Finding A Personal Trainer
By: Will Kuenzel, Owner Low Country Strength
I’ve been a personal trainer for 14 years. I had been training for almost 10 years before that. Over the years I’ve been in a lot of different gyms. I’ve been a part of many different types of gyms. From home gyms to personal training studios to big box gyms. I’ve either worked in them or trained out of it all. Picking the right gym can be tough enough but almost any gym will do. The hard part is breaking down and finding a good personal trainer.
When I was first hired as a personal trainer after getting my certification, I worked at a big box gym. I was certified and ready to go. I thought people just walked through the door to come sign up with me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having a piece of paper and a shirt did not magically make the people line up to be my clients. It would take a couple weeks of cold calling people, doing open orientation, and just spending time on the floor before people would trust me enough to even give them a free session. Most people want help. Most people need help. They want help from someone they trust and respect. Personal trainers aren’t far removed from used car salesmen. Case in point, at one of our sister gyms, the manager over the personal trainers was eating breakfast at IHOP and the waiter looked like he worked out. After a brief conversation he hired him and he started training clients the next week. He was young, attractive, and knew how to talk to people. Was he a good personal trainer? No. And his client retention showed that.
We did 3 and 6-month contracts with clients. At the end of my clients’ 3-month contracts almost everyone re-signed for a 6-month contract and the ones that didn’t continued with a 3-month contract. My supervisor was blown away. Our gym had been open for 2-3 years at that point and not a single personal trainer had been able to have 100% retention rate. The gym made the most money from new sales of personal training clients and after that most of the contract’s money went to the trainer. So, it wasn’t heavily encouraged by management to keep clients but constantly be selling. The point was to hit more people and not focus on current customers or clients. Helping people was not the priority but rather just selling packages. And after hard selling someone, you’d often see “buyer’s remorse”. Those folks are not fun to train because they really didn’t want to be there but also didn’t want to waste that money. As a personal trainer that loves his job and loves helping people, this troubled me.
It was at this point that another trainer and myself broke off and started our own training company inside of another gym in the area. They had very little internally as far as personal training went so we drafted a contract to be the sole trainers. We would pay them a monthly rent to be there and in turn we trained our clients and went about our business. We made more money and had more options for selling packages. This let us reach out to folks that might not otherwise have had the financial capabilities to pay for training. This really allowed us to broaden our training scope and here’s where the real experience of training started for me.
I worked for the next 4 years in a gym that primarily catered to geriatrics. Everybody wants to train pro football athletes but do you have any idea how hard a man can train when he’s 84 years old and is desperate not to have to go into a nursing home? This man came to see me 3 times a week for over a year like it was his job. He showed up 10 minutes early and would stay 10 minutes afterwards walking the track. 84 years old. I had another gentleman come to see me prior to going in to having his knee replaced. He was 91 years old. He carried a cane but never used it. Men and women will really train when there’s more on the line than just playing a sport.
It was during this time that I really learned what being a personal trainer meant to me. It was the personal aspect of it. People have stories to share and that’s who they are. That’s not to say that it’s a personal trainer’s job to just listen to clients, but it’s a requisite. Who they are and what they tell you will help dictate the appropriate way to train them. Certain people can be pushed. Certain clients do not respond well to yelling. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the personal aspect of training but when you do, it makes training much easier.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of different clients. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of different trainers. It’s given me a good perspective on what I’d ask a personal trainer and questions I’d like for a client to ask me.
The questions I’d ask a trainer:
1) How long have you been training yourself and how long have you been a trainer?
2) What is your specialty?
3) Do you train clients like you train yourself?
4) Optional: What do you or have you competed in?
The first one is simply a matter of experience. Their training age as well as the time they’ve spent training clients. The longer a person has been training the more experience they will have across different disciplines. The longer a trainer has been doing it, then there’s a greater chance they’ve run across someone with similar goals. During that time, they’re bound to have made progress and even refined the process. It’ll be easier for them to help you achieve your goals when they practice and experience.
The 2nd question relates to what they’re more versed at doing. For example, my specialty is the older clientele and making them stronger. Sure, I’ve worked with my fair share of athletes, weight loss clients, and powerlifters. I work the best with and enjoy the older clients. I’ve got the most experience there. If a trainer can’t tell you their specialty then they haven’t been doing it long enough. No trainer is perfect across the board. They’re lying if they tell you they are. There are way too many fields of study and way too many different types of populace to be good at them all. Spreading thin only makes you a jack of all trades but a master of none. Find the one that has the specialty closest to your goals.
Does the trainer train their clients as they would themselves? It’s very rare that a client will come in and have the same training history as the trainer that would allow the trainer to have a client perform the same workout. I’m a powerlifter, therefore, most of my clients do not train like I do. It’s not their goal. The training needs to be a personal fit to the needs and goals of the client. A trainer should be able to make the distinction and create workouts that will benefit the client. These workouts might be a far cry from how they themselves would train.
An optional question to ask a trainer is if they compete in any sports. This provides a good deal of insight to the trainer but might not have a lot of bearing. I have found that most trainers that compete in some level of sport are doing more to enhance their own training thus benefitting the client in the long run because the trainer will become more experienced and versatile. It might not be applicable to the training desires of the client but will give you an insight to whether they are working on expanding their knowledge or not.
The easy questions about their certification or client testimonials are always on the table. These are things to talk about with a potential personal trainer. Certifications are a dime a dozen these days, and testimonials are great but go into an interview with a trainer armed to really find out who they are. Most trainers are not cheap, or at least they shouldn’t be. I know I’m not. Getting the appropriate help is a huge investment in yourself and your longevity in the gym. I highly encourage everybody to have at least seen a personal trainer for a couple sessions. Accountability is great but form, technique, and safety is paramount. Utilize a trainer to create the most efficient training. Just do your research to really find out what you’re paying for.