The first session was free, but are the next ones worth it?
May 18, 2009 4:45 PM   Subscribe

FitnessFilter: how should I evaluate options for a personal trainer at a local gym? Lots more discussion inside.

I recently joined a local gym with my wife, and I was told we received an evaluation or something of the sort with the membership. We're both gym novices, so I was glad to be shown around the gym and given help figuring out how things worked.

I went to the evaluation-type session today, and it was basically to get me to pay for personal training sessions. The work-out was good, and I'm sure I'd benefit from the sessions. I signed up today, after the initiation fee ($99) was waived, and I was given 5 free sessions ($35 per half-hour session).

It's $280 for 8 sessions per month, which doesn't sound that much right now, but we'd have to be tied into a year of training, or we have to pay a cancellation fee. I'm skeptical of gyms in general, and the sales pitch with fees that weren't disclosed up front today ($49 for processing, and the waived $99 initiation fee) didn't help.

I have a few days to try out the personal training set-up, and figured others would have some insight. Could I refer to training books or websites and come out fine? Or is it a good idea to invest in a trainer for a year while we get into working out at a gym? We're not looking to get bulging muscles, just to get fit and start some good work-out regimes.
posted by filthy light thief to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Some gym trainers are great. Some are terrible. The quality can vary widely within a single gym.

Find out what certifications your (potential) trainer has and how much experience. Decide what your goals are (cardiovascular fitness, treatment/prevention of specific medical conditions, training for a marathon, lifting cool heavy weights, etc.) and ask your potential trainer how their personal training can contribute to that goal. Ask what experience the person has with any medical or other conditions you may be dealing with. If you have asthma or are nursing an old football injury or are fat, you may have different needs than other gym-goers, and you want someone who will work with you rather than pushing you to do things that may injure you.

In other words, evaluate the individual trainer you're considering, and then decide whether that person can help you. If not, ask the gym management if they have a trainer whose work will suit you better, and then evaluate that person.

You don't necessarily need to work with a trainer, but training does help many people who have specific goals (or who just want an appointment on the books to motivate them to keep coming to the gym). But you need to find the right trainer for you.
posted by decathecting at 4:55 PM on May 18, 2009

Be careful committing to anything long-term, especially in a gym you're unfamiliar with. Maybe try a few sessions, but tell them you want to do it on your terms, committing to only a few sessions at a time, instead of getting one of their package deals which you might end up regretting. Having to sign up for a year of training? That's a red flag to me, what happens if you're not satisfied with the service?

I joined a gym a few years back, got the introductory tour and then one free training session. It was excellent, I was very impressed. The trainer asked me good questions, listened to my answers, was interested in diet and nutrition, was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. But he was the head of the program and the trainer I got assigned to was nothing like him, he seemed bored to death and was just going thru the motions. I went back to talk to the head guy, planning on cancelling my contract since I was within the first few days. But he was apologetic and told me he'd make it right and assign me to someone really good. The next trainer was only somewhat better and I couldn't wait until my series was done. Basically, at this gym the trainers didn't do much more than walk you through the machines.

On the other hand, I know some people get some benefit from working with a trainer at a gym. I definitely agree there's a wide range of quality and that's why my advice is, don't go for the package they want to sell you. At least not until you're sure the quality is what you're looking for.

I've often wondered if trainers who are independent and don't work at a gym (the one I went to was a large chain) are better because they have to work hard to get and keep every customer.
posted by daikon at 5:54 PM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: The trainer should be checking out your existing fitness level and trying to find out what type of coaching suits you best in the first session or so. Do you like a US Marine drill sergeant? Or do you like a cheerleader? They should be adaptable and try to do what works best for you. The trainer should also spend time during a session working on skills like proper form and more complex movements, and evaluating where YOU need work, not just telling you what workout #1 of their cookie-cutter "beginner-level" program is and counting repetitions for you.

They should absolutely discuss nutrition right from the get-go - it goes hand in hand with fitness and achieving your goals whether that be athletic performance, weight management, or appearance (bulging muscles). Obviously, they should spend some time finding out what YOUR goals are.

It isn't that hard to get a personal trainer cert of some sort. The thing I would look for is - are they really doing anything besides counting reps and being the keeper of the list of workouts? Because you can get a workout program from the Internet and have a buddy count reps for free. I might even ask this question point blank - what are you good for? Do they have an answer for that? Do you believe it, or does it sound like a memorized pitch?

