Finding a personal trainer seems like it would be easy. After all, any gym you join will probably have a list of personal trainers; otherwise, you can always go online and google “find a personal trainer” and a lengthy list will appear. But finding the right personal trainer for you and your unique needs can be a challenge. Furthermore, personal trainers cost money and working with one is an investment. Not only that, you need to think about everything from safety to personal chemistry. As easy as it looks, finding the right personal trainer isn’t always a smooth process. In this blog post, consequently, I will give you some great tips to help you to find your perfect trainer.
Ready? Good! Here are the most basic issues that you should keep in mind as you look for the trainer who will help you to change your life.
~~~Time frames and goals~~~
What do you want to do and how much time are you prepared to dedicate to achieving your goals? It’s important to be realistic. It’s also important that the trainer is realistic. A few examples of typical training goals and time frames are as follows:
Major weight loss: If you have a lot of weight to lose, keep in mind that a healthy weight loss is generally two pounds a week. This is important to keep in mind when you speak with a potential trainer. If the trainer makes unbelievable promises (“I’ll make it easy for you to lose 15 pounds in a month!”) then you might reconsider. Does the trainer acknowledge that there is more to weight loss than just the gym? An obese person has a social context and, though it might not be within the trainer’s purview to work with larger issues, a good trainer will recognize that outside factors are probably just as significant and, as such, have some suggestions for you. Be ready to commit to a minimum of six months and, in some cases, even up to a year, if there is a significant weight loss goal.
Functional fitness for aging adults: This one is dear to my heart, as I have older TCM bodywork clients who I refer out for functional training. If you have a new grandchild and an aching back, for instance, it really can be worth your while to invest in a half dozen or so appointments with a personal trainer. Balance, core strength, and flexibility are necessary if you want to be able to bend down to pick up that new baby and/or chase that grandchild around as they get older. You might consider getting a friend to share a trainer with you, and you can go into the agreement with the idea that you are doing a short-term project with specific goals in mind. Or, conversely, you could decide that you want to do a longer term project. Either way, make sure the person has experience in functional fitness.
Sports-specific or situational-specific training: This is a whole different ballgame and different situations call for distinct training scenarios. Are you an athlete with particular goals in mind? Do you have a specific situation that makes your training needs unique (these can include: postpartum training, training for disabled or differently abled clients, and/or getting ready for a future event, such as a wedding or a high school reunion). Time is less of a consideration and your trainer’s background is the important factor. How much experience does your potential trainer have in this area is the question that counts. But ask it, and be prepared to put your nose to the grindstone in what can be one of the most fun and rewarding training relationships of your life. (If you’d like to read my blog post about training under the direction of Australian competitive distance runner, Shaun Creighton, go here).
~~~Age and personalities~~~
At this point in my career, I refer out most of the time. I’m focused more on my practice in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and health coaching and the people I see who would benefit from personal training tend to fall into either category one or two from the above-listed section.
When I help a client to find a trainer via referral, I always take into account age and personality. Older clients might not want a twenty-two year old personal trainer. Younger clients might not want a trainer who is old enough to be a grandparent to them. But you never know. Sometimes, cross-generational training relationships can be the very best thing for both sides of the equation. I also think about personality, too. Some people like to chat during treatment and others are reserved. During a personal training session, the trainer should be able to read cues and direct the energy towards what’s best for the client.
Bottom line? There are great trainers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. It’s important to find someone with whom you feel comfortable. You may want someone your age. You might be happier with someone much older or younger than you. It could be that the trainer has experienced your same issue (major weight loss, say, or scoliosis, or a sports competition history like the one you want to achieve). It may be that you have nothing in common but that the trainer has considerable professional experience in what you want to learn. It’s smart to think about what matters to you most before you look for a trainer, though. If you are comfortable with your trainer and you trust him or her, you’re that much more inclined to show up and do the work you need to do in order to succeed. Be open to possibilities, and flexible, but also have some ideas in mind about what makes you, the client, happy and comfortable.
~~~Certifications and specialties~~~
A trainer’s life experience and professional experience makes a huge difference in terms of what kind of training they can and will provide. My own experience, which I am sharing just to give an example, is an demonstration of this so you, dear reader, can visualize things. For your benefit, I’ll also add some interesting trainers I’ve met online after this following section with my own context. Keep reading, and see if you can find something useful for you herein!
As for me?
Competitive bodybuilding: A few years ago I attended an all-natural bodybuilding convention here in Austin, TX. When I got to the venue I was a little surprised. Instead of bodybuilding as I knew it, it was primarily a CrossFit gathering. One of the vendors was an old-school bodybuilder (I could tell from his physique) and we bonded; otherwise, I just kind of walked around and marveled. I spent most of my late teens and twenties in a competitive bodybuilding environment. You may not be able to do much but you look fabulous when you train that way. A CrossFit person may or may not look as symmetrical, chiseled, or sizable the way a competitive bodybuilder would but they can probably participate in a Spartan race more readily than can a professional physique competitor. (You never know, but that’s the generalization, anyway).
