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How To Spot A Good Trainer

Most trainers appear the same at first glance.

One idea that I’ve had for a while is that, slowly, the herd of personal trainers in the world will start to thin by way of natural selection. I mean, who would keep going to a personal trainer that wasn’t getting them results?  Turns out, there are quite a few reasons for this. Whether it’s their personality or the fact that their workouts “feel” hard or get you sweating, everyone seems to have some reason for staying with a poor trainer.

But the real reason is that the good trainers haven’t given those clients a reason to change it up and try something new. The bottom line is that somebody going to a personal trainer probably doesn’t know enough about exercise programming or anatomy and physiology to distinguish between a good trainer and poor trainer. (That’s not meant to be insulting, that’s the truth in many cases.)

I’m not trying to weed out poor trainers and put them out of work, I simply believe that every client deserves to move better, feel better, perform better, look better, and achieve every single goal that they have in the process.

Here are a few qualities that will help you pick a good trainer out of the herd.

1. Doesn’t push his/her training style on you

I see this pretty often and nothing makes me more frustrated than watching a college kid trying to gain weight doing 50 burpees, 100 mountain climbers, and then running 10 miles with his trainer on his back.

Most qualified trainers understand that we are all biased. Powerlifters gravitate toward the powerlifts, Oly lifters toward Oly movement variations, Zumba instructors try and make you dance for your 45-minute session. This is probably because we are most comfortable teaching momvements that we know ourselves.

However, a good trainer will understand that there is no perfect training style and that this is especially true when somebody wants to simply look better naked or “get fit.”

A good trainer will draw from all facets of the weightlifting world in order to create a program that is interesting, but still on the right path toward your goals.

2. Allows you to take some ownership of your programming

This goes along with the #1. A good trainer will always ask for your feedback when it comes to programming. Trainers that don’t consider your input for programming are destined to fail in their programming.

3. Is more concerned with your goals than his/her goals for you

Again, this goes along with #1 and #2. A good trainer will always program with your goals in mind. A trainer that loses sight of your goals will end up wasting your time with exercise selections that do not move you toward your goal. Every decision that a trainer makes should be based around the clients goal, albeit with safety always in mind.

Of course, my goal for everyone is to have a perfect ass-to-grass squat pattern, complete 100 perfect pushups in a row, 30 flawless chins in a row, and be able to deadlift a small horse, but not everyone wants those same things for themselves.

Okay, bigger than that. Maybe the one on the right.

The right trainer will ask for your input on programs, ask how your goals are evolving, and what they can do to better give you what you want, while complimenting all of those things with the exercises and strategies that we know you need and that we know work.

4. Doesn’t over-apply correctives

Another frustrating thing to watch is when trainers over-apply correctives. This goes for activation, mobility, and stability drills. Clients don’t come to personal trainer to be fixed, they go to physical therapists when they want to be fixed.

Clients come to you because they want to look better naked (among a host of other goals). Side-lying clamshells won’t help you look better naked. Unless the person looking at you naked notices the internal rotation of your femurs and considers that an unattractive quality.

Of course, I take pride in the fact that I’m able to help clients with aches and pains and help them avoid bigger problems in the future. However, I don’t go searching for problems just so I can prove my knowledge in corrective exercise. Sometimes, people just need to pick up something heavy and things will take care of themselves.

5. Outsources when he/she doesn’t know the answer

This might be one of the most respectable qualities that you find in good trainers. When a good trainer doesn’t know the answer to your question or can’t help you achieve your goal, they don’t B.S. you with made-up crap, they outsource to somebody who knows what they’re talking about.

This could be something like a nagging shoulder injury that the trainer can’t seem to put his finger on or a style of lifting that the trainer isn’t experienced in. Don’t let Timmy Trainer try to teach you a clean when he’s never done one himself. Also, don’t let him convince you that the source of your shoulder pain is your ankle.

6. Has a good knowledge-base of exercises, anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, as well as physics, nutrition, and communication skills

An exercise science degree doesn’t make somebody a good trainer. A good trainer might not have an exercise science degree, but goes out of their way to continuously educate themselves in the field.

Of course, exercise degrees are good to have, but a trainer is only as good as the information that he/she can apply to your situation to specifically help you achieve your goals.

By the same token, a good trainer can listen to what you’ve said and translate that into a plan o’ attack that will take you down the right path.

7. Has real results from real people to show you


In the spirit of Halloween.


So there’s seven ways to spot a good trainer. There may be more, and if I come up with some, I’ll create a part II. The only way to eliminate poor trainers is to be educated about what a good trainer is.

I told my boss I was going to dress up as a client for Halloween so that I could get away with wearing shorts and a t-shirt without the bright blue polo that I’m typically found wearing at work. He said no.


Go Sox.

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