The Fat Girl’s Guide to Hiring a Personal Trainer
Locating and screening a trainer who moves you
Lace up and ask for the right help with your fitness boost
Four fat girls walk into a gym. . .
Relax, friends, I’m not about to tell a tasteless joke. In setting up today’s Guide, I thought I’d share a bit about my own experiences working with a personal trainer many years ago. And it really did begin with four overweight friends joining a gym.
Technically, Tracy was already an active gym-goer when we met her through Weight Watchers; the rest of us followed suit when we all started spending quality time together having girlie dinners and sharing stories about the inner Healthy Girl we were each secretly harboring inside. Three nights a week, we met to work with Kathy, who — God bless her — pushed all four of us to hold our plank position a little longer or stop making excuses and just start doing squats already.
In addition to teaching me solid techniques for using free weights and resistance machines, those sessions with Kathy and my girlfriends helped keep me accountable to the lifestyle goals I had for myself at the time. At a size 24, I was far from a hard-body athlete, but that didn’t matter — I felt strong and confident for the first time in my life, and I looked forward to those training sessions because I knew how awesome I’d feel afterward. While FGG editorial knows that not everyone in our readership wants to lose weight, it’s hard to argue against down-to-earth goals like developing the strength to easily carry the groceries inside or the stamina to keep up with one’s kids.
If you’ve ever been curious about what a personal trainer could do for you, or if hiring a trainer seems like something only “skinny” people do — think again. Trainers work with individuals and groups of all different ages, shapes, sizes and fitness goals. And — lucky you! — we asked fitness pros of all different backgrounds to share their “getting started” tips to help you bulk up on knowledge without breaking a sweat.
Amber O’Neal (Atlanta, GA), certified group fitness instructor (ACE) and personal trainer and founder of Café Physique® private in-home and on-site fitness and nutrition company
In her words: “Most experienced trainers have a niche. For me, it actually is working with overweight women, but I have other trainers in Café Physique who specialize in working with runners, children, seniors, clients with back problems, etc. Ideally, the trainer you choose will have experience working with overweight women and ENJOY working with overweight women, but I wouldn’t automatically rule out everyone else. The key is that the trainer be patient, open to feedback, flexible, and willing to learn and accommodate.”
Amber breaks down of the benefits of working with a personal trainer:
1. ACCOUNTABILITY. Most people quit fitness programs within two weeks — especially people who are de-conditioned and don’t have a natural love for working out. Your trainer will keep you accountable for the workouts, and unless you like throwing away perfectly good money, you’re going to stay on the program (most require pre-payment).
2. PROGRESSION. When left to their own devices, most women don’t push themselves to the next level. They keep plugging along doing the same old routine because it’s comfortable. Your trainer will make sure that you’re progressing toward your goals by building a more robust program as you go.
3. SAFETY. Protecting your back, knees, and ankles is important for everyone, but this can be of special concern for overweight women. Working with a trainer who will show you proper form and will likely insist on a good warm-up and stretching routine will help minimize injury and pain.
Derek Peruo (New York, NY), certified personal trainer (ACSM, NSCA)
Derek understands setting and achieving fitness goals while overweight — having been overweight his entire life, he successfully lost 90 pounds in 2006 and now designs strength and training programs to help others achieve their athletic goals. Whether you’re sourcing trainers through a health club or doing Google searches for trainers near you, Derek advises it’s important to choose someone who is active in the ﬁtness community and committed to his/her own health.
Derek recommends that everyone ask the following questions of any new personal trainer they may work with:
1. WHO ARE YOU CERTIFIED BY?
A nationally recognized certification is the most important thing for a serious personal trainer to have. The most well-known certifications come from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Each agency guarantees that its trainers understand the basics of program design and client safety, and each offers a unique perspective on training. If you want to train like an athlete, work with a trainer certified by the NSCA or NASM. If you have a chronic health condition (e.g. diabetes or a heart condition), an ACSM-certified professional might be right for you. If you have no health problems and are just looking for some basic guidance in the gym, ACE trainers are the way to go. Be wary of personal trainers certified by unfamiliar agencies, or who have no certification at all.
2. WHAT CONFERENCE/WORKSHOP DID YOU LAST ATTEND?
Continuing education is required for all the major certifications and what your potential trainer chooses to study reveals her training philosophy and focus. Understanding “functional movement” provides a very different perspective than understanding “protein synthesis” or “carbohydrate tolerance,” and you may prefer one over another. Talk with a prospective trainer about her likes and dislikes and see if you agree with their viewpoint on exercise and eating habits.
3. MAY I SEE SOME BEFORE & AFTER PHOTOS?
Client photos and testimonials illustrate the trainer’s ability to actually produce results for his clients, and testimonials demonstrate that he provides tangible value for the people he works with. Make sure you like what you see! A trainer without photos or testimonials may be new to the fitness industry, or his clients may not be happy with their results.
