What makes an awesome personal trainer?
October 2, 2011 2:44 AM   Subscribe

I want to be an awesome personal trainer - please tell me what you love most about your (current or past) personal trainer! What was it about their approach/attitude/personality/etc that made you love working with them? What big or little things made the difference for you? What made them fun and inspiring? What did they do that helped make exercising a positive, empowering experience for you?
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The only decent PT I've ever had made it very super clear to me that nutrition was actually more important than what I did in the gym.
posted by smoke at 3:26 AM on October 2, 2011

Talking about other shit besides working out!! Granted my trainer was already a friend, so it was natural for us, but he makes a point to do that with his other clients too. Nothing makes me dread a workout more than the prospect of discussing working out for 30 minutes.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:42 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have used three - all of them good in different ways, but three things come to mind:
1. NEVER carry or answer your cell phone when you are training. Ever. (Universal)
2. Don't pull high school coach crap. I need a trainer, not a cheerleader and certainly not a gym teacher. So no yelling in my ear telling me "ONE MORE" or "LET'S DO IT!" etc. (This may just be my thing)
3. One of the best trainers I had constantly broke rule #1 but he really got into things with me. He wasn't afraid or weird about being really physical - more than once he essentially spooned me to help me with the final squat. And then wasn't weird about it. That was really nice. He was the one I made the most progress with.
posted by Tchad at 5:11 AM on October 2, 2011

Lack of judgement: Framing everything in terms of gaining strength, health, flexibility, and NOT in terms of losing weight or dress sizes. I mean, it's great to talk about how to lose weight if that's what your client wants -- but absolutely don't assume. It can be a very touchy subject, particularly for people who have had a lifelong weight issue.

Also: Keen observation and offering suggestions or alternatives for working out even without the trainer. "Oh, is that hurting your knees? Be sure to X." "As soon as you can do Y without getting tired, we'll move you on to Z instead." It's nice to feel in the loop regarding your own fitness plan.
posted by Andrhia at 5:52 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

My trainer is fantastic and I'd echo what drjimmy11 said about conversation: We talk about a ton of stuff during the workout and rarely actually talk about working out itself. That means that I see him more as a workout partner and friend rather than someone I'm paying to push me. He stacks the weight and I just do it. Then we talk about girls and hockey.

And never roll your eyes or judge or tsk-tsk if your client isn't following everything to a tee.
posted by fso at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2011

My trainer has become a really good friend. And having overheard him w other clients, I can tell he tailors his attitude to each. Also, something huge is that he has figured out the difference between my whining (and pushes me harder) and my "no, seriously, that HURTS" (and it's time to stop or modify).
posted by atomicstone at 7:14 AM on October 2, 2011

My trainer introduced to me to other folks he knew at the gym. In the course of a session, if we encountered someone else he trained, or even someone he just knew, he'd introduce us. It was nice, because I got to meet people I probably wouldn't have met otherwise, because I would have been intimidated by most of them. Knowing a few folks by name made going to the gym on my own feel more comfortable, which meant I was more likely to do it.

And the way he introduced me (and generally treated me throughout our sessions), was not as some poor widdle woman who needed the help of a Manly Man Trainer (he was smaller than me anyway), but as a grownup looking for advice and some instruction, and maybe some motivation. He never ever treated me as someone too stupid to manage my own fitness routine, which really made me like him and keep signing up for more sessions with him.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Disclaimer: I've never been to a personal trainer; I'm skeptical of them. I know there are good ones, but I have this mental image of most of them as guys who just spent so much time at the gym anyway that someone gave them a job. But if a friend recommended one to me, or if I was impressed by one I overheard at the gym or who was friendly to me at the check-in desk, I'd book an appointment.

Here's what would get me to hire you:

Friendliness without smarminess. Be friendly but be genuine. I'm personally shy, so I always appreciate working with someone who's good at managing a conversation. When you talk to me, give me room to reply, and if I'm not feeling overly chatty that day, don't keep trying to engage me, and don't natter on about your cousin's wedding or whatever.

