Trainer Trouble: Choosing the Right Personal Trainer for Your Specific Goals

One of the best ways to achieve your fitness goals is to work with a trainer who will push and coach you. The problem is, many gyms have loose hiring requirements and you may end up with a salesman, not a personal trainer. Natural bodybuilder Brad Borland from Workout Lab shows us how to do it right.

Walk into any gym, health club, fitness facility or whatever you want to call them these days and you will see a wide-eyed, unsuspecting new member being guided by the local, in-house expert personal trainer. You will most likely see one of two scenarios:

  • The trainer you see across the way is busy, smiling, professional and helpful. He or she is willing, open and approachable. When talking to them, you hear a few well-explained scientific terms, are nationally certified and look you in the eye. They seem eager to help and will not push sales on you.


  • The trainer you see (if you see them at all) is sitting behind the fitness area desk or office, playing with their cell phone, watching the gym’s TV and seems closed off. He or she is a “clock watcher,” only concerned with what time their shift is over and could care less if anyone on the floor needs help. When talking to this individual, price of personal training sessions is the first line of business. Apathy is a word that comes to mind with this trainer.

Now, how to spot the differences on the surface (as mentioned above) is pretty easily done. All you really need to do is to look at a personal trainer in the same light as you would anyone else in the customer service industry. However, attributes such as being knowledgeable, skillful and accredited are a lot harder to reveal from a simple observation.

Below is a basic strategy to use when seeking out a qualified trainer at your local gym:

  1. Visit the gym at your regular time and hop on the treadmill and watch. Identify the trainers with the values of the first trainer described above. Who is meeting and greeting the members and/or is busy training clients?
  2. When available, approach this/these trainer(s) and ask about their experience, qualifications and certifications. Although not a requirement, do they possess a degree in a health/fitness-related field? Are they nationally certified with an accredited organization? Here are a few of the more reputable certifications:
  3. When speaking with the trainer, are they open, seem honest and eager to genuinely help you? Body language is 80% of communication, so are they sending the right signals regarding your specific goals? Or are they just pushing training packages for you to buy?
  4. When talking about your goals and getting started, ask the trainer about different modes of exercise such as cardiovascular training, strength training and fat loss strategies. Some of the newest fitness trends include cross training, circuits, stability training, core work, etc. Are they speaking this “language”?
  5. Finally, when getting to where the rubber meets the road, will the trainer offer a free session or steer you in the right direction to begin as a courtesy? Ask if the club has any special offers pertaining to personal training. Negotiating a purchase should be in YOUR hands.

Now, let’s say you have found the perfect personal trainer. They are energetic, knowledgeable, qualified and ready to get you on your path to a better you.

Here are a few things to look out for after hiring a trainer and what they will expect from you.

The both of you should be on time. Being on time is critical and speaks volumes regarding both your and the trainer's commitment to the program. A professional transaction of money has taken place so treat it as such. This not only goes for you but the trainer as well.

Put in the effort. The trainer you have chosen has all of the qualities you ever wanted, but it will take hard work and dedication on your part in order for you to truly succeed. The trainer will not do the work for you, but they should be there every step of the way. This brings me to the next point…

The trainer should not be working out with you. He/she is there to guide you, correct improper form, assess and observe your progress and answer any questions at any time. You hired a trainer, a coach – not a workout partner.

Does the trainer communicate? Are they easy to communicate with, open and honest with feedback? Do they send out emails, give you their email address and phone number and stay in touch when you or him/her are away for a significant period of time?

Finally, is it a positive experience overall? Yes, you will be working out, sweating, hurting (the good kind) and be challenged, but are you being pushed for the better, seeing results and looking forward to the next session? If you are serious about your goals and are willing to put in the work then it should become something that gives you confidence and self-discipline.

Brad is the founder of He is a consultant, writer, fitness specialist, husband and father. He earned his Master's degree in Kinesiology, is a member of the Air National Guard and is a cancer survivor.


  • Reply November 15, 2011


    “Some of the newest fitness trends include cross training, circuits, stability training, core work, etc. Are they speaking this “language”?”

    That is terrible advice. I would be more apt to think the trainer actually isn’t very good if they continuously spout off “hip” or “trendy” fitness strategies (using a shake weight on a balance ball, while very trendy, is not a good workout).

    When talking about your goals don’t just ask WHAT you should do, but WHY. The best trainers aren’t the ones who know exactly what lifts or splits you should use, but the ones who know what to do and why it will work. Knowledge of how the body works and how to achieve a wide variety of goals (fat loss, muscle building, condition, sport-specific training) as well as being able to adapt these theories to each individual is the most important skill a trainer can have.

    • Reply November 15, 2011


      Steve, that’s part of speaking the language. You think someone with Brad’s experience would suggest people just look for buzz words without substance? Come on. 😉

  • Reply November 16, 2011


    Andrew, you’re right I wrote that before I read the about the author blurb. When I look at it in that light, I see what he actually means (not to mention being completely humbled by his resume). too often I see people approach trainers hoping to do the newest workout that was in men’s fitness or that their favorite UFC fighter does, without regard for what their actual needs are. Guess I’m a little jaded 🙁

  • Reply November 16, 2011


    Hey Steve, I am absolutely open to opinions and educated words of advice regarding the ever-changing fitness landscape. Hearing others chime in is what helps everyone benefit.


  • Reply November 16, 2011


    in my experience, another thing to pay attention to when scouting a trainer is whether the trainer does the exact same workout with every client OR if all of the trainers do. I notice a lot of trainers borrow from each other, all doing similar exercises, routines, etc.

    i get that a lot of people have general fitness goals – “i just want to be in shape” or “i saw what you were doing with that guy – do that with me!”

    but if you find the trainer who breaks from the pack and does something unique or different, you’ll find the trainer with real knowledge.

  • […] friends over at Primermagazine just ran a feature of mine about personal trainers and how to choose the right fit for your needs […]

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