How to choose and work with a personal trainer

Thought about hiring a personal trainer but are unsure where to start? This post is for you. A lot of people talk themselves out of working with a coach, worried that they are not fit enough (a bit like tidying up your house before the cleaner arrives!), or are afraid of the gym or of being shouted at: blame bad memories of school sports in my case. The reality is really the same as making any investment. You need to decide what you want, do some research into what is available in your price range and start asking for recommendations.

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Getting the right ‘fit’

Far from a personal training session being a clinically-delivered set of instructions with someone watching you sweat, your hour should be spent with someone whose company you enjoy. If you don’t have rapport with your coach and they don’t try to establish a connection with you, look elsewhere. If you enjoy being shouted at, then that’s your call and plenty of trainers will do that for you!

Ultimately, a good trainer should be a valuable source of support and someone who is invested in helping you to achieve your goals. They should not value your transformation photos (absolutely not compulsory, by the way) as a marker of how good they are at their job, but meet you where you are and establish the right pace of progress for you.

Look at their website and get a feel for their approach. If you are looking to get fit post-natal or are trying to get healthy after a bout of illness, then look for a trainer with experience in these areas. Find a trainer with life experience, empathy and a roster of similar clients. For example, I don’t do body transformations, although I can recommended good trainers who do. I have found my niche working with people who hated exercise in the past, are very overweight and need an empathetic, more moderate approach based on more than just numbers and data, as well as clients with complex health needs, older clients (in fitness parlance, the over 50s, even though I’m 46 myself!) and so on. If you want me to get you in bikini shape by crash dieting and running you into the ground, I’ll pass on you as a client. Beware of a trainer who claims they can offer you everything: go to someone who specialises in what you need and with whom you can connect.

Trial sessions 

Many trainers offer a trial session, but please don’t expect this to be free of charge. We all work by the hour, so you may be asked to pay a small fee to cover the venue hire or, in my case, the chat to discuss your goals and to see if we suit each other is free but you will start being charged once we enter the gym and I am paying to use the space.

Working with your trainer

Getting the best from personal training requires commitment on both sides.

A few basics:

be on time and make sure you have eaten appropriately to fuel your session and get the most out of it. A small carbohydrate snack a couple of hours beforehand will do it if you are between main meals. My pet hate is underfuelled clients who are too tired to work out effectively. Similarly, turn up hungover at your own risk. If you know you are training, you owe it to yourself to turn up in a fit state to get the most for your £40 or so per hour. Your trainer probably won’t be sympathetic!

pay your bills on time. Hourly-paid freelancers need to maintain cash flow so please don’t make us wait until the last minute to pay for your sessions. Expect to pay in advance and to lose your payment if you cancel shortly before a session; make sure you know your trainer’s terms and conditions. We need to pay our bills, too.

if we are helping you with your nutrition, be honest about what you eat and drink. It’s obvious to us that if you are not losing weight, in 99% of cases you are eating more than you think or are reporting. Help us to help you. We are not allowed to give you meal plans (only state registered dietitians can do this legally) so please don’t ask for one, but we can give you guidelines. Remember that our job is to keep you accountable so don’t be offended when we challenge you or call you out for not sticking to what you promised to do.

– remember that we are not on 24 hour duty. If you need to ask a question, send an email rather than texting or calling. I’ve had clients calling on weekends and texting even after I’ve gone to bed. Please respect our boundaries. Many trainers offer support outside of sessions by email, but don’t expect immediate replies or responses outside of normal office hours.

your trainer should discuss what you want to achieve and how often you can train before they agree to take you on. From then on, your sessions should be tailored to move you towards those goals and not be generic ‘cookie cutter’ training that could apply to anyone. A good trainer should be able to adapt around injury, pregnancy and change a session at the last minute if you are not performing and need something different. That said, it’s our responsibility to help you get fitter and healthier, and we work on a principle called ‘progressive overload’ so be prepared to work harder as time goes on and feel challenged. You will be expected to complete a health  questionnaire (PAR-Q) and sign some kind of informed consent or waiver so that all parties are aware of any risks involved.

finally, and this may seem strange but it is an issue, please don’t flirt with your trainer. Our work with you can be intimate as we take an interest in our clients and train you in very close physical proximity, but it will make things uncomfortable if you: comment on our bodies; flirt with us; buy us inappropriate gifts – all things that have happened to myself and my colleagues. Most of us have partners and we observe careful boundaries when working with you to avoid accusations of harassment. Make me feel uncomfortable and you won’t be my client for long.

But it’s so expensive

Yes, I understand that personal training is a luxury and not a necessity in most people’s budgets. The Bristol average for an hour of PT is about £40. If you gave up your daily takeaway cappuccino, that would cover two PT sessions per month. You have to weigh up what is important to you and think about where you can best invest your money. I am on a budget myself but still have my own coach to motivate me and keep me in great shape for working with my own clients. Hiring a trainer could be the crucial difference between succeeding or failing again with your fitness goals. Take advantage of block bookings to save money, or have a 1:1 then use your trainer’s online programme, if they offer one. It’s often much cheaper, requires more motivation on your part but should still be tailored to your needs. Mine is just £50 per month.

