How do you pick a personal trainer? Easy. Just pick the fittest person, right? Or in some case, the most pushy, hah.

Well, it’s not exactly that simple. There’s actually a lot that goes into hiring the right personal trainer for you. Newbs and even more experienced gym goers might not even know what to look for. I’ve had a few friends share their personal training experiences with me, and the majority of them have been lackluster. I myself have also had some less than stellar personal trainers.

So how do you decide on the right one for you? Let’s go down the check list…

  • Don’t underestimate your first impression. Do you have a natural rapport with them? Do you LIKE the trainer? Don’t just go with the first trainer who gives you three free workouts when you join a gym. Pick someone who you vibe with, someone who has an energy that you’re attracted to.
  • Ask for credentials and experience. At the very least, the trainer should be a certified. The NASM, NSCA, ISSA, ACSM, and ACE all offer legit personal training certifications. If you really want to do your homework, look up the organization and confirm that it isn’t what my dad would call a “mickey mouse operation.” Meaning they don’t just hand out certifications to people who take a weekend course. Testimonials and before and after pictures are also a good sign.
  • Ask if they have experience working with clients like you. This becomes more important the more specific your goal is. For example, a woman who wants to compete in her first bikini contest probably wouldn’t be compatible with a powerlifting coach. An athlete wanting to improve their performance would want someone more specialized than a general population fat loss trainer. Find out who the trainer’s main clients are and see if you fit that profile.
  • After discussing your goal, ask the trainer what kind of workouts they would have you do. Then ask them why they would have you do them. It’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into. If you’re out of shape and the trainer describes their workouts as nonstop, intense, CrossFit-like circuits, then they might not be the right match for you. It’s also important to note how they respond to why they’d have you do the exercises. An experienced trainer can back up their methods and give you a reason why they would have you train in a certain style. And the clincher–ask them how that method would differ from someone who has the opposite goal of you (maybe gain mass vs lose fat). What you want to be testing here is if the trainer knows how to adapt to different goals and is not just giving you the same workout they give all their clients. Even if you don’t know much about fitness, your bullshit detector will go off if they can’t answer that question confidently.
  • Don’t just pick the fittest looking person. Just because they look fit does not mean that they know how to coach someone else. A person having six pack abs does not mean they can get you six pack abs. Skill, persona, and engagement are far superior indicators of a competent trainer over appearance.
  • Ask them their style of training. Are they a drill sergeant? Are they the more patient, explaining type? Do they put an emphasis on correct form? I’ll use myself as an example: I do NOT like tough love, in-your-face, push-you-beyond-your-limits trainers. I can’t concentrate with someone shouting, “One more! One more!” in my ear, and if I were to hire a trainer, I would tell them so. Oftentimes you won’t know the trainer’s style until you work with them, but it’s worth bringing up beforehand.
  • How much do they talk? It’s a trainer’s job to listen and observe. If they are talking your ear off, trying to razzle dazzle you, and ultimately not finding out about YOU, run for the hills.
  • Are they going to give you a fitness assessment? This one is pretty basic and I’d say most trainers give them these days, but you still want to be sure that a trainer starts off by giving you a fitness assessment. This is where the trainer takes you through some basic movements to see if you have imbalances or limitations with flexibility, strength, and mobility. Any program they create for you absolutely should take these things into consideration.
  • How do they check progress? You’d be surprised how many trainers don’t even check progress with their clients. They simply have you do your workouts then send you on your way for eight to 12 weeks. If they don’t have a structure for checking progress, like a weekly weigh in, they are shirking their responsibility to you. Yes, you could just weigh or measure yourself any time. But the trainer should be as interested in your progress as you are. Most important, check-ins give the trainer an opportunity to see what’s going well and what needs to be readjusted in your plan. Check-ins are crucial for engagement with the client, which, in my opinion, is the most important element of the trainer-client relationship.
  • Think about what kind of experience you would like to have, and communicate that to the trainer. It’s important to set your boundaries. If you want full attention, encouragement, and someone who is not on the phone (yes, sadly, I have seen this numerous times), tell them so. If you want someone tough who will push you to your limits, say so. This is your time to voice your wants.


These are points that you would bring up during the pitch/consultation. There are many other aspects that make a good personal trainer, but those don’t come into play until you start working with them. However, these questions will provide something of a litmus test for filtering out less competent trainers while you’re prospecting. They might seem picky, but you should be picky about who you hire as a trainer! When time, money, and results are on the line, you want to make the most informed decision possible by thoroughly interviewing your trainer. Even if you don’t know much about exercise, you’ll be surprised how much these questions will reveal about the trainer. Remember, every job application comes with an interview!

Ever have a bad personal training experience? Or an exceptional one? Leave a comment and tell me all about it 🙂

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