4. MAY I SEE YOUR PERSONAL WORKOUT PROGRAM?
Personal trainers should always make their own health and fitness a priority. Unhealthy personal trainers cannot demonstrate proper exercise technique or safely spot you while you work out. Looking at your potential trainer’s workout program will expose how she might train her clients. What does she do for a warm-up? What equipment does she use? How long does her workout take? How does she cool down? Work with a trainer with goals that match your own.
Jennifer DiDonato (Detroit, MI), certified personal trainer (NASM) and owner, Made Fit TV
In her words: “Ask if the trainer has ever worked with someone with significant pounds to shed or with physical limitations due to their weight, as well as how long the trainer has worked with his/her clients. Then ask to able to speak with a current or former client (in person or over the phone) to get feedback on how they liked working with that trainer. This can give you a behind-the-scenes and unbiased view of what that trainer is about.”
Jennifer’s tips on thinking outside the training box:
1. CREDENTIALS DON’T MEAN EVERYTHING. A trainer can have great and numerous credentials through schools and training, but if s/he doesn’t know how to communicate with you, teach you, or make you feel comfortable, then don’t rule out another trainer who may look less impressive on paper. As long as a trainer is certified through a nationally recognized organization, maintains current certifications (including First Aid, AED and CPR), and has been employed for over a year, try them out. You may be surprised at how much energy, motivation and cutting-edge education a “newbie” trainer fresh out of training can have in store for you — and how much you may like it!
2. DON’T EXPECT A TRAINER TO SOLVE ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS. If you have been dealing with your weight and health issues for a long period of time, or if it is severe enough that it requires immediate attention, you won’t magically meet your goals the moment you sign the dotted line. Hiring a trainer is a two-way street. Both client and trainer must work hard together toward the goal that you have for yourself. Sure, it’s going to be challenging, but that is why you hired the trainer — to push you and show you how strong, brave and amazing you really are! The trainer is the teacher, but it wont do anyone any good if the student is not compliant.
3. IF YOU WANT SOMETHING THAT YOU DON’T SEE IS OFFERED — ASK! Many trainers at gyms are employed through the gym and are not allowed to train outside of that gym; some gyms allow trainers to freelance in their own time and can even train in-home or on-location. If you aren’t comfortable training on the gym floor during public hours, if you prefer early morning training hours, or if can only train late at night, then ask the trainer to accommodate you. A good trainer wants you to feel as comfortable as possible in your surroundings so you can focus without unnecessary distractions.
Jen Swendseid (St. Louis Park, MN), certified personal trainer (ACE & NASM) and CEO of heart&core Athletic Apparel
In her words: “If you tend to be self-motivated, try meeting with a trainer on a monthly basis to switch up your routine (and save some money!). However, if you aren’t motivated, work with a trainer on a weekly basis until you build confidence and a habit of working out, which will help you become more motivated. Also, consider doing small group training or share the training sessions/costs with a friend/partner/spouse.”
Jen’s tips on taking prospective trainers for a trial run:
1. MEET WITH A POTENTIAL TRAINER FIRST. Go with your gut feeling — personality and beliefs are going to be extremely important! If you belong to a gym, watch the trainer(s) train some of their clients. Are they engaged or gabbing and looking around? Do they do the same exercises/routine with every client? If you don’t belong to a gym, your best bet is to get referrals from friends or family.
2. ONCE YOU MEET WITH YOUR TRAINER, have her take you through a sample workout. Most of your exercises should involve using body weight, cables, free weights and/or equipment such as the bosu or a stability ball. You should have to be your own stabilizer vs. a machine helping you — you’ll burn more calories that way.
3. SOME THINGS A TRAINER SHOULD BEGIN BY DOING include checking your balance, range of motion and posture, as well as noting any limitations you may have (such as injuries, surgeries or medical conditions). Once s/he develops a plan based on this information and your goals, you can begin your routine. If there are exercises you can’t do or simply don’t like, a trainer should provide alternative exercises for you. And remember that you should never feel any pain during an exercise — if so, stop immediately! [FGG note: If our bodies aren't used to moving in certain ways (or at all. . .), every movement can sometimes seem challenging. Maintaining open communication with your trainer about movements that are uncomfortable is important so s/he can help you understand which movements are an indication your muscles are working and which could cause injury.]
Allen Linville (Latham, NY), certified personal trainer (NASM, AFPA) and owner of Fitness Together
With average prices for a training session running anywhere from $30 (gym- or group-based sessions) to $100 (individual instruction), depending on the geographic market, we should all want to get the maximum benefit from our time with a personal trainer.
Final thoughