Friday, December 17, 2010

How To Find The Right Personal Trainer - Part 1

O.k. so you're ready to get back into the gym but you're feeling a little lost. You need a personal trainer, but how do you find a good one??

Just head into the gym or type "personal trainer" into google, eni meni mini mo, and hey presto you've found the one for you. Right??....WRONG!!!

I feel this habit comes from choosing doctors or physios. I could be wrong on this one but I feel that most people think "they all went to school for this so what difference does it make?". And with doctors or physios that holds more truth because they are regulated. Now don't get me wrong, there is still a big discrepancy in the quality of the practitioner when it comes to regulated forms of treatment but at the end of the day they all have a minimum standard. They all know the basics.

Personal trainers however, all that goes out the window...because we are not regulated.

It amazes me that no one is talking about this. It's like the dirty little secret of the training industry. There is no one governing body, there is no minimum standard, there is no nothing.

And the result...

Some certification just require you to pass a written test. That's right, you sign up, they send you a manual which you scan read, sit the exam and now you're a personal trainer!! No hands on learning, no "this movement is bad, this movement is good", NOTHING!! What anyone actually learns from that is beyond me.

Some "specialist" certifications require you to come in for 2 weekends (25 hours) as well as the standard manual, sit a written test and now you're a "specialist"???? And, no, I'm not making this up!! This is what the majority of personal trainers hang their hats on. This is what "sets them apart" from you.

Some of the better certifications take 8 months to complete, with work experience. This is still a super basic certification when it comes to leaning how to be a professional trainer, but it's an o.k. starting point.

What boggles my mind though is that 9 times out of 10 that's it in terms of education. Trainers don't continue learning. Everything they know comes from that manual or weekend course they took years ago!!

But that's not even what really pisses me off. What really makes me mad is when these trainers charge enormous hourly rates. They've read a manual and now you have to pay $65, $75 or even $85 per session to see these "educated" people!! I'm sorry but these people don't know shit. And what's worse is that often times gyms support this behavior. I've worked in a gym and witnessed first hand trainers who are still completing there certification train clients one-on-one without any guidance or instruction and those poor clients were paying $65 for that hour. THAT'S OVER A DOLLAR PER MINUTE!!

What's really scary about this is that the vast majority of personal trainers fall into category. So how do you find a good one?

Part 2 of this blog will uncover strategies for finding the right trainers. Easy things you can look for, quick questions you can ask and what level of education you should expect from the different price brackets.

Cian Lanigan

Click here for Part 2


  1. Cian, I do agree with your statement to a point. However, you have failed to mention that there are governing bodies such as the BCRPA and CSEP that required an aspiring trainer to go thru classroom time and require a specific level of volunteer experience prior to examination. BCRPA does require all Personal trainers to complete 3 written exams and 2 practical teaching evaluations in addition to completing a series of program designs which are graded by a qualified evaluator. 

    Some companies such as Steve Nash Fitnessworld employ aspiring trainers who are in the process of completing their qualifications while allowing them to gain practical experience on the weight room floor. They are able to offer their coaching services as an apprentice for a discounted service fee to prospective clientele who are fully informed that the trainer is an apprentice.

    Most Fitness professionals with a reputable certificate are required to re-certify annually or bi-annually to ensure trainers are updating education to accrue renewal credits. 

    I know of many people who complete the online 'rubber stamp' certification and I agree this is not acceptable and can be dangerous. I agree the canadian fitness industry does need ONE governing body to ensure that those practicing as certified personal trainers are qualified, educated professionals. 

    I hear your frustration Cian.... Just remember there are a lot of certified and qualified training professionals out there who do not necessarily have a university degree. Let's not sell them short. 

    ~Austan Tait ;-)

  2. Some really valid points raised here, there should definitely be some form of regulation in the industry.

  3. Austan - Keep in mind that this is Part 1. You have to point out the problem before you can point out the solution :)

    Although I didn't make reference to any specific certification I did say that "Some of the better certifications take 8 months to complete, with work's an o.k. starting point". I stand by that. CSEP will appear in the second installment of this blog as one of the certifications I recommend people look for.

