Read This Before You Hire a Trainer

It’s a New Year and gyms are flooded with people with the best of intentions.  They’ve set a weight loss or other fitness goal to work towards in the New Year.  Many of them have never been in a gym or haven’t used their membership in a long, long time.  So what’s a good idea?  Hire someone to help keep them accountable and help them with your goals, right?

Now before I go into the negatives, I believe strongly in my industry.  A good trainer is worth their weight in gold towards keeping you accountable, safe and progressing towards better health and physical movement.  Someone who is dedicated to their craft, learns constantly and uses many types of tools depending on the client.

The reason for this article is that in most chain gyms this is rare.  The personal training world has no barrier to entry.  I can direct you to a web site where for $200 and doing a quick multiple choice exam (which I got 92% on without studying a thing) you can get a certificate as a personal trainer.  Many certification courses out there aren’t much better than this.  Goodlife for one actually has their own training certification (called GLPTI) their employees are forced to go through (and have to pay for themselves) that teaches sales techniques, not proper training principles beyond periodization.  Here in Ottawa, I recently learned that another big chain gym (Movati) is doing the same thing now.  It’s not about results – it’s about money.  Sales drives the training industry, especially in chain gyms.

Training also has its’ share of people who really don’t care.  Most trainers (80%) leave the industry within two years and get into it for the wrong reasons.  They want an easy way to make money because training has a high pay rate per hour while they can work where they like to hang out – the gym.  At the beginning, maybe they have good intentions but quickly realize that they aren’t going to be working with athletes and fitness models and have to get up at 5am to service people.  So their motivation is gone, and therefore your results.

So what can happen is a lot of people who really need help hire a “trainer” who has no knowledge or intention to really do a good job.  Or, at most chain gyms you book a “free consultation” (ProTip:  EVERY TRAINER OFFERS THESE, IT ISN’T SPECIAL).  You get paired with not who is the best fit, but who has an open time that fits yours or a new trainer who needs to fill their schedule.  And you get results – maybe – or possibly a higher risk of getting hurt or bad advice.

So here’s my recommendations of what to do when anyone starts looking for a trainer, either at a chain gym or elsewhere.

Do Your Homework

Chain gyms often have a wall of trainers, with lists of their skills and certifications.  The newer ones will have less – or have things like “former college athlete” on their bio along with their one certification.  This is to fill space, it isn’t a qualification.  They will also be a lower level therefore cheaper to hire.  This isn’t necessarily bad, it is just an indicator that they haven’t been around as long and possibly don’t sell packages well (ProTip: At most chain gyms, the “Level” of trainer is based on sales – not skills.)

Read the bios, then if you find one that you think sounds like they have qualifications to match what you want – go find them.  Preferably WATCH them with a client.  Some things to look for:

  1. Are they paying attention and focused on the client?
  2. Are they writing things down or recording somehow (some use tablets now)?
  3. Are they coaching and correcting when needed or just counting reps?
  4. Are they doing proper rest periods or chatting for minutes between sets?

Then – if they seem to be doing all these things – approach them (or the manager) and ask specifically to meet with them for a consultation.  I’ve been doing this job for over 15 years and my consults are my time.  Why?  Because I as the trainer need to know if we are a good fit to work together, and sometimes I need to refer people to someone else if we’re not.  I just recently did this with a friend of mine because she wanted something I don’t specialize in, even though she wanted to work with me.

If you’re going the independent or at home trainer route, make sure to ask for references from people who have similar goals to yours.  Any good long term trainer has lots of happy clients, even if they are former clients for whatever reason.  If they can’t provide this simple thing, then you might want to be wary.  You also want to make sure that their style and facility matches with things like your location and how they will motivate you since you likely can’t see them work with people ahead of time.

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Don’t Fall For Sales Tactics

A good trainer will have a plan, but if a potential client asks me how long it’s going to take to get to their goal my first answer is I DON’T KNOW.  I can give a rough estimate, but it depends on a variety of factors, the biggest of which is your adherence as a client.

