If you choose to pair up with a personal trainer, they often become a vital part of your fitness journey. They get to know your strengths, your weaknesses and, ultimately, what it’ll take for you to become the person you want to be.
It’s important that you get to know what kind of trainer your PT is and whether you’re both compatible with each other so you can ensure you reach your fitness goals.
So what questions should you ask? And how do you know which answers are the right ones?
To help you pick the right PT for you, we put together our top six questions that you should ask them before getting started with your first session.
1. What are your qualifications?
It’s highly unlikely that the PT you want to work with is just a hobbyist that’s been feeling their way through a fitness career, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check to see what they know.
Luke Chamberlain, a Fitness First PT who trains and coaches at Fitness First Bishopsgate, recommends choosing a personal trainer with a Level 3 qualification or higher. “The base level standard is usually a Level 3 PT certificate,” says Luke — PTs that are qualified to this level are equipped to structure effective training sessions and understand how anatomy and physiology will affect exercise.
Luke says it’s also worth asking your PT if they’ve done any further courses once they hit their Level 3. “Particular value can be placed on functional courses,” he explains, “as the average gym user will need to build a foundation of skills before adding weights to the mix.”
2. How do you assess new clients?
Once you’ve figured out the level that they’re at, your PT should want to know the stage at which you’re at.
It’s possible that your PT will ask you to complete a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) to make sure you’re okay to exercise. They’ll also take your blood pressure and your BMI, which serves as a ‘starting point’ from which to work.
Luke points out that a good assessment includes an honest conversation between the PT and their client. “Always make sure the PT asks about prior injuries or health conditions that they should be made aware of — it’s good to hear it from the member directly. Following that, you can have a simple conversation about your goals, habits and hobbies, too.”
Beyond an initial Q&A, your PT should take the time to assess your movements. “A valid and reliable movement assessment is a good place to start and repeat later down the line to show improvement,” says Luke: it helps PTs identify the areas you struggle with — whether that’s lunges, squats or weights — then tailor your training programme accordingly.
3. What’s your training style?
Some people work well under pressure. These people feel motivated by having someone there who will push them to their very limit, drill sergeant-like in their determination, but there are other people that crumble in these scenarios.
“Find an experienced coach that knows you well enough to know when to push and when to give praise and reward,” says Luke. “Combine that with how you like to be pushed.”
If you’re unsure of what you need, ask if you can observe a couple of their sessions with other clients. You can also ask for references from clients they’ve worked with in the past for insight into how their approach works over the prolonged period.
“Ultimately,” Luke promises, “the more time you spend with a good coach, the more they learn about you as an athlete and the better the coaching.”
4. How will you track my progress?
You can’t change what you don’t measure, so make sure you have a personal trainer that takes tracking your goals seriously. Not only does proper tracking ensure you’re making tangible progress, but seeing that progress statistically mapped out can provide some much-needed motivation at the right time.
Your trainer should set your goals based on what they believe your needs are and create a training regime that will help you hit those goals. “I’m a big believer in tracking every weight or movement completed when with an athlete, alongside a regular muscle mass and body fat measurement,” says Luke. “Without taking notes,” he explains, “ there’s no way a coach can remember everything they need to.”
If you’re the sort of person that likes having all the data, ask your PT if they can share the stats with you after each session. If you’re not into the numbers, ask your PT to let you know when you’ve hit certain goals.
Make sure that your PT gives you a plan to stick to beyond your 1-to-1 sessions, too. Trainers that don’t do this are shooting themselves in the foot; to see tangible change, you should be doing effective exercise at least 3 times per week. You should ask your trainer to provide you with a regime to stick with up front.
5. Do you offer nutritional advice?
Most personal trainers will have some insight into what you should include in your diet to get the fuel your body needs.
That said, you should be cautious about a PT that begins prescribing you strict meal plans or asking you to cut out certain food groups altogether. Luke explains that most PTs aren’t dieticians: “Ultimately, a standard Level 3 PT isn’t allowed to prescribe a nutritional plan — they can only give advice.
“My best advice? Avoid as much sugar, fried food and alcohol as you can.”
A good PT might even recommend you to a nutritionist as a way of ensuring your diet is healthy and will fuel your muscle development.
6. How much does it cost?
This is both the most important question on the list and the one you might be the least comfortable asking. But don’t be shy: it’s your money and you should know that you’re spending it wisely.
A more experienced or qualified PT will probably charge more than a newbie because of the heightened value of each hour you spend with them. With that in mind, you can weigh up the cost alongside how long they’ve been a PT and how many happy clients they have to determine whether it’s worth the investment — which a good PT almost always is.
One last tip: find out how late you can cancel a session without being charged. That’ll determine how structured you need to be with your sessions.
You can also follow Luke on Instagram.