Patrick Gilbert PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS
So you want to start working out but don’t know where to begin. Maybe you’ve made attempts with different workouts in the past but nothing stuck long-term? Or maybe you followed a program but didn’t notice any lasting impacts on your health or the way you feel overall? Whatever your prior experience with exercise, anyone who wants to be in better shape can benefit from hiring a personal trainer. But don’t choose just anyone. Make sure you do your research before selecting a professional to work with. Here are some tips on finding the right person for the job.
Pick a Pro
Before you hire someone, make sure you do your research on who you want training you. You don’t just want any personal trainer who took a weekend course and is now selling the “latest and greatest” workouts to be responsible for your physical health.
Some questions to consider:
- What is their degree in? Ideally, you should look for someone with a degree in some sort of movement science. This could be kinesiology, exercise physiology, physical therapy, athletic training or something similar. Now, that is not to say that there are not competent personal trainers out there who do not hold a degree in one of these fields. But it is likely rare and choosing someone with a relevant degree will help you feel confident knowing that the person you have chosen has a good background of knowledge in what they are doing.
- Do they have any certifications? There are a variety of organizations that offer Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certifications. Examples of reputable organizations offering this certification are the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and American Council on Exercise (ACE). The certifications offered by ISSA and ACE are considered to be more “general”. NASM and ACSM’s certifications typically have more emphasis on corrective exercises. The NSCA certification tends to lean more towards performance. The NSCA also offers the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification, which is the only one of these certifications that requires a degree specific to movement science to sit for the test. It is largely considered the most difficult to attain and typically the most well-respected one to hold.
- Do they specialize in a specific population? On top of the certifications listed above, personal trainers can choose between many specializations. These can pertain to specific populations, equipment, techniques or philosophies. Look for these credentials when selecting a personal trainer to let you know that they offer what you might be looking for.
- As a side note, when listing credentials following their name, professionals should first list their degrees in order starting with their highest degree attained, followed by any certifications and ending with any other specializations. This should make it easier for you to figure out exactly what credentials they hold.
Think about choosing a personal trainer as an investment in yourself, your health and your future. This is not a situation where “cheapest is best”, either. On the other hand, if the person is charging an arm and a leg, maybe try searching elsewhere. You want to make sure you are hiring a competent individual who will strive to help you succeed in your personal goals.
A personal trainer should hold you accountable for your progress and ultimate success. If you have tried to exercise on a consistent basis in the past but had a difficult time sticking to a routine, having someone hold you accountable for your program can be the crucial change to spark lasting success. When working with a personal trainer on a consistent basis (whether this is 2, 3, or 4+ days/week), they will stay on top of you to hold up your end of the bargain.
Just because you hire someone to train you does not mean you can coast through workouts and see results. A personal trainer is there to help you by using their knowledge of training to work on your specific goals, but they cannot do the work for you. They will also assist and give you added motivation, but you still need to bring the effort and want it for yourself!
Expand Your Comfort Zone
Maybe you have been successful in the past in sticking to a routine and executing it faithfully. That’s awesome! You have been able to achieve something that is quite difficult for most individuals. But how challenging was this program? Did you do the same 5 exercises 3 days/week and consider it a well-rounded workout? For some, this may be enough. However, if you are really invested in changing your physique and the way you feel, you need to be challenged with every workout.
In addition, you likely have some limitations that never got better. Maybe you have trouble squatting deep or reaching up overhead. Maybe you have chronically tight hamstrings or calves. A personal trainer should be able to spot those subtle impairments and address them in your workout plan.
A personal trainer can also push you further than you may be comfortable pushing yourself. If you do the same exercises over and over your body will adapt to that specific stress until it is no longer difficult for your system. Incorporating new movements or sequences of exercises will ensure that your body is constantly adapting. A good personal trainer is also able to change up workouts to keep them fresh and challenging while still working towards your big picture goals.
Ideally, a personal trainer will not only create and instruct you through workouts. They should also be able to teach you through these workouts. On top of coaching you through exercise patterns and movements, a personal trainer can play a huge role in educating their clients.
Even a perfect program executed with poor form will not lead to optimal results. Though if you have someone there to help correct faulty mechanics and teach you proper form, you will be sure to get the best results possible. This can be something broad like improving your squat pattern. Or it can be more specific, like helping you understand what groups of exercises should be performed together in order to have the most benefit. Proper exercise grouping can make your body stronger and more resilient against injury.
There should always be a “why” behind every exercise a personal trainer programs for you. Teaching movement is a complex skill that has many different avenues to success. Some clients are visual learners, while others learn by doing. Others want all the information they can get before diving into a new movement pattern. You should always walk out of a workout with a new piece of knowledge. Stick with it for long enough and you should start to develop a solid base of information to keep with you for life.
Hiring a personal trainer that has all of these qualities will provide you with great results. Choosing a well-qualified individual will do a few key things that will lead to your ultimate success.
They will hold you accountable for your progress. A personal trainer will challenge you and push you to be better than you were yesterday.
In addition, they will teach you how to maintain these improvements and results for as long as you remain diligent and committed to yourself.
Simply hiring a personal trainer is not enough. Results require patience and consistency. Getting bigger, stronger, leaner or faster will not happen overnight. True muscle hypertrophy1 (growth) requires anywhere from 4-6 weeks to take place.
Weight loss is also a marathon, not a sprint. Stick with the program that your personal trainer has created for you for the duration, and you will see results. Putting these key components together may be the kickstart you need to change the way you exercise. It may just be what you need to change your life.
- Schoenfeld, BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength and Cond Research: 2010 October;24(10):2857-2872.
About the Author – Patrick Gilbert PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS
Patrick is a physical therapist, athletic trainer and personal trainer. He runs Summit Performance and Therapy in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has been training clients of all backgrounds for years and has been a practicing physical therapist since 2016. His training philosophy combines his knowledge of rehabilitation as well as strength and conditioning in order to train clients to achieve great results and avoid injuries in the process. His physical therapy practice focuses on a three-dimensional view and treatment of the body and its many parts. Treatment emphasizes manual techniques and rehabilitative exercises to get patients back to previous activity levels without pain or dysfunction.
For more information about training or rehabilitating with Patrick, contact him at SummitPerformancePT@gmail.com or visit SummitPerformancePT.com