Many trainers will sit you down and say “It will take x amount of weeks at this phase of training (usually using big words like hypertrophy or mesocycle) to get to the next phase, we go through these phases and then you’re at your goal!”  Hooray, right?  But that’s over a period of 9 months and most will tell you you need 3 sessions a week to get proper results.  Don’t get me wrong, you get the best results with more sessions – but cost (and time) is a factor for most people.  Any trainer who says you MUST have this amount to reach your goals is trying to sell you something.

But wait – the total amount might be $$$ but we can stretch out that amount and you can pay for it over 12 months instead of 9, so it’s affordable.  And then they start in with telling you all your flaws, or reminding you of that dress you want to fit into in six months and try to shame you into signing a big contract.  I had a former co worker who prided herself on making people cry during consultations.  Many trainers are really very good salespeople disguised as experts.  It’s a huge pet peeve of mine and honestly it disgusts me.  However, many trainers are hired by gyms for sales skills, not training skills.

A good trainer has a plan – but it is adjustable and takes into consideration things like time, budget and realistic situations.  Most of my client roster basically had three weeks off schedule recently because their kids were out of school for holidays.  A good trainer will adjust based on these circumstances.  If you are in a specific phase of training then it can be extended, adjusted or whatever you need.  Life happens.

If it sounds more like you’re buying a used car than hiring someone for a service then please think twice.  The person should be telling you about how they are going to do things, not haggling on prices.

Don’t Sign a Long Term Contract

You’ve found a good trainer.  You’re getting results, you get along and they seem to be a good fit.  Excellent!  But one day your trainer tells you that they are changing to a different gym that is inconvenient for you – or worse, is leaving the industry.  There are little to NO safeguards that you can get your money back if you have paid them up  front.

A chain gym will simply assign you another trainer (it’s in your contract).  If you do your vetting process properly as in my previous paragraph this may work out well.  But they will NOT give you a refund.  Find another trainer that is a good fit for you and hopefully you can continue on the road to results.  However, if you never signed a long term contract in the first place you can potentially move with the trainer which might be a better option.

If it is an independent trainer, then hopefully they are ethical enough to refund you, but this can be drawn out, and if they are more of a salesperson than a good trainer then likely they will simply disappear, especially if they are leaving the industry.  Buyer beware.  It’s much safer just to not have a long term commitment paid for up front.  If a potential trainer is trying to get you to sign something for a long period of time, be careful and ask for options.   (ProTip: Sessions should not cost less just because there are more of them, no other professional does this type of thing.)

Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your Trainer

One thing that should drive the personal training industry is SERVICE.  Just like any other industry.  If your trainer is showing up late, constantly cancelling or rescheduling and you’re not getting the level of service you want then have a discussion with them about expectations and if they don’t meet them, you have the right to find another one who meets your needs.

The trainer/client relationship is often fairly close and can develop into friendship (which some trainers take advantage of in my opinion) so a client can “feel bad” for asking for good service from someone they are paying for a service!  This is ridiculous.  You’re paying $1 a minute for service – not a chatting partner or rep counter or someone who just doesn’t feel like working that day.

Just like any other professional, you have the right to expectations, and so does the trainer.  I can count on one hand the amount of clients I’ve actually fired myself over fifteen years, but it has happened.  Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and do what is best for yourself and moving towards your fitness goals.  Any professional will understand.

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I applaud any of you who are looking to improve in 2017 and work towards getting healthier and in better shape.  Set some short and long term goals, and remember the key to your success is consistency over time.  The journey is worth it when you realize how good you feel and how much you can move without pain.  A good trainer is a partner in that journey with you and I hope that you all find good ones.

If you want to reach me for inquires within the Ottawa area or elsewhere you can reach me at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com or head to my web site at http://www.srottawa.com if you have questions.  I’m always happy to help.

Happy New Year!

 

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