How to hire a personal trainer and start getting more out of life.

Ten years isn’t really a long time. In the fitness industry, a lot has changed over that time period. Historically, most workouts took place in a gym, YMCA or in an athletic center. Today, there are more options and venues to choose from than ever before. How does someone know what is the BEST option for them? It will be helpful to look back inside the “big box” gyms to explore the roots of where many of today’s fitness businesses have evolved from. After all, that is where it all began.

  1. A look back into the rear-view mirror.

I got my start back in a “big box” gym (The Athletic Club) back in 1999. During this time, personal training was going through a pretty significant change. There was a clear shift in the principles where the old school bodybuilding approach which “isolated” the body into individual parts was being challenged by a scientific rationale to integrate the parts into movements. While many of us were influenced by Arnold and his encyclopedia, there was a birth of new trainers that would make a push to create a new “movement” that is still alive and thriving today. It is important to note that many of Arnold’s findings still have an impact in the fitness industry. That said, in order to push forward, some old methods would need to be challenged and here we would have the birth of “functional training.” This new approach brought along with it many new exercises and pieces of equipment that would differentiate any client or trainer that participated in them.  Looking back, this was the start of an industry within an industry where many other businesses would evolve as a result (along with a lot more revenue).

Within the four walls of a gym there were a few different options to come and “get your sweat on.” Obviously, strength training and aerobic conditioning (“cardio”) were extremely popular, whether with the help of a personal trainer or not. Then there was an assortment of group fitness classes. Step, toning and dance classes still had a strong enough following to put some steam on the windows from a full class. Then there were some new offerings that really gained popularity pretty quickly. We saw the start of pilates, yoga, kickboxing and spin classes that started making their ways onto the weekly class list at gyms across the nation. These specialty classes would continue to evolve as well as others that would join in on the newfound fun. Interestingly enough, each of services within the gym setting can be found today within their own specialization and as a standalone fitness studio (and business).

  1. The fitness menu just got bigger with many more options.

Take a look around the towns that you drive through or look at all the fitness related ads in magazines and pay attention to how many fitness related options exist out there. Depending on what you are looking for, you clearly will have an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Let’s take a look at what you will see on your drive out, shall we?!

  • Big chain gyms – NYSC, LIFETIME, Equinox, Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, etc.
  • Franchise gyms – Planet Fitness, Retro Fitness, Snap Fitness, Orange Theory, UFC Gym, etc.
  • Specialty Training Studios – Personal Training/Group Training, Crossfit, Spin, Dance, Yoga, Pilates, Boxing/Kickboxing, etc.
  • Online Training – P90-X, Insanity, Private Coaches, Beachbody, etc.
  • Wellness Centers and/or Chiropractors

As you can see, there are plenty (perhaps too many) to choose from. How do you decide which route is the best way to go? Most consumers shop on price. While it is obviously important (one must be able to afford said services), it should not be the ONLY factor to consider when shopping for a trainer or fitness facility. Things like convenience, education, experience, professionalism, fit, fitness philosophy, effectiveness, and enjoyment should all have a role in your decision.

  1. Do you want a trainer or a coach?

There are many variables that come into play when we start working with a client.  People are living, breathing, complex organisms that are affected by many of life’s challenges. How a client “feels” when they walk in depends not only on their physical health. Rather, their mental, emotional and spiritual health for that particular day may have a greater bearing on their ability and performance from day to day. There is an element of spontaneity that comes into play within our program that we have planned for the day. Did they get in a fight with their spouse? Do they have a teenager at home (enough said right?)? SO MUCH goes into each and every session. This is only the beginning. THIS is also what will separate those that provide a work out vs. a world class experience.