Knowing your shit, and knowing what is bullshit. I'm not new to exercise, and I expect a professional personal trainer to know more than I would. I'm going to be skeptical if you start telling me that an exercise burns 1500 calories an hour. If you try to steer me towards the 5-pound weights, insisting that I shouldn't lift heavy because I'm female and should work on "toning long and lean muscle" instead, I will not be back because I know that's not true.

Related to the above, not girlifying routines for women. I may not be able to lift as much as a man initially, and I may have shorter legs and a different center of mass, but I can do the same things. I need your help with the squat rack.

Keeping vanity out of it, as Andrhia mentions. Not everyone at the gym is there to lose weight or look good. And, I hate to say it, but your appearance can have an effect here as well: if you have an obvious fake tan and glowing white bleached teeth, you'll look image-focused and I'll be put off.

So, basically, it all comes down to being approachable, knowledgeable, and willing to listen and personalize. If you do that, you'll be in good shape, no pun intended.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:12 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

i've been with him for four years now; he's one of the closest confidantes i've ever had.

the single most important thing he did for me was stop the fake PT positivity that so many trainers seem to employ.

he knows i value grace and solid form over weight pushed, so he tells me honestly and frankly when i'm wrong. he knows i was never athletic until my late thirties, so he doesn't assume i remember anything from middle school football or whatever. he poses alongside me if i'm not focusing the position on the right muscle groups, and he's not shy about either touching me or putting my hands on his body so i can actually feel what's flexed (for instance, lower abs versus upper. something like that).

he doesn't do this with all of his other clients; he communicates differently to each of us based on who we are. some need extra positive reinforcement, some react better to him just getting pissed. focus your communication on your client's needs as best you can.
posted by patricking at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2011

I've never had a personal trainer, but I go to a small Crossfit gym with 6 trainers who do a lot of one-on-one feedback, and I have thought a lot about what I really get out of that process. The majority of the trainers are the "great job! nice work!" type who say a lot of encouraging things, and it's fine, I don't mind it, but I'm not particularly fired up or inspired.

The other two trainers will tell me exactly what I need to do to make something more challenging. One example I remember: "Those kettlebell swings look a little too perfect--you're ready to try the next size kettlebell. I'll get you one right now." And that let me know that I wasn't going to just keep doing the same thing I'd been doing, and doing it with great form, but that I would know how and when to progress with the trainer's feedback. I like the "hooray, good job"s too, but it's the "ok, that was good, but here's how you can do even better" that I really get something from.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2011

i've had a lot of personal trainers and the best of them keep me consistently motivated by doing a couple of things:
1) changing up the routine. we would do a lot of different and interesting kinds of work rather than the same old 1,2,3,4.
2) pushing me very hard while respecting and believing me when i talked about injuries and what exercises aggravated them. there is a big difference between 'oh god these crunches are killing me' and 'that particular lunge is making my knee feel weird'
3) talking about whatever while exercising but rarely actually stopping the exercise to chat. i had a bad trainer tell me once, 'oh, i want to take it easy on you so you aren't too distracted to talk', the word may not have been distracted but you get my meaning
4) rarely cancel or change appointments
5) touch my body. not in a creepy way, but if i am not moving the right muscles, slow the exercise down, tap the muscle you want me to use and get me to do it again until i do it right. i can do bad form all on my own, that is part of why i am with a trainer to get good workouts done right.
6) finally, listen to my needs. i know what i want, i am paying you to help me refine and achieve that vision.
posted by memi at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2011

From an alternate point of view, the most awesome personal trainers (if we're talking about the kind who ply their trade in big health clubs) are the kind who don't focus 100% on their clients, but instead are sensitive and considerate of all the other club members who are just trying to get through their routines. Keep the idle chatter to a minimum, and don't hog the popular machines.
posted by Rash at 11:05 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on some of my previous trainers or would-be trainers:

1. Ask what your clients want without making assumptions. It's not at all helpful for me to focus on weight loss but I am *very* motivated by focusing on strength and capability.

2. When I say I want to lift the heavy weights, please don't gasp "But you don't want to get big!" A, you don't know what I want. B, I won't get big from lifting. Know your stuff.

