I would like to employ someone to pump *clap* us up.
January 7, 2009 9:51 PM   Subscribe

How do you go about finding/picking a personal trainer? How do I know if I've found a good one?

Mrs. Quhzk and I would like to start working out with personal trainers, mainly because we want to learn to exercise properly (I have a little exercise experience, my wife has none) and also because we know we need the extra motivation of forced responsibility. Group exercise classes are too anonymous and we would be tempted to skip (thinking nobody would miss us), and we've tried on our own but we've never gotten further than a very very gently used treadmill which usually collects dust at our apartment.

We both want to be able to go at the same time (early in the morning, say 6-7 am) so that we can carpool, shower, and then go to work/school respectively. We also want to go to the same place for the same reason.

So what should we look for in a personal trainer? Are there any gyms to avoid/try to get into? How much should we expect to pay (we're in the Midwest if that matters)? How often should we expect to meet with the trainer? Should we get different trainers? We both want to lose 50+ pounds apiece.

Any and all information or experiences would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

I did check the archives and found this question, but I figured it was old enough that it wouldn't be redundant to ask something similar again. I also saw this more recent question, but I'm interested in all personal trainers/gyms and not just Bally Total Fitness, so I still figured I was safe.
posted by QUHZK to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't used personal trainers much, but I might advise booking them after Valentine's day, when most of the New Year's resolution people are out of the gym. The gym will be less crowded and it'll be easier to book the trainer. You might want to ramp up by walking or biking in the interim to get your lungs and legs prepared.

If you want to lose weight primarily, I'm assuming you'll want to do mostly cardio. What will determine if your wife and you should train together will be your goals and likes - if she digs Jane Fonda aerobics and you would rather jog on the beach, get different trainers. Remember that it takes about 4 weeks and 21 times to set up a habit, so even if you don't like it at first, try to stick it out at least that long or make sure the training includes a reasonable period to establish a routine.

I'd avoid 24 hour, Gold's, etc. and go with a smaller gym. Check the reviews on Yelp or whatever other review sites are well populated for your area. When you tour ask other members what they like and don't like. If the trainers have lots of injuries and knee braces that's probably a bad sign (no joke, I have seen trainers with demolished knees and wrists who proceed to teach knee and wrist demolition classes). Crossfit regimens are fun but might be a little daunting if you haven't done much exercise before. In my area they run around $150/mo for group training sessions.
posted by benzenedream at 10:47 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell them to start you AND your wife on a basic lifting program that involves squats, deadlifts, and compound lifts. If they refuse and/or try to put you on machines, they are a bad trainer. Unless you are 500lbs and have issues getting in and out of chairs, you should be on free weights, dumbbells and barbells. If they talk about "toning," they are a bad trainer. There is no such thing as "toning." There is building muscle mass and cutting body fat, pink dumbbells and "toning" is crap. You and your wife should be on the same rep schemes. 10-12 reps is crap. They are not teaching you anything.

If they just try to put you on cardio machines, they are a bad trainer.

If they say to lose weight you need to do lots of cardio, they are a bad trainer (sorry benzenedream, "mostly cardio" is NOT the key to weight loss).

If they do not sit with you and discuss eating plans--because weight loss is 80% diet, and the gains you make from exercise are entirely dependent on how you're eating--they are definitely not a great trainer.
posted by Anonymous at 11:17 PM on January 7, 2009

Coming in third into here, I'd argue for somewhere in between benzenedream and schroedinger, leaning on the schroedinger side.

Weight training
Compound lifts are a must. Machines are generally crap. And yes, no such thing as toning. If you have significant joint damage, or are just physically unable to handle the greater stress of free weights, then maybe you'd start on the machines, but you should be on free weights sooner than later, preferably now. Both you, and the Mrs.

Where I diverge from schroedinger is that cardio is still important. It's still a part of weight loss (although often overemphasized, relative to weight training) and a part of, well, health.

Both are important
So a good trainer will discuss both. A good trainer will have you on a plan that involves BOTH. BOTH BOTH BOTH. And, like schroedinger says, nutrition. A trainer that does not bring up what you're eating is a BAD trainer, and STAY AWAY from them.

To the point:
The trainer should sit down with you to discuss WHAT your goals are. How you're going to achieve them. To not (especially at first) focus on inches, or weight-lost-on-the-scale. And what you're going to be eating.
posted by demagogue at 11:41 PM on January 7, 2009

I misspoke about mostly cardio - working compound lifts and free weights into your regimen will build muscle and burn fat. My personal (and stupid) definition of cardio involves pushups, dips, chinups, and kettlebell exercises, not just jumping on a treadmill.

