When you’re shopping for new running shoes, you know it’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all situation. You need something that suits your training style, offers support, doesn’t rub you up the wrong way, and just feels right.
Funnily enough, these criteria are equally relevant if you’re in the market for a personal trainer. Finding a PT who suits your needs, goals and personality – as well as budget and location – isn’t always straightforward.
“It’s a very saturated industry and there are a tonne of people to choose from. It’s imperative to know your trainer leads by example, has been in the industry for a while and can prove to you that they have your best interests at heart,” says Andrew Pap, personal trainer and IsoWhey Sports Ambassador.
“[Clients] need to look at their budget, whether they’re looking at training outdoors or indoors – so a gym, or outdoor training – and their location,” explains Ali Cavill, personal trainer at Fit Fantastic. Let’s be real here: if a trainer is based several suburbs away from your house or workplace, or isn’t available at the times that are best for you, you’re not making it easy for yourself.
Cavill also recommends finding out what a trainer includes in their sessions, like whether it’s outside or and what equipment is provided.
Watch: A simple legs-focused exercise from the Paper Tiger team. (Post continues after video.)
Qualifications, experience, certification
You can ask a trainer for this information outright, otherwise Cavill says you can usually find it through their website, referrals, or Fitness Australia’s registration list.
Personal trainers usually require a Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness; however, some might have university degrees in exercise science or exercise sport, or sports-specific training like coaching certification.
Andrew Pap says a good trainer will also work alongside other allied health professionals like physiotherapists and dietitians. “Unless they’re qualified in those fields, they should be referring you so you can get the most out of the money you’re paying,” he says.
The right trainer will offer programs and have the relevant training to suit your individual goals, circumstances or medical conditions.
"If you are a new mum it is important that your trainer is qualified to work with you and keep you safe during this time, whereas if you were training for a triathlon you would need a trainer with a completely different speciality," says Nadine Veverka, personal trainer and founder of Her Master Plan.
That said, experience with different kinds of clients and methods is also valuable. "It's important to look for someone who has experience with both males and females, and in an array of different training — weights, endurance, strength, cardio," Andrew Pap explains. (Post continues after gallery.)
A personality fit
Cavill says you need a trainer whose personality and style suits your preferences and motivations. You can determine this by observing how they interact with other clients if you're in the gym, or through referrals or word of mouth. You can also book in for a single session to meet the trainer and ask questions.
Pap also recommends finding someone who is empathetic and understands what you're going through isn't easy. "If a trainer genuinely cares they'll go the extra mile to ensure that you're staying on track... and emphasise how important your emotional and mental state is as well as your physical state," he says.
When you're spending good money, you want a good outcome — so investigate whether a PT has proven results in the area you're interested in.
"Look at testimonials on their website, read online reviews or even ask them to put you in touch with clients. If they are confident in their results they will not have any objections to this," Veverka says.
When in doubt, ask
As a paying customer, you have the right to quiz a prospective trainer to determine exactly what you're signing up for — and get a program that's tailored to you.
"I would not take offence if someone pulled me aside and asked general questions ... If [a PT] takes it personally or gets defensive or isn't sure what they're talking about, it's a sure sign they're not the right person for you," Pap says.
Some of the questions he recommends asking include how many years' experience the trainer has, what their aspirations are for their own training, and what their philosophy is when it comes to nutrition, recovery and sleeping habits.
You've found a winner if...
They lead by example
Pap believes you're going to be more inspired to follow your trainer's program — and have respect and admiration for them — if they follow their own philosophies.
"There's nothing worse than a trainer asking a client to work hard or eat correctly, or even put the hours and time in to train when they're not doing it themselves. I push people to their limits but I wouldn't ask them to do that if I didn't do the same thing," he says.
"They should also appear professional - be in the right gear, look fit, practice what they preach for the most part," Cavill adds.
You get a good feeling - and you feel good about yourself.
As a fully-formed adult, you've probably developed a reasonable gut instinct over the years. Listen to it.
"If you feel an immediate connection to your trainer you are probably looking at a good fit ... if you walk away from a first session feeling there was a personality clash, there probably was," Nadine Veverka says.
"You should feel positive after any interaction with a trainer. Our job is to make you feel good and optimistic about future results."
Watch: The best and brightest new activewear for summer. (Post continues after gallery.)
They're as invested in your goals as you are
A great trainer will care about your progress and results, and really listen to you. "They should give you their time and attention - so they're not on their phone or chatting to other people while they're training you," Cavill says.
"A great trainer will understand that one size doesn't fit all... they'll be constantly asking questions and have great communication skills. For example, I am always available to my clients over my website, email and phone."
Similarly, you should feel comfortable enough with your trainer to be open and honest with them from the beginning. "If you felt something was too hard but were too scared to say anything for fear of upsetting them, imagine what this will be like going forward... you could be in for a very painful journey," Veverka says.
Consultation and follow-ups
Generally, you can expect your first appointment to begin with a full consultation followed by a mini training session. Veverka says you should walk away from this "on a high" — and receive a follow-up the following day.
"Your new trainer should care enough to follow up with you to see how you feel after the first session. Yes, trainers are busy but any good trainer will always make the time to do this," she adds.
For Ali Cavill, a professional and passionate PT will invest time into documenting clients' ongoing progress. "A good trainer assesses you at the beginning and keeps checking back in - maybe you take photos or use measurements - and sets up a plan," she says.
Do you have any tips for finding a personal trainer?