• Charles @ Axis

Hiring the Right Personal Trainer or Coach

Updated: Mar 2

We are now a few weeks into a new year and this could mean you're focusing more intently on your goals and looking to improve your health by hiring a coach or trainer. Good for you!

You might not think the decision to hire a trainer is all that important, but have you considered the consequences of hiring a bad one? Hiring the wrong personal trainer or coach can negatively impact your health and body not just right now, but for many years in the future affecting the quality of your life.

Before you hire this trainer, have you considered what kind of credentials they should have in order to do the job? Did you ever consider what additional characteristics this person should have in order to be worth your valuable time and money?

If you’ve never hired a personal trainer before, or you’re not sure you hired the correct one, here are 4 characteristics to look for along with questions you can ask that will help you navigate this important decision.

Remember, this person will directly be affecting your health and body. It’s worth the time to do the research, ask the tough questions, and be discriminating about who you choose.

1. Education A personal trainer should be certified by an accredited organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), or National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Unfortunately there is no national certifying agency that regulates personal training so certification programs vary from a simple online test to dozens of classroom hours and hands on time. Additionally, these organizations require trainers to earn a certain number of continuing education credits each year in order to maintain their certification.

A true exercise professional will not stop learning once they have a certification. And, while a trainer does not need to be an expert on all subjects related to anatomy and human health, they should have an understanding of what role exercise plays in each of them. In addition, an exercise professional should also have a good grasp of physics and forces since this is how exercise creates adaptations in the body. Questions:

  • Be sure to ask for details on the number of required hours they completed to earn their certification.

  • Is the trainer currently in compliance with their certifying body?

  • Do they have future courses they are looking to take and what are those? Ask them to tell you about the latest book they read or class they attended.

  • If you observe the training session directly after yours, is the client doing the exact same workout you just did? Or has the trainer/instructor customized the workout for that individual?

  • If you have a special condition (a bad back, a prior surgery, etc), ask the trainer if A) they are knowledgeable about the condition you have, B) how they would customize the workout for you, and C) what the expected outcomes may be.

  • Outside of the required yearly continuing education classes needed for their certification, does the trainer have a passion to learn and continue to search out new information as well as review? Do they attend classes, workshops, read books, listen to podcasts, engage in study time with peers?

  • Exercise is not something that can be learned from books alone and requires doing. Does the exercise professional spend time in the gym trying out all their tools and experiencing exercise before passing it on to you, the consumer?

2. Professionalism The gym is not the office and workout clothes are not the same as a suit & tie, but that does not mean an exercise professional should act any less professional than they would in an office setting.

Below are suitable guidelines for professional minded trainers:

  1. The trainer should be clean, well-groomed, and have good hygiene.

  2. The trainer should show an aptitude for cleaning equipment and maintaining cleanliness of themselves and the gym wherein they work.

  3. Clothing should be appropriate and neat.

  4. Crude language & gossip should be avoided with clients.

  5. They are on time. This means being set up and prepared before you arrive.

  6. They are reliable. The trainer should not cancel or move your appointment times around frequently.

  7. The trainer should show respect for co-workers and other members of the staff in their facility.

  8. Your hour should be about you, not them. An exercise professional will not take up your session discussing their bad day.

  9. We all make mistakes. A professional recognizes and apologizes from their mistakes and uses it as an opportunity to learn.

  10. The trainer stays within their scope of practice. Exercise professionals do not diagnose, prescribe, or treat injuries or disease. They should feel comfortable referring to a network of health professionals in other fields.

3. Application An exercise professional may have all the know how in their head but be unable to turn it into actionable results. This step requires the ability to design a strategic plan that is orientated to your goals.

This plan should have both short term and long term goals with defined steps to accomplish them. On an hourly basis, this includes choosing exercises that are challenging and yet appropriate to the individual as well as the ability to progress and regress when called for.

Proper application should ultimately be taking place every set and every single repetition. A professional trainer strategically manipulates the motion, position, resistance, support/restraint, intention, effort, and time for every single set. There is no time for coffee drinking, or counting reps. There is no autopilot during a 55 minute session since a good trainer is mindfully guiding you through each minute.


  • Ask the trainer to give you an example of a short term and long term plan they created for a client and the steps they chose to help them reach their goal.

  • Ask the trainer if they take notes every session to keep track of progress.

  • Ask the trainer if they share training information with clients over email or in an online app.

4. Communication Communication is vital to success and can come in the form of verbal cues, appropriate touch, and demonstrations. It’s not one sided though. A professional will ask questions, listen, monitor & modify, and reinforce. They are a teacher, not a cheerleader. They also give you 100%, undivided attention for the entire workout. There are no cell phones, coffee, or distractions; just constant, focused attention on you. Questions:

  • If you are meeting for the first time, did the trainer come in with coffee in hand or are they on their cell phone during your meeting?

  • Are they listening to you and providing feedback that tells you they are listening?

  • Are they able to articulate clearly what they do and answer your questions?

While this might seem like a lot of information to consider before hiring a personal trainer, pilates/yoga instructor, coach, etc, remember that your health is your number one asset! Ask the tough questions. Be discriminating. Gather the information so you can make a choice that improves your health, not harms it. You are worth it!

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