I think trainers have a right to a little financial stability, but this one sounds a bit suspicious, from what you've said. Locking you into an entire year? I'd be cool with a 3-month sign up, or a year after a one-month trial, or something like that. Maybe an expensive month-to-month with a discount for the yearly commitment. Some trainers do month-to-month with a X-week notice to quit and require a monthly automatic credit card charge authorization so they don't have to chase down their money every month. There are many ways to do it. A mandatory year sign-up as your only option means they're trying to sell a bunch of sign-ups that people never go through with. Also, 35$/hour is pretty low for a good trainer. That's just my gut reaction, though.
posted by ctmf at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Look, to be honest, most personal trainers are total shit. Any monkey with a few hundred dollars can buy a manual for one of the billions of personal training certifications, learn what a quadricep is, and then BAM, they're a trainer!

The trainer should be listening to your goals. At the same time, if the trainer is throwing fitness lies at you "These reps will 'tone' you" or "Stay in the fat-burning zone" you've got a BAD TRAINER. Ask your trainer to show you deadlifts and squats. If they refuse, saying those are "advanced" moves and direct you to the machines, you've got a BAD TRAINER. If they tell you squatting in the Smith machine is a good idea, you've got a BAD TRAINER.

(If they say something like "Let's work with goblet squats or dumbbell deadlifts first because it's easier to learn proper form that way, holy shit, you might have a really good trainer!)

Basically, if the kind of program they put you on looks like it should be in Shape or Men's Health, you've got a BAD TRAINER.
posted by Anonymous at 6:27 PM on May 18, 2009

Could I refer to training books or websites and come out fine?

Yeah. It won't be easy, but training isn't supposed to be easy.

I've worked out at a bunch of gyms in my area and the one where I'm a member is the nicest facility. But I have never seen a trainer there that wasn't doing some seriously goofy shit while working with people. Showing beginners a ton of exercise variations and fancy machine moves that have no place in a beginner program is very common. Most of them are terrible at spotting when I ask them. I've seen them "spotting" lat pulldowns and other such ridiculous things. I've seen them instructing atrocious form in barbell movements. If you were to walk into my gym and pay for personal training, despite the accurate appearance of a nice gym, you'd be throwing your money away.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 PM on May 18, 2009

I would agree with schroedinger on this one. Look up the info yourself and you could do just as well. If you have a specific goal to meet then maybe I would suggest a trainer, but I would suggest you search one out rather than rely on a gym supplied one.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:56 AM on May 19, 2009

Best answer: I used to scoff at recommendations on AskMe to get personal trainers. Yeah, it's not hard to understand the basics of how to exercise and what a good routine is.

What turned it around, for me, was lifting weights with my wife. She's a triathlete and a long-time dancer and exerciser. And all her instincts in weight-lifting were wrong, some of them dangerous. I'm glad I was there to steer her toward good form.

It can be hard to understand the details of how to move to prevent injury and to get the most benefit, and hard to figure out that part from a book, when the problem could be a somewhat subtle issue in your positioning. A good trainer can make a difference here. (And a bad one, not so much, obviously.)
posted by Zed at 3:54 AM on May 19, 2009

Best answer: schroedinger has great advice. listen to that.

If you can talk them into giving you a trainer for a shorter period of time I think as long as you get a good one its immensely helpful. I'm one of those people where when I start something new if I don't have some direction I get frustrated and quit. When I decided to get serious about fitness at the beginning of the year I got a trainer and it has been very helpful. Whenever I don't know how to progress safely and effectively he has advice, exercises and routines to keep me moving forward.

If you can get 3 months I would recommend it.. then you will be equipped with some knowledge about your body, how progression works in terms of getting fitter, building strength, improving cardio or whatever your goal is and you can evaluate if you need that guidance or not.

I know for myself, if I didn't have that first dose of knowledge and the little push I would have gotten frustrated and stopped.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:34 AM on May 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to you all. I agree that a trainer would be good to help me and my wife start working out in good form, and the guy who helped me yesterday seemed to know what he was talking about. But as some of you pointed out, he was the manager, so he might have been the best I could have gotten. If I could get one or three months instead of a solid 12, I would be OK with that. As it is, I'll be canceling today, unless the manager can offer me an introduction package of a few months.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:06 AM on May 19, 2009

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