What to Look for in a Good Personal Trainer

It is believed that a good coach is like a field general: one who “gets you in shape.” But this is not the case. If you hire the person who most resembles the general, you could be the victim of the battle for the bulge. Here are some things to look out for when choosing a good coach.

Knowledge is only the first step

First, let’s talk about the most important thing you should look for in a coach (from now on, I will use it synonymously for coach). The biggest mistake people make is looking at the coach’s “domain knowledge” to gauge their ability. Everyone needs someone to tell them what exercises are best, how to get in shape, and what meal times – down to the second – for optimal post-workout recovery.

But in reality, knowledge of such things is hardly a distinguishing feature. In fact, it is a requirement to be a coach. But knowledge will only go so far . After all, you already know that you need to eat less and move more , but that alone will not help you succeed. Coaches are no different.

In fact, letting a potential coach take care of you with their knowledge of Optimizing Muscle Protein ™ Synthesis and Low Glycemic Fat Burners could leave you vulnerable to a bad deal. Trainers are also sellers of necessity, and mastering fitness jargon doesn’t necessarily mean they can help you. Compatibility, not knowledge, is the main thing to look for in a potential coach.

How to determine if a coach is compatible with you

To borrow a phrase from research on motivational interviewing , successfully motivating someone to succeed is more like dancing than fighting. Coaching isn’t just about giving out a set of march orders and then turning them into burpees if they don’t follow them. If the trainer MO smells like that, then you should probably stay away.

Instead, compatibility is perhaps the most important thing to look for in a trainer. Someone whose weight is one of the major fitness hurdles to blame probably won’t work well with a trainer who acts like a field general who yells when you’re wrong. Likewise, if you’ve always enjoyed fitness and exercise, you’ll likely find that a former fat kid like me reminds you of a caring person too much when talking about self-compassion.

Here are a few things to think about in order to get the best compatibility.

Find someone similar to your ideal future

The most important thing you can do is find a coach who has many of the same characteristics as you. These are the type of people that should just click and you can imagine your future channeling. For example, if you are a young mother trying to lose weight during pregnancy despite running around, your best bet is to deal with a woman with children who understands how to raise children and keep fit at the same time.

This is much more important than, say, having a professional coach that the best athletes use. They simply will not understand your struggle, and you will not be able to figuratively “dance” with your coach if they do not understand you.

Find the Right Place on the Kindness / Fortitude Scale

Coaches tend to be either kind or tough (or somewhere in between). Of course, they can be both in different contexts, but they usually lean towards one side of that spectrum.

For those who really love fitness, a tougher trainer will work as they already have a tendency towards self-efficacy. Likewise, if you have a background in fitness and already have the mindfulness, knowledge, and compassion for yourself to succeed (be honest with yourself), you may just need responsibility. In this case, a tougher coach may be the best option.

If you have struggled with exercise, weight, or anything in general, you will want to err on the side of the nicer ones. Anyway:

  • It is incredibly difficult for beginners to realize that they need a kind coach. Watch the participants in Biggest Loser … they desperately need someone to help them master their compassion, but they have trainers who mostly torture them for their (and America’s) entertainment .
  • Kind does not mean soft. A good coach should not judge you or provoke anger when you are wrong. However, they still need to urge you to bullshit when they see it and help you face the harsh truth .

Be honest with yourself about what you need from someone, and do not convince yourself that you can always just find an instructor sergeant and “get stronger.”

Check Your Potential Trainers

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to check out potential trainers. Talk to them to get a feel for them. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do they start giving you marketing gimmicks right away? (Remember guys, the sale ends tomorrow!) The persistent trainer who makes you become a client probably has other priorities in mind.
  • Are they actually trying to get to know you? The coach does not have to be your drinking companion, but he does need to know about your life for maximum efficiency. Let me put it this way: if your coach only knows what you are doing in the gym, they won’t be very effective because you don’t spend your life in the gym.
  • Do you feel comfortable around them or some kind of “closeness”? You will quickly realize that sometimes you need a coach who acts like a fitness therapist. No matter how good a coach is, if you don’t feel comfortable with him, you won’t be able to open yourself up to get help.

If you do decide that a coach is right for you, know that you are unlikely to have one for life. You will outgrow some, find others who can teach you new things, or choose to train on your own, temporarily, or for the rest of your life. Compatibility is a fickle thing. But if they do their job, you will outgrow them, because you will be so different from your future self.

Vitals is a new blog from Lifehacker dedicated to health and fitness. Follow us on Twitter here .


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