T Nation

Hiring a Personal Trainer (Seriously)


I'm thinking of hiring a personal trainer to help me with the form of exercises. Don't laugh. I know the general attitude of people here about personal trainers, and I generally agree. But there are some decent ones and I have some very specific needs.

A little background. I've been exercising with weights for about 8 months at this point, although only about 4 seriously. (Thank you, T-Nation!) I was your basic semi-couch potato - I'm a 31 year-old attorney working about 60 hours a week, give or take, and ate 2 meals a day at my desk. Since then, I'm still working that much, but have cleaned up my diet and gained about 10 pounds while dropping a decent amount of fat based on the scientific thumb-and-forefinger test (I have no early bf or other metrics recorded besides weight, unfortunately). I'm about 5'8", 205 lbs.

I also have some medical issues that made it difficult for me to exercise totally normally and make form extremely important. About 5 years ago I had bone cancer (Ewing's Sarcoma) in my left tibia. The tumor and surrounding bone were surgically removed. That was replaced with cadaver bone (an allograft) and I have a plate along my tibia from just above my ankle to about four inches below my knee. I also spent about year and half bed-ridden or on crutches from the year of chemotherapy and the surgery. Because of the surgery and plate, my ankle is not normal.

My hips, particularly the left, are also abnormal from Legge-Calve-Perthe's disease as kid.

But what induced me to try to get back in shape was the fact that I had injured my back (a disk issue) and literally could not sit through an entire day of work. After about 5 months of PT I was feeling much better.

So, basically, my left side and biomechanics are screwed. Oh, and the funky hip and lower leg have annoyed my knee recently too. Joy.

I work out in a commercial gym - an Equinox. (Don't laugh, please - its subway stop is on my way to work, my girlfriend likes the pool, my physical therapist's office is attached to the gym, and, uh . . .). There's only one power rack and a waist-level half rack, but other than that the gym is pretty good. There's even an Oly platform and bumper plates that no one ever uses, and a full set of kettlebells collecting dust, etc.

On my own, I've been okay with the major upper-body compound free-weight exercises, as well as squats and Romanian deadlifts. I've even added front squats and barbell hack squats. But I've been a bit leery of true deadlifts and good mornings because of the back injury, but I've built up my core strength enough to attempt them. Problem is, it's critical for me to have good form because of the risk of injury.

At any rate, I'm thinking about hiring a trainer to help me learn/re-learn the form of some of the exercises that I don't know well, and to help me with my own weird biomechanics.  For example, I've never done the Olympic lifts and want someone to teach them to me.  If the trainer is good, I may continue on with him.  I've identified the one trainer at my gym who is 1) big and in shape, and 2) seem to know what the hell he's doing.  Good sign: I've seen his clients doing bent-over barbell rows and never seen him with a bosu.

Okay, so that was probably too much information. But you can see why it's very important to me that the trainer know his ass from his elbow.

My question for you guys is: what would you ask the trainer to feel out his knowledge and skills, and what would you look for in a trainer?


My suggestion is:
a. first ask what his education background is, don't accept anyone who doesn't have a university degree in Kinesiology, and is confident in what they are telling you. if they are qualified based on a weekend course they aren't worth paying the money for
b. ask them about thier training program, if they don't have one, they don't practice what they preach
c. tell them what you want, if you go to a gym where all they have is machines, they wont' give you what you want. If you want to learn squats, deadlifts etc. (which you should) than don't go anywhere that doesn't have this equipment
d. ask about their other clients, how many what thier goals are etc. if thier goals are along the same as yours than its probably a good fit. but if all they are training for is to "tone" lose the "keg" etc. don't waste your time.

Thats my two cents, I hope it helps. Don't waste your money, ask questions they are there for YOU. Not the other way around!


Just because you see a trainer having someone do bent over barbell rows, doesn't mean he knows anything. You could just look on a message board and read "Oh, so bench, squat, deads, and rows are the best!" It doesn't mean he knows how to implement the exercises correctly and teach them very well.

Also, just because someone uses a swiss ball doesn't mean they're an idiot. The problems arise when the entire routine is based around it. I'd like to see someone call Joe DeFranco an idiot/pussy for chest pressing 105's on the ball for 22 reps.

At any rate, I would typically avoid commercial trainers. If you can find a CSCS (NSCA certified) or another strength coach with a degree in an exercise science/athletic training field, that would be better.

Although there are still clueless coaches with those qualifications, many know a lot about pre-hab, flexibility, and treating injuries (in addition to strength training).

I would also not recommend recieving direct personal training. Instead, meet with the coach once per week to evaluate your needs/technique, and develop a routine that suits you. You will develop a great work ethic this way, believe me.


As a personal trainer myself I'll give you my opinion.

A. Look for someone with a degree in Exercise Science or Kinese.. I have one in Ex Science, however it's not mandatory. In fact one of the very best in the business doesn't have a degree in either rather astronomy, but has spent years learning on his own.

B. Look for someone certified by ACSM, NSCA, NASM or Cooper

C. Find someone with a good track record of delivering results

D. Find someone whose personality you can get along with.

E. Find someone who bases their sessions on education rather than just going through a workout. A great trainer should teach you things so that you no longer need them.

Hope that gives you a starting point. If you need further help just pm me.


And like the other guy mentioned, it doesn't matter the tool being used (stability ball, bosu, etc.) if it has a purpose for the specific client then it can all fit into a sound training routine.



Actually, I like Swiss balls a lot. They're probably the best core device invented. I own two. I use one as a desk chair at home, even. They were great for my back recovery. But you should see some of the crap the other (skinny/chubby) trainers at the gym have people do. Beggars, choosers. And this person was recommended by one of the other trainers the gym who was not comfortable teaching me what I wanted (to her credit).

I never thought of looking for a trainer outside the gym. Good idea. I may ask my physical therapist for a recommendation.

I'm simply ignorant of the kinds of certifications for trainers -- it's a bit of alphabet soup. Can you point me towards a resource that describes the various kinds of training certifications? I've found one for the CSCS certification.


Why not have someone teach you the form and then read up here? Its gonna save you a lot of money. Some trainer's don't mind teaching you the basic form


Damn, so that means he can't listen to the advice of Berardi, Dan John, Mike Robertson, or Dave Tate. Oh well, his loss I guess.

From my experience in the gym, the most effective measure of a trainer is their past clients. Can the trainer deliver results? At the end of the day, if they can give you what you want, and they do no harm (regardless of their methods), they're successful. Ask to speak with at least 2 of their previous clients (perhaps a current client, as well). If they're embarrassed or nervous, move on.

With that said, certifications can give you a general idea of the person. ISSA, NSCA, and NASM are some of the best. ACE is generally thought of as the Acme brand of certifications (any present company accepted, of course.)

Gregorde, whereabouts in NY are you? In the city, or on the Island?


This is a perfect explanation. As a trainer and owner of a studio, these are all the things I look for in an employee. There is nothing worse than a know it all that stands there with their arms folded and is insulted if you ask him a basic question or a a trainer who makes money off personality and doesn't produce any results.