As both schroedinger and demagogue pointed out, fat loss is mostly managing diet. Stay away from anyone who talks about "losing that gut with situps" or any kind of spot reduction.
posted by benzenedream at 1:39 AM on January 8, 2009

Eh, I think you'll have a hard time finding a personal trainer as knowlegeable and conscientious as benzedream, demagogue and schroedinger demand. The personal trainers in my gym have people doing 10-12 reps on machines and aiming for some specific heart-rate on the cardio machines -- both of which are seriously outdated bits of exercise science, but are very easy to explain, very easy to supervise, and pretty much guaranteed not to lead to any injuries. Then again, their clients tend to look the exact same 6 months later as they did on the first day.

I would suggest that, whatever personal trainer you find, you also start educating yourself. Crossfit and T-Nation are good sources of information. Don't let the steroidy pictures on T-Nation turn you off -- body-builders are very knowlegeable about how to lose fat and build muscle, and you can take their advice without ending up looking like them (or buying their supplements). Look around T-Nation for full-body weight programs and diet advice, look around cross-fit for diet advice and exercise video demonstrations...this is a good start, for example.
posted by creasy boy at 3:14 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's this about 10-12 reps being crap? Doesn't that depend on what your goals are? Building muscle helps raise your metabolic rate (albeit not as much as originally thought) and has a whole host of other benefits. Nothing wrong with building muscle with heavier weights and 10-12 reps with free weights as long as you're also mixing it up with lower weight/higher rep workouts.
posted by canine epigram at 4:13 AM on January 8, 2009

I'm gonna go against the grain here. Different things work for different people. I lost 40 pounds with no lifting and no conscious dieting. I simply picked up running. After getting more fit, I started to eat less without really thinking about it. So don't go believing that the ways presented above are the only ways to reach your goals.

You mention two goals above, developing a fitness habit and losing weight. So visit some places and meet some trainers. Maybe what you need is a cute trainer or one you get along with so you look forward to your sessions. Maybe you want a tough and demanding one. At a lot of places, the trainers teach many of the group classes, so sometimes going to a few classes allows you to meet them and get a sense of what they are like. Pretty much every trainer has experience with people who want to lose weight. You need to look for a trainer that motivates you.
posted by advicepig at 7:39 AM on January 8, 2009

How to find a great trainer? One word - referral.

Just start asking around to friends, co-workers, etc. to see if the have a trainer to recommend. I've been working out with a trainer since the Spring that I found out via my boss, and he's absolutely fantastic - he rarely has to hustle for business because most of his new clients come to him via referrals and he keeps people for a long time. I think its a good sign if a potential trainer has a variety of client type - old, middle-age, younger, male/female. If you can't find any recommendations via friends, ask any potential trainers for references - a good one should have no problem providing a least a few.

A good trainer will spend a good portion of your first meeting discussing goals, and should give you reasonable expectations on how feasible they are and how long it could take. I'm going to disagree with schroedinger that a good trainer will discuss eating plans - a trainer will discuss the importance of proper diet, and may make some recommendations for outside resources, but unless they're also nutritionist or dietitian, they really have no business giving you detailed diet advice. Ditto with supplements - a beginner has no need for fancy supplements, and if the trainer is trying to push something on you (especially to buy from him or the gym), I'd be suspicious of their motives. Also be wary if they're trying to wow you with rapid transformations of other clients.

Also at the first meeting, they should also discuss cost - they will usually mention that they'll offer a discounted rate for prepaying a month or two, but they shouldn't pressure you to do that right away. A good trainer should let you pay for a few sessions a la carte to see how you all get along.

During your first few workouts, the trainer should be very hands-on, instructing you on proper form and telling you what muscles your working, why this exercise or sequence is beneficial. The focus should be on you and/or your wife - if they're talking with other gym staff or patrons, not paying attention to you during an exercise, they're not a good trainer. For example, if I'm squatting, my trainer is focused on me, watching my form from the side and counting reps - its his job to help me get in shape but also to help me prevent injuries.

