I want this blog to be simply advice, but I think my first point is going to have to become a rule. Interview more than one trainer!! This is the only way you're going to be able to make a informed decision. Yes this means you're going to have to make a few more phone calls, take more time out of your schedule and talk to people. It means more work, but I can guarantee you'll end up with a better trainer. If possible also interview trainers from more than one gym. Often times every trainer in a gym will have the same approach to training and that might not be the right approach for you. Try to see at least 3 trainers from at least 2 separate gyms. You'll be amazed with how different every trainer is.
O.k. so you've got a trainer in front of you. Now what?? Well it's time to start asking questions. First and foremost you need to ask about their education. It is the foundation of everything else. It's the foundation of a quality trainer.
Q #1 - What is your primary certification?
The primary certification is one which the trainer gets insurance through. Here are the common primary certifications you'll see here in Vancouver, and what formal education you need in order to sit them.
No formal education; Can-Fit-Pro (PTS), BCRPA, ACE
Diploma required; CSEP-CPT (personal trainer)
Bachelors required; CSEP-CEP (exercise physiologist), CSCS (strength & conditioning)
There are also certifications like the Twist Sport Conditioning Coach (TSCC) that don't offer insurance. These are "auxiliary" certifications and generally take a good bit of money and a weekend or two to complete. Some of them are great, some of them not so much.
(Time for me to get in trouble) Watch out for trainers who hold a certification which requires no formal education and tons of "auxiliary" certs. Doing this allows you to get a lot of letters after your name without really knowing too much.
It goes without saying that the more educated your trainer is the better. It doesn't guarantee you'll find only good trainers but you're more likely to find good trainers if you focus your search around education. Surprisingly, I've found that education has a very small correlation to the price per session. I've seen trainers with a bachelors charge $65 per session (like myself) and trainers with just the basic cert charge $85.
If a trainer has a cert that isn't on the list google it!! You owe it to yourself to know this stuff.
Q #2 - What have you done for continued education over the last year??
So now that we've got the common training certs covered you also need to know about the hazy world of continued education. All training certifications require you to earn continuing education credits by going to courses in order to hold your certificate. Smart concept, but some continued education is questionable at the best of times. Turn up to the yearly weekend training conference OR sit 2 very basic online courses and you're certified for another year. Fact of the matter is that if you're willing and able to give a bit of cash and committee a day or two PER YEAR you'll hold your certification. So when you ask your potential trainer what they've done for continued education in the past year and they answer "I just did some online courses" or "I went to this weekend seminar" be wary. Expect more. The better trainers will have gone to a minimum of 4 courses per year, and the really good trainers will leave their city to go see the smarter speakers.
This really is the minimum. I know a lot of smart trainers who listen to 2-3 webinars per month, go to at least 1 seminar every two months, and make numerous trips during the year so that they can meet the best in the industry.
Finally, one of the best questions you can ask to get a gauge for a trainers education is to ask....
Q #3 - Who do you look up to in the industry?
If you were to only ask one question this should be it. If a trainer was lacking formal education and experience but answered this question well I wouldn't dismiss them when making your decision. The best trainers won't shut up when you ask them this question!
You don't need to know the big names in the industry. If they answer, "well I just kinda do my own thing", start running. I fell that any trainer should be able to drop a minimum of 5 names in a heart beat. It doesn't matter if you don't recognize the names, how they answer the question will tell you everything you need to know. They should want to tell you want they learned from each respective name. They should get excited!! Mike Boyle, Nick Tumminello, Pavel Tsatsouline, Bret Contreras, Thomas Myers, Stuart McGill, Shirley Sahrmann, Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff, Mel Siff, Mike Robertson....and that's just skimming the surface. If I asked a writer who inspires them and they couldn't name any authors I'd start laughing. The same should apply to trainers.
Q #4 - How many years experience do you have?
After education the next big thing to look out for is experience. It's not rocket science to assume that someone who has been training for 10 years will be better than someone who has trained for 1. But it can't just be years of experience. What type of experience is hugely important. Did they intern? Did they volunteer? Have they shadowed different health care professionals? The longer and more diverse their experience the better. Experience that should count for something is not how many years you've locked yourself into your own bubble, it's how much exposure you've had to people who are smarter than you. Use your better judgement here, I'd pick a trainer who has spent some time with physios and completed a internship but who has only been around for a year or two over a trainer who has been around for 10 years but only trained in the same gym day in day out.
Q #5 - Do they practice what they preach??
If I was going to hire someone to teach me how to cook I wouldn't hire someone who nukes their dinner 9 times out of 10. I'd want to find someone who LOVES food, someone who is so passionate about cooking they spend the majority of their waking day doing something related to it. I would want them to be so passionate about it that it rubs off on me. The exact same needs to be true of your future trainer. What sports do they play? How often do they train? Are they, or have they ever competed at a high level? They need to LIVE sport. Anything less simply isn't good enough. If you are competitive (e.g. you're looking for a trainer so that you can run a half marathon faster) you simply have to be working with a trainer who has competed. By no means does it need to be the same sport as you, they simply have to understand what hard training feels like. They simply have to have gone through it themselves.
There is still a lot of information the general population NEEDS to know in order to find a quality trainer. The third and final part of this blog is going to cover one or two more questions you should be asking and hell of a lot of tips for when you are watching your future trainer! Stay tuned.
B.Sc. SES, NCEF
Click here for Part 3