3. No gum.

4. Don't yell at me. I want a guide, not a drill sergeant. Be my fitness sherpa!

5. Find out if I'm open to discussing my diet before pushing it. I have this fight regularly with my current trainer. He's very competent and I enjoy working out with him but my decisions about what to eat are complicated and personal. It would be more helpful if he asked how he could support me in my health goals or just left it alone.

6. Until you get to know a client, warn them - or better yet, ask permission - before touching them. "I'm gonna adjust your hips for this position, is that ok?" I've gotten a little freaked out over being touched without warning.

7. Encourage me. Remind me of how far I've come. If I've really kicked ass in my workout, say so.

I'm happy that you want to be an awesome trainer :) Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 12:40 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really liked a martial arts trainer's style of constantly reminding: "OK, don't worry if you don't get this right away / it's a new movement for you / everybody starts somewhere / I had to go through the same thing" etc - I can see this translating pretty well to PT:

"Hey, 14 pushups, pretty good. Don't worry if you can't just drop & do 50 like a pro footballer, that'll come with time, it's just a matter of practice then it gets easy; I started the same as you..." It lets you feel OK with what you're doing, at the same time as aspiring to more.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:50 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

i wholeheartedly agree with everything that other people have said on this page.

just some additional advice:
-from a client's perspective, it is incredibly frustrating being sold a package by a trainer that claims they have time for me when in actuality they don't, so please don't do this to any clients
-don't make assumptions about a client based on their age or any other factors. for instance, my second trainer mentioned the idea of a nutritionist and because i am a student i told her that i cannot afford to pay for a nutritionist and the fact that i'm paying for PT fees is already cutting it close financially so she told me to ask my parents, but i felt very annoyed at this because i'm 20 years old and a college student but it doesn't mean that my parents are financially responsible for me or that i have to run things by my parents before doing anything
-don't say that you "understand" when in actuality you don't understand something about your client (although it's okay to say i would like to understand)

-if a client shares any information about why they gained weight then try to add little components of the workout that will help out in the long run in terms of self esteem, mind body connection, etc.. this is something that my new trainer did because of my disassociation which i'm working on and it's helping me out slowly, but surely
-develop a connection that is professional, yet personal
-be honest in terms of cost because a good PT is someone that's invested in helping clients rather than taking advantage of clients
-encourage the client but gauge what their type of energy and personality level before you do one extreme (constant cheering on) or the other (very limited cheering on)
-don't expect comments like "good job" to give your client the motivation to change things outside of the gym, this is just a "tactic" that will help with additional workouts during the session
-if you want to inspire the client then share your own experience with weight (if they are there to lose weight) or why you became a personal trainer
-understand when your client can no longer be pushed versus when your client is tired but willing to do more
posted by sincerely-s at 2:53 PM on October 2, 2011

don't hog the popular machines.

Oh yes a thousand times yes. At my current gym the 12 year old PTs do this and it drives me 120% incandescent with rage. They spend +25 minutes on squat racks and we only have two in the whole gym. They'll put their shit on the rack and then go use a bench or something else, but if you approach the rack, they're all like, "sorry mate, we're using this one." ARE YOU, YOU BUFF IDIOT, ARE YOU?

Also they will never let you - let alone invite you - to slot in with them. It's depressing to see people who should be exemplars and ambassadors of good gym behaviour acting worse than the most entitled lunkheads there. I understand they want to use up the bulk of their training hour making inane small talk so clients come back for another session, but it kills me, I tells ya.
posted by smoke at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I told my trainer that I wanted to train for a sprint triathlon, and he impressed me forever by responding first Not with traditional training (although we got to it) but with prehab exercises to keep me from getting injured so that I could keep training. I'm almost 40 and have been working out for years, so I know how key injuries can be - so I was Very impressed.
posted by ldthomps at 6:35 PM on October 2, 2011

Be sure to know the right way to do all the things you show your clients. When I used to go to the gym and use the rowing ergometers for 45+ minutes at a time, I would regularly watch personal trainers demonstrate terrible, highly-likely-to-induce-injury form to their charges. I always assumed that they didn't think it mattered.
posted by rockindata at 8:25 PM on October 2, 2011

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