As for places to avoid, I wouldn't rule out any particular gym - unless they had sleazy membership practices (3-yr contracts, etc). My trainer is actually affiliated with Gold's, but he's the only trainer there I'd ever use.
posted by dicaxpuella at 8:31 AM on January 8, 2009

It costs about $60/hr in LA. I only went 1x/week because I did plenty of other exercise by myself, but lots of people go 2x or more. I had trainers for about 2 years, but after I lost the first one and the next two weren't great I decided to work out with my husband instead. The best thing about getting a trainer for a while is that you'll learn to use all the different equipment, they'll show you proper technique for all the exercises, and eventually some of it will sink in and you will be able to put together your own workout. The tricky thing about picking a trainer if you've never had one before is that you don't know the type of person you'll work well with!

Things I have decided for myself about trainers [these are not your answers, but things you might think about. In fact, you may want the opposite for many of them]:

1. I tell them up front that they don't need to waste time on a diet plan for me. I eat decently already, and there is no way I would follow any plan they give me since I do none of the cooking in our house. [But! If your primary goal is to lose 50 lbs, you should either revamp your diet yourself or ask your trainer to help you, first thing!]

2. I don't want to have the trainer watch me run on the treadmill for 20 minutes. I can (and do) do that on my own time, I don't want to pay them to stand there and watch me.

3. I don't want to show up and have them say 'what do you want to do today'. That's the whole reason I had a trainer, so I didn't have to think about that.

4. Tell me how many weight reps or how long to hold the plank. Don't say until failure, because I will give up way before actual failure.

5. Don't let me stop the exercise or drop the weight unless I'm serious. It's supposed to be hard, I'm going to say it was hard, that doesn't mean I want it to be easier.

I've had 3 trainers. Here's what I've like or not:

#1. My favorite. He gave me heavy weights, he pushed me, he didn't let me complain my way out of exercises. He was always planning the next set of exercises, so by the time I finished with one set of equipment, he had claimed the next things we needed. He used every piece of equipment in the gym, pretty much. It was weeks before we repeated any exact setup. We worked out very hard the entire time. The second week I threw up. I learned that I must bring gatorade. I had never worked out hard enough for that in my life except in the occasional all-day sports tournament.

#2. My least favorite. Big on body-weight exercises, he never figured out why I was never sore the next day. Refused to tell me how long I had to do an exercise, just 'do it to failure'. Well, guess what, I need an actual goal, otherwise I'm already bored. Also tried to talk about deep things while training. Did not last long.

#3. A yoga and pilates instructor. It was nice to have someone stretch me out, but she was too nice and tried to back off every time I commented about how something was hard. It's supposed to be hard!
posted by lemonade at 8:56 AM on January 8, 2009

We both want to lose 50+ pounds apiece.

Speaking as someone who's done it, losing 50 pounds is a year long process. You've got to want to lose that weight every single day and make choices that reflect your decision to lose weight. Your trainer can't do that for you. I don't say that to discourage you, but I want you to have realistic expectations about what the trainer can deliver.

Your needs for a trainer are actually pretty straightforward.

....we want to learn to exercise properly...

Exercise properly can mean different things.

Proper program selection We've already had a debate about that here. Weights? Cardio? Depends on your goal and how your individual body responds to workouts. For me, the best program is non-traditional strength training with tough cardio intervals. (I'm looking to build my overall athleticism - compound movements/speed are essential for me. For you, I don't know.) When you interview the trainer ask about how he designs workouts. The answer should be that workouts are client specific, sport specific and goal specific. If the trainer runs everyone through the same 12 exercises, you've got a bad trainer.

Proper form The trainer should be cuing you consistently and teaching you form. Most trainers are at least minimally competent in cuing form. You've got a challenge in that you are heavier. That puts you at greater risk of injury. You want a trainer who is experienced working overweight clients.

and also because we know we need the extra motivation of forced responsibility...

Any trainer should be able to cheerlead and help keep you motivated. Make sure you are both very comfortable with the person and their style of coaching. Ultimately, you need to bring your own motivation to the process. No trainer can make you show up (or make you work hard when you get there).

Regarding eating plans - I wouldn't use a trainer as my guide unless that trainer has additional education and certification in nutrition. The trainer I use is a Registered Dietitian and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics - when he gives me nutrition advice, I trust it. There is so much misinformation about nutrition. Losing weight is hard enough without the burden of bad advice.

Good luck!
posted by 26.2 at 10:04 AM on January 8, 2009

The goofiest thing I see trainers doing at the gym I attend is "spotting," which is to say touching the bar and assisting, on every single rep. The point of a trainer, or a spotter in general, is not to help you lift the weight, but to ensure your safety. If you see a trainer doing this they are goofy.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:03 AM on January 9, 2009

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