And there you have it. Those are my top tips for finding the right trainer for you and making your relationship with them work. You can find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk if you think I’m the best trainer for you. Get in touch and we can discuss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I’m thinking as a trainer while I’m working with your body

My own personal trainer is a lean, mean, muscled machine, as is my boxing coach. Both are very fit and experienced competitive fighters who can look pretty intimidating. Was I nervous when I started training with them? Absolutely! I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of being trained, worrying about knowing nothing about lifting weights or throwing punches and feeling distinctly underpowered in the cardio department while they both run rings around me during padwork drills.

There’s always someone fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable out there than you, and that’s why I have my own coaches to keep me challenged and progressing and accountable; it’s why most people sign up for personal training and I also feel that every trainer should have their own coach to push them on. We all need someone else to motivate us. But we start where we start, and it’s the responsibility of a good trainer to meet the client where they are and not pass judgement. I know that when I train with my coaches, I’ll be getting valuable feedback on my skills and not on the size of my thighs.

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(Training my client Helen at Powersports.)

I think worrying about being judged as weak/fat/clumsy can put people off signing up with a PT, and that’s a real shame. A good trainer isn’t the same as a shouty military  instructor who motivates through humiliation (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case be my guest and find someone who isn’t me). A skilled personal trainer is an empathetic listener, an excellent coach and flexible according to the needs of their client. If someone arrives fighting off the flu, then the tough HIIT session I planned is going to be dropped in favour of light training and a stretch-based session. Working 1:1 on fitness is about far more than writing someone a programme full of sets and reps. You can be someone’s agony aunt in times of trouble, you will be asked for a lot of advice on areas well outside of health and nutrition, so be prepared to go way beyond what you think is required if you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer!

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(Working with Ella and her arthritis at Sweaty Betty Bristol – training isn’t just for the athletic elite.)

My client base is predominantly female (I have three male 1:1 clients and a handful more in my yoga and HIIT classes) and I have been very conscious about how I speak in my work about women’s bodies. There’s enough shaming going on across social media; I want everyone who comes through my door to know they are not judged. Just being in a class for the more anxious members of my client base is a big achievement, as is training in front of other people in a shared space. For many people who have not exercised for some time, are injured, experiencing personal problems, are pregnant or carrying a lot of weight, training is a matter of getting through it, and I commend my clients for their efforts. People’s lives and their motivations are often far more complicated than we can appreciate.

We talk about form and technique in my classes and 1:1s, not about being skinny. My clients literally applaud each other’s efforts and we have fostered a reputation for being one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around, of which I am very proud. I know when someone new arrives, my fitness tribe will make them feel comfortable and motivate them through the class, whatever their size, whoever they are and whatever they can do.

 

(With Pearl and Shirlee, left, and Meg, right, at my group classes. We’re a friendly bunch!)

And when I am watching my clients working out, what goes through my mind? To be honest, it’s very technical. I’ve been trained through my studies to look at the body in terms of balance, form and alignment so I’m absolutely focused on how you are performing a movement and nothing else. I’m looking for the best, safest form you can achieve, and then working out ways to modify something you may be struggling with or progressing an exercise if you are looking strong. I will notice your mood and your energy and how that is affecting your training, and I might ask you some questions to see how I can help if you seem a bit off. I’m looking at your static posture as well as your dynamic movement patterns to see if something needs correcting, not because it makes me feel clever but because incorrect information is being fed to your brain and central nervous system when something is out of alignment. That’s a potential injury waiting to happen and it won’t get you closer to your goals.

I pay my clients compliments on their form and give praise where it’s due. I’m honest if I think you need to work differently or you could try harder on your nutrition, because that’s my job and I would be doing you a disservice as a coach and maybe even compromise your safety if I don’t speak up or call bulls**t where necessary. Telling someone they are not ready to perform a certain exercise or why they not losing weight isn’t fun, but I will always explain what you need to do to get there over time and with practice.

Am I thinking you look fat/thin/too muscly/too anything? Nope. I really am a dispassionate observer trying to help you achieve what you told me you want to do. If I pay you a compliment, it’s because you’re working hard to get closer to where you want to be, and you deserve it. I feel that my yoga teacher training and practice makes me a more compassionate trainer, but I also feel that is an essential quality for any decent trainer working with clients putting their mental and physical wellbeing in their hands. It’s a matter of basic respect and helping someone feel better about themselves. If you’re not willing to be motivational and take joy in your client’s gains, no matter how small, then it’s not the job for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I think trainers should responsibly coach their clients, then have a look at this article I wrote for the Personal Trainer Development Centre.

If you are interested in working with me 1:1 or coming to my group classes, then visit my website – link below. We also have a fitness half day event coming up on October 14th where you can get a taste of several areas of my work: HIIT, yoga and coaching.

I’m always happy to see a new face looking for a warm welcome!

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com My episodes show me in group training and with 1:1 clients.