Any trainer can make a client breath hard or sweat. It’s not rocket science to know that you can challenge someone by doing a bunch of energy system based exercises (think “cardio”) in a row with very little rest. To no surprise, a panting and red-faced client will emerge in no time. However, to get a more world-class experience, it’s going to take a little more than just having someone do some generic exercises that we now have seen (butchered more often than not) thanks to social media and television. Today’s coaches that are in the industry for a career are ones that continue to learn themselves. Aside from holding multiple certifications, many also have science related degrees to help separate them from the rest. Our learning never stops. It is not a specific destination, but rather a journey. It is this quest for knowledge that helps us keep up with today’s clients. A client who is much more educated in what they want as a consumer, as well as being more demanding for a high level service. Despite all those demands, as coaches, we are equipped with a multitude of tools to be able to create programs for just about anyone who walks through our doors. By using our principles, strategies and techniques, we are capable of using the laws of human function to help us deliver high level programs that can enhance anyone’s level of function. This is the biggest gift we can give to anyone.

Not all movement is created equal. Throughout the course of our day, we will go through many different squat variations (getting on the throne, into/out of car, sitting in a chair, bending down to pick up your child’s toy, etc). Our programming for squats in the gym should follow this mentality as well. Yet, many adhere to the strict “laws” of exercise technique much more than the governing laws of the road. For example, squatting and not having the knees pass the toes or squatting until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Since when are we not “allowed” to squat more than one way?! Bottom line, our training programs should help us live and perform better in life (and look better around the pool). When we step foot in the gym or other training environment, our movements should mirror how our bodies are designed to move and function. There should be an authenticity to how our bodies move that supports and promotes better health and performance. And not to worry, moving this was will still help you look better in those Friday night jeans!

  1. Do your homework!

If you’re in the market for a place to work out and/or hire a coach, there are a ton of variables that you must consider. Before anything, you MUST know what you are looking for based on your goals. Matching up what you want to accomplish with the coach’s field of expertise is a must. You wouldn’t shop for steak in a hardware store right?! Here are some factors to think about as you ponder your decision:

  • Do they have a degree in the field?
  • Are they certified (not a stupid question, trust me), if so, by what organizations?
  • How well do they listen to you?
  • Do their program and relate to your goals?
  • Did they assess your movement patterns?
  • Do they find ways to connect and motivate you?
  • Are they positive and encouraging?
  • Do they stay engaged and focused on you for the duration of the session?
  • Do they let you ask questions and coach you towards the answer?
  • Do they lead by example?

Many facilities have some sort of Front End Offer. This is your opportunity to “sample” a specific coach to see if you match up with them (remember, it is a relationship). At this point, be sure that they take you through some sort of sit down interview where you will discuss things like your goals, health history, exercise history, injury/surgery history and nutrition. After this, MAKE SURE they do a movement assessment or screen to see how well your body moves (or doesn’t move). This is one of the most crucial parts of starting with a coach as this is how the program will be tailored to your GOALS, NEEDS, WANTS and ABILITIES. Based on all the information that the coach receives (both verbal and physical), an experienced coach will be able to correlate and identify all the “big rocks” that are keeping you from achieving success.

During this time with them (can be anywhere from 1-3 sessions depending on the facility), you should be able to start developing rapport with the coach. This is the start of a very important relationship. Even though you usually join a gym or hire a personal trainer to improve your physical health, the right one will also be able to influence your mental and spiritual health as well. After all, you can’t make a true transformation without affecting ALL aspects of your life.

So, as you get ready to embark on your fitness journey, don’t make the common mistake by making a price based decision. Much like when you go car shopping, if you’re looking for a luxury sedan, then you clearly have expectations on which car maker has caught your eye. Once you are in the dealership, you have a clear idea of the options and add-ons you would like to have outfitted in your car and what all of it will cost you.  Apply the same mentality when you are looking for a personal trainer (I like coach better). Not ALL trainers are created equal. Do your homework, talk with friends and experience for yourself a variety of options until you find what you are looking for based on your goals, needs, wants and abilities.  In doing so, you can ensure that you “drive away” knowing that you made the right choice and that you’re getting what you paid for.

Train hard but train smart!

~Alex

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