Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness by the Fire: How to find the right fitness professional, and to avoid the bad ones.

by Ron Kennedy • February 21, 2018
There really are some bad “personal trainers” out there. Conversely, there are some outstanding fitness professionals as well. You should notice how I purposely diversified the titles, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. Regardless of whatever goals you wish to pursue in the gym, a fitness pro can be the missing link between you and sustainable, consistent progress. Perhaps even an elite level of athletic performance.

Back in 2006, I thought I had learned everything there was too know about fitness training. I had been working as a professional for almost 4 years and was steadily building a remarkable clientele.

I was also overly confident in my skill set, and had yet to realize that the basics I had learned was just the beginning of my journey

After college, I began working at a local gym as an independent contractor. I saw firsthand all these “trainers” that were certified. The range of experience, education, enthusiasm, and professionalism varied drastically from person to person.

I came to realize that though everyone of us had completed some level of certification, those certifications were more of a “start your fitness professional journey” rather than a test of actually qualifying whether you knew your stuff. In short, many certifications are just the tip of the iceberg, and shouldn’t convince fool into determining if your trainer is worth a damn.

A good trainer is worth every penny they charge. A bad trainer is not only a waste of your time and money but can set you back months or even years in your training, if not cause serious injury. You’ll get no results, and waste valuable time/money in the process.

Unfortunately, many trainers simply don’t care; they’re going through the motions, not providing a program that provides lasting results, racking up their billable hours.

 It is my duty as a fitness professional to inform you how to avoid the bad trainers and recognize the effective ones. They’re not cheap, but the amount of money you spend doesn’t always determine their quality, and to be honest… this is your body and health we are talking about! Go to Walmart to save a few bucks on groceries but going cheap in regard to your health and wellness… yeah, I hope you have good health insurance for the hardships to come.

Before I begin, I would like to make one thing very clear to you: I am not a personal trainer.

Go ahead, take a moment to soak that in.

I am an exercise physiologist who focuses on athletic performance and injury prevention. I am just as qualified as any personal trainer (much more so to be quite honest), but my education and background is in fitness science. To give you an analogy, nursing assistances and surgeons DO both work in hospitals, but they have vastly different duties and responsibilities.

To often the term “personal trainer” is associated with over grown, tightly clothed cheerleaders who look like they are in shape, but don’t know the difference between a dumbbell and a doorbell.

That’s not me.

If you’re going to hire a trainer, here’s how to find a good one.

First and foremost, understand that your diet is 80% of the battle. Even if you worked with a trainer for 60 minutes every day, that still leaves you with 23 hours per day to screw things up if you don’t eat properly! Hopefully your trainer will also help you craft a nutritional strategy in addition to helping you build a workout strategy that aligns with your goals.

Start by picking your goals first and determine if a trainer you’re paired up with is the right fit for you. They very first question we ask every prospective client that calls is “What are your goals and how much are willing to work for them?” Like dating, you can meet somebody who’s amazing but not right for you. If somebody is a competitive marathon runner, they might not be a great strength training coach, and vice versa.

So, start with your goals:
  • Are you trying to lose 300 pounds? 30 pounds? Get to 10% body fat?
  • Are you trying to get stronger or hold your first handstand?
  • Do you want to become a competitive body builder?
  • Are you looking to run your first marathon or Spartan race (special shout-out there!)?
  • Do you just want to feel better about yourself and enjoy exercise?
These goals will largely determine the type of trainer you’re looking for.

Make sure your trainer has expertise in the area you want to train in. Expertise in one area does not necessarily make them a good fit in another!

After that, you’ll want to think about what you NEED:
  • Are you just looking for a powerlifting coach to show you the basics (squat, deadlift, etc.) so your form is right? Just a few sessions up front and a few later down the line to confirm you’re on the right path might suffice.
  • Are you new to working out or looking to kick start your first 2 months of training with 2 sessions per week to keep you disciplined?
  • What type of person are you? Do you need more hands-on guidance throughout your workouts, or more space to take ownership and thrive on your own? Do you need somebody who will cheer you on or do you need tough love from somebody to call you on your bullshit?
Once you set proper expectations with what you want and how long you need a trainer for, then you can pick out one that hopefully will work for you.

Once you find a professional you are considering working with, the next steps should always be an in-depth conversation. We do face to face consultations with every prospect, but some of us are more thorough than others.

Before the first drop of sweat falls, the professional should…

They SHOULD be listening to you completely and hearing your story.

They SHOULD ask about any past issues with injuries or experience with exercise. If you’re injured or have any deficiencies, they should know this so they can create a great program for you.

They SHOULD ask you about your nutrition. If they don’t ask about your nutrition, you’re going to be wasting your time.

They SHOULD practice what they preach. They don’t have to be an Olympian but should have a healthy lifestyle.

They SHOULD tell you about their expertise and how they can help you. They should be able to share past successes of clients with you or point to their credentials and history of success.

They SHOULD set proper expectations. You won’t get ripped in a month, but they can let you know it could take many months to get in shape or build the right kind of habits.
That’s what to look for. Here’s what to watch out for!

Beware the “entertainment exercise” trainers with a routine that isn’t catered to your goals. These are the trainers that just try to confuse you with needlessly complex movements and put all their clients through roughly the same cookie-cutter plan because they know it makes them look knowledgeable without actually knowing anything.

“Now balance on this bosu ball while doing these dumbbell squat lunge curls and standing on one foot with your tongue out! Muscle confusion!”

Difficult gym workouts are great but remember that while it’s easy to get someone tired, it’s hard to help someone improve over time. Sure, it might elevate your heart rate and tire you out, but if it’s not building towards your goals in a way that you couldn’t do at home, what are you paying for?

They might also have just obtained a basic certification and stopped their education there, relying on ‘conventional wisdom’ rather than doing the research and building the experience. If they say any of the following phrases, run for the high hills:

“So what do you want to work on today?”

“Yeah you want to squat really low – it’s ok on  your knees.”

“Use this machine; it’s safer for you than the free weights.” (unless it’s due to a pre-existing injury you might have)

“Yes, you should be using mostly your back. That’s why it’s called the back squat”

“Now, you’re going to want to cut the fat out of your diet…”

“These (ab) exercise will burn fat from your stomach in no time"

I have overheard all of these sound bites from real trainers in real gyms. Your trainer should be results-focused – not focused on scheduling you a new session and keeping you around. I often see clients working with trainers for months and months and that client never looks any different; the trainer is just interested in cashing another check.

Remember, they work for YOU: Don’t let them build a program that doesn’t actually fit your needs. Do you have injuries they’re working around? Do they pick a plan out of a hat and put you through it without focusing on your goals?

Are they actually following along with you? Are they checking your form on movements? Are they encouraging or helping you succeed in the way you want to be encouraged? Or are they scrolling through Instagram models and adjusting their Facebook status on their phones while you’re doing your sets?

Are they putting in time outside of the gym to provide results? Or are they putting in time, so they can check the box and collect your money? You’re paying money for this person’s expertise and attention – it’s not too much to ask to find somebody who takes those things seriously.

Here’s my advice: give a few sessions before making a decision that things aren’t working out. The first session is often exploratory, explanatory, and introductory, and the trainer needs to test your limits and movements to build upon that. This isn’t a “get fit quick” strategy, but rather one that could take months and months for you to find the right person to aid you on your journey. Don’t expect miracles in a day!