    I feel strongly that your second paragraph is just a sugar coating to a poor practice. "Aspiring trainers" should be paid a basic wage by the gym and give out free personal training sessions to anyone who wants them. I fundamentally disagree with charging clients for these sessions. Furthermore, to enhance the learning experience they should train clients with a professional, experienced and knowledgeable trainer watching them. A trainer who would come over and help point out things that the aspiring trainer missed. Only in this situation should the client have to pay any money for the session.

    Finally, I completely agree with you that there are a lot of certified and qualified trainers out there who don't have a university degree. However, I feel strongly that these trainers have no right charging more than $50-60 per session....and that's with YEARS of experience AND continued education. They are a fantastic resource for people who don't have as much disposable income. Also if trainers without a university degree continue to charge as much as they are now, how much should a trainer who has a M.Sc., 10 or 15 other certifications and multiple years of experience???....$300 per session??? I hope you agree that this would be madness. But it's just as mad to have those type of educated trainers charging only $10 more that someone who only has a basic training certification...and that's what's happening now!!

    The fact of the matter is that the general population are unaware of how bad this really is, and it's about time it was brought to their attention.

  4. Ok.... I can see that this could be a very long conversation better suited over a glass of wine than a blog. Experience vs enthusiam... Who shall prevail? Lol! Kidding...sort of.....I shall leave it there.

  5. Cian and Austin you both bring up fantastic points to this discussion. I hope I don't jump the gun on your second post with my comments.

    Cian you are absolutely right that the public needs to know what they are getting when they are purchasing training at a specific price point... as the waistlines of the public grow so will the consumer awareness/IQ of what kind of service they are getting for the price they pay.

    We can improve the personal training industry by working together and not against each other to give the public a clear view of what to look for when hiring a trainer: education, experience, philosophy, successes, practice what they preach, communication skills and simply do you get along.

    Degrees, certifications, books read, seminars attended don't make a trainer great or right necessarily... it is taking what you have learned and experienced and putting it together to give your client the best opportunity for improving their life!

    Looking forward to part two and continue more discussions like this one.


  6. I agree Josh. It all comes down to how we can work together to help our clients better themselves and reach their goals. Whether you have your degree or not, experience speaks for itself. How many uni grads have we seen that can't do a damn squat to save their lives, yet, they are technically "qualified" to teach..... God help us....

  7. When I first read the Blog, the first thought I had was not that this was going to instigate a "trainer vs trainer" (good or bad trainers alike) discussion. I knew not everyone would like what was said, but only because the truth hurts, and anyone contemplating commenting to "defend" themselves would be weened out for the inherent fact that this would only serve as self disclosure that they themselves lacked these certifications. 

    I thought instead, it would spark a coming together of like minded, empathetic and qualified trainers who recognize that the problem is not at the watered down level of bad trainers, gyms who hire these under qualified trainers or even the deepening pockets of "governing bodies" that hand out these so-called certifications to any dummy who wants to call themselves a personal trainer! 

    The problem is at the very top, the governing bodies that are supposed to be the "Gold Standard" of certifications. I am a university degreed, CSEP certified personal trainer and I know first hand that, although they are on the right track to setting industry standards, they have a lot of work to do in order to regulate the field. The problem is they aren't doing it and it doesn't seem to be on the agenda either!!! We, who are the educated and qualified  trainers, need to start caring about this. 

    Have a look at our board of directors for CSEP... They are old, stuffy PhD's who are holed up in labs all day doing research (yes a vital and necessary component of our field - agreed) but they should not be at the head of the National governing body for strength and conditioning specialists, people like ourselves should be. Only then will the industry standard be set. 

    And for those people out there who think this shouldn't happen because some people "want" or "don't mind" an under qualified trainer this is simply not true. Disclosing a trainers' lack of qualification doesn't absolve the responsibility the gym or the trainer has to provide clients the best care they deserve. It is a dangerous and presumptuous practice which devalues the trainers out there who are dedicated to educating themselves and places an unfair responsibility on the client.

    Just flip the coin on yourself and your own level of certification and ask yourself, not if you'd see a personal trainer with your equivalent qualifications, but another health care professional. If you were seeing a physiotherapist, an athletic therapist, massage, acupuncturist, even a nurse, and ask yourself if you're comfortable seeing someone in these fields with the equivalent level of certification to yours. 

    Is it not fair to say that the public should demand and receive the same value from the person training them? 


