulk package of their services up front? Wouldn't they be like that swimming coach and have confidence that they could provide such a service to you that there's no way you'd want to leave.

Again, some trainers who might be dictated by the club that they're working for, and they probably have sales targets they have to hit, and they're going to be pressured to sell you more training packages. But, I would be very cautious that they're trying to sell you thousands of dollars of sessions and I know quite often that is the case.

Maybe we can throw that question back out there and say, "Hey, I believe that you're going to be able to get me results. Let's start working together in a session by session basis and once we've had a little bit of experience together and I can see that you're leading me in the right direction then we can talk about purchasing or starting into a bulk package."

Do You Have Chemistry with Your Personal Trainer?

The forth thing that I would like to say and this might be the most important one is that when you're looking for a trainer it's so important that there's a social connection between the two of you.

You know working with a trainer or a coach can and should become a little bit of an intimate experience. You're going to be sharing a lot about yourself, about your daily habits and chances are you're going to get to know each other quite well. You're never going to get the best results if you're doing all this with someone that you don't like and someone that you don't really respect.

Then this goes back to the idea of testing the waters before committing to anything long term. You want to make sure you have some rapport - That you enjoy going to see this person or working with this person online or going to their class or whatever it is. You want to make sure that you like the person and that you also respect them so that you listen to the direction and want to follow the direction that they're giving you.

Those are just four things we could go on and talk about this in more depth but those are four really big things. Just to recap that again...

  1. You want to find someone who is a specialist in the area that you want help with.
  2. You want to check into their body of work, speak with the referrals, have a list of questions that you can ask those referrals to get some of the qualitative perspectives on the quality of that training.
  3. You want to have someone who's looking out for you and is willing to show that by not trying to sell you this huge dollar value package right up front. They're willing to prove their value.
  4. You want to have someone you can build a relationship. Someone you like, someone you trust, someone that you respect and someone that you're going to want to go and work with.

Your Make Your Body Work Takeaway

My Make Your Body Work take away for today is I just want to reinforce that working with the right trainer can be the difference maker between you experiencing life changing success and you experience frustration and that demotivating desire to give up because you're not getting the results that you think your effort should be leading to. A trainer can be a huge different. A coach can be a huge difference. That's why we need them.

I'd like to propose using what I call the Rule of Three when you're hiring your personal trainer. Number one is to interview at least three trainers. Don't just go with the first one that you find, interview three trainers.

From each of those trainers get three referrals and then when you narrow it down to the trainer that maybe you like the best or had the best referrals, try three sessions. Don't commit to anything longer than just three sessions.

The rule of three, interview three trainers, get three referrals from each and then the one that you're going to go with, for at least the beginning to start out with, try at least three sessions to see if that rapport is there and see if they can deliver on the promises that they've made.

Following that rule of three there's a high likelihood that you're going to find somebody who's very inspiring, somebody who's very motivating and most importantly somebody who's going to get you those results that you're looking for, the rule of three.

Thanks for joining me today!