Trauma: In my previous career, I studied national trauma and how it filtered through literature and art. When I left academia, I became certified to teach yoga and I underwent considerable training in order to provide yoga to veterans. Currently, a percentage of my clientele is traumatized and otherwise on my roster as a result of stress and trauma.
As a trainer now? As I mentioned, above, I don’t offer long-term training. Instead, I offer short-term, very specific training. If I’m working with someone on weight loss (either as a health coach or via TCM) and they would benefit from learning a selection of exercises so that their overall physique moves in a certain direction, I am great at that. Competitive bodybuilders are strategic in how they build their bodies and they’re good at isolating certain areas that need more work. I can teach that in a few sessions and I do so. I’m also happy to offer fitness programming and consultations as part of my health coaching packages. Otherwise, if a person has an emotional block that is manifesting in the body (which is how things usually work), there are times when specific exercises can help. This is very unique to each individual and I will happily spend one to three appointments doing this sort of thing with clients. Both of these scenarios, as you can see, are a logical extension of my experience and training. I attract a certain clientele and am not for everyone.
When I refer, I make an effort to figure out which trainer and what background will make the most sense for my TCM client. As you look for a trainer for yourself, you will want to do the same. Ask the questions. Do the homework. Find someone who really matches what you need. It may take more effort but it’s worth it in the long run.
A short list of some examples of interesting trainers I know? Yes! Online fitness is a big thing at this point and I’ve met several really neat people in various professional Facebook groups. As you’ll notice, I tend to be attracted by personal trainers that fit my background. When I’m referring, though, I look at the person in front of me and try to help them to hook up with the kind of trainer that is just right for their situation. The following may be just right, or it could be someone else. Each person is different and the trainer should be reflective of those differences.
In-person coaching is lovely, of course, but if you don’t find anyone you like where you are, online is the way to go. If you have wanted to try online and distance coaching and are interested in marathons, one outstanding trainer is New Zealand native, Coach Ray. He is a trainer in the military there, so this is a guy with lots of practical experience. He also is actively involved in various social causes, including the Invictus Games and the Iron Māori events. If you’d like to read my interview with Coach Ray, go here. As you can see from the interview, this is a trainer whose life experiences and passion come together and make a unique package that a specific client will really love.
Another trainer I follow is John Pangan, a competitive bodybuilder who does a lot of work with the over-forty set. He himself is a fit-over-forty guy and that’s his niche. Take a look at his Facebook page and see, here. John takes online clients and works in-person where he lives, in the Bay Area of Northern California. If you compare Coach Ray and John, even just by briefly looking at their web sites, you can see exactly what I mean about different specialties and different clienteles. Either one of these two would make a marvelous trainer but you’d get such a different outcome by choosing one over the other.
Last but not least, by any means, is the trainer I’d love to work with if I were in Canada. Craig Bongelli is a former strongman competitor, a gym owner and trainer, and an all-around fascinating guy. What I love here is that he is super competitive and very driven at the same time that he has the real sense of fun and joy in camaraderie that I associate with bodybuilders. When I was preparing for my PhD qualifying exams (a series of written exams followed by an oral defense that, all total, consisted of twenty grueling hours) I worked with a competitive powerlifter. When I hired him, I said: “I want to learn how to power through pain and keep my focus. I need to do this for my exams.” It was one of the best investments of my life and I sailed through those twenty hours like a champion. He made me cry several times, yes. I remember standing with a heavy barbell above my head and tears and snot dripping down my face on more than one occasion. I got no sympathy from this trainer but instead encouragement and support as I powered through the task. Craig seems like he’d be that trainer and if I ever make it to Canada, I’m setting up some appointments beforehand. (Want to learn more? Check his web site, here).
Long story short? All trainers are certified but certifications are not everything. Experience is the real key to finding just the right trainer for you. What has the trainer done thus far? What has brought them to this point? How does their experience mesh with your unique goals and needs?
Working with a personal trainer can be one of the most fun, rewarding things that you ever do. It can also be expensive and it is definitely an investment of not just money but also time. You have to really show up and be present if you want to achieve your goals. Sometimes this means being vulnerable and allowing yourself to fail. Other times it means being physically uncomfortable. But you should never be in danger of becoming injured and you should always feel like you can trust your trainer. Consequently, it is important to find not just the right trainer, but rather, the right trainer for you.
Are you ready to get started?
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for health coaching services. If you are interested in acupuncture, herbs, and/or Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
Acupuncture is great for you but if you’re nervous about needles there are certainly other options. Have you ever thought to try traditional Chinese bodywork? In addition to acupuncture, I offer tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more. If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs. You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.