    Lynne Laporte
    BESS, CSEP Certified Personal Trainer®
    Pacific Multi Sport
    W: 604 876 4833
    C: 778 997 1424

  8. Cian - your right, the first thing i have noticed is that any personal trainer worth his money will not stand and watch you run while he tells about his last holiday or how big is biceps are.

  9. Wow! Some fantastic comments have popped up over the last few days.

    JN - You are 100% right that there are intangible qualities that some trainers have and some don't (regardless of education). But by nature these are very hard to quantify. When giving guidance to the general population on how to find the right trainer through the medium of a blog I'm obviously going to give higher priority to the qualities that can be quantified. Having said that I'll be sure to try and include as many of the intangibles as possible. But at the end of the day a great trainer will have everything; "education, experience, philosophy, successes" etc.

    Anonymous @ 9.18pm - You are right. There are some degreed professionals out there who can't train, and shouldn't be training. But if you were to pick one single factor to look for in a trainer to try and get the highest quality it simply has to be education. It's not going to guarantee that you'll find the best trainer, but you're far less likely to find a bad one if you only look for educated trainers. But lets get one thing clear, that doesn't mean that I don't think experience plays a MAJOR part. You find a educated trainer with you're onto a winner!

    Lynne - I completely agree. CSEP are on the right path but are still light years away from becoming the one and only legitimate governing body here in Canada. "Flipping the coin" puts a fantastic perspective on things. I defiantly wouldn't be happy seeing any other health care professional who doesn't have at least a 4 year degree.

    personal trainers - but the last holiday was where the biceps got there tan on...clearly this is must needed info if we are to follow Sir. Greatness!!

  10. So I have to ask...does this mean I shouldn't see a "student" massage therapist at a discounted price, who needs practical hours prior to a registered board exam, even though to have gotten as far as doing clinical they would need to have all the education and classroom experience behind them? Or that I shouldn't see a med student practicing in a clinic prior to his/her medical exam for the same reasons?

    From my perspective, anyone with the drive and enthusiasm to go as far as to take the first step after education - whether that be a 6 month course or a degree - to get on the floor with clients, has to have a certain type of energy and personality. It's not all science that makes you a good personal trainer. And may I please ask where you all were when you first started training? Perhaps starting with training was the first step in your jump towards a degree - continuous learning, applying knowledge as you learn it, we should all be so lucky to be able to so this, and do it with passion. A degree doesn't make someone a good teacher, or a good coach. I go to school with a LOT of people who get 90's on exams but can't teach the material effectively. Do these people with degrees who can't teach make better trainers than someone who is still in school but comes home at the end of the day and reads research articles and looks up new, innovative ways of training and coaching to actively learn what's out there? A piece of paper doesn't magically make you better. Some pieces of paper are necessary, but knowledge is knowledge, no matter where it comes from....


  11. CY - Should you see a "student" massage therapist at a discounted price? Hell yes you should!! a discounted price. My problem is with personal trainers who are still "students" charging anything more that $40. By all means see the student massage therapist, physio, personal trainer, chiro or what ever else, but only pay a discounted price.

    Again, like I've said in reply to other comments and in the second and third part of this blog, by no means does a degree automatically make you a good trainer or coach. But it is the foundation of all quality trainers. Of course there is going to be exceptions to the rule, and I personally know tons of trainers who hold degrees and couldn't coach themselves out of a wet paper bag. But I don't know any top trainer or coach who doesn't have a degree or masters. Like I keep saying, education is the foundation of all great trainers; and the only way the general population can easily search for educated trainers is to search for formal education. Once they've found an educated trainer then they should move onto looking for all the other stuff I mentioned in part 2 & 3 of this blog so they don't end up with a educated trainer who cant coach. That, or pay half the price for a up and coming trainer. But trainers holding a basic training certificate with no formal education charging $'ve got to agree that's bullshit!!

    On a slight side note I disagree with you when you say student trainers should spend their time looking for new innovative ways of training and coaching. This is a mistake I made in my first year or two of training. We figured out how to train people years ago. We as trainers need to spend our time researching the old S&C programs from Eastern Europe, the philosophies from martial arts and the movements from yoga. We need to teach people how to train like their ancestors, not come up with new innovative ways. Don't reinvent the wheel, just learn how to turn it really well.

    Oh and to answer your question, I had completed 3 out of 4 years of my degree and completed a 8 month training certification before I started charging people for training sessions. I trained people for free before that.