Personal training is an industry rife with under-qualified and over-proud professionals. And even calling them “professionals” is often a bit of a stretch. The vast majority of personal trainers are completely self-educated and have only studied enough to pass a basic certification exam. This is roughly as much study as it takes to learn to play “Chopsticks” on the piano. In fact, it’s vastly more difficult to become certified to do manicures, so…buyer beware.
When you hire a trainer, you’re making a sizable investment in your fitness, and you should get a good return. You should be taught exercises and told what your plan is and what results to expect. And don’t be fooled: anything works for a little while, so even a really bad trainer might make you a little stronger and a little skinnier in the short run.
You should ask questions of your trainer, and expect straight answers. I don’t care how many letters a trainer has after his name, “Because I said so” is not a good answer. Exercise is a confusing realm and a trainer should study it. Trainers don’t need to answer medical questions, therapy questions, or injury questions, but they should know exercise. Likewise, doctors and therapists shouldn’t be expected to know the ins and outs of getting fit.
Your trainer should be able to explain: bioenergetic pathways, fat-loss metabolism, isolation versus integration, how to get big, how to get skinny, muscular versus anaerobic endurance, why the “fat-burning zone” is a load of crap, how to do a power clean, the difference between short and long intervals (hint: it’s not just duration), strength training versus bodybuilding, the thermogenic effect of digestion, and any other exercise question you might have. A trainer should also be able to explain why she is having you do single-leg half-squats while holding a medicine ball on the BOSU. It better be a damn good answer, too.
Any trainer who withholds information probably doesn’t have that information. If your trainer fundamentally changes his training philosophy each week after watching “Biggest Loser,” you might consider changing him. And most importantly, if you feel like the training isn’t working, it’s not. Training works like gangbusters if it’s done right. The tough part is you have to do the work.
But wait– here’s the really cool thing: If you get a good trainer and a good plan, you have the keys to success. The hard thing is finding the right person. Don’t assume that because the huge new gym is a big, clean, multi-million-dollar facility that the staff is a bunch of fitness experts. You’re often just as likely to find a good trainer at the gym in an old warehouse downtown.
Think of your coach or trainer as a GPS device: some of them are cheap and hard to understand, some of them are expensive and get you exactly where you want to go, and none are worth a damn if you don’t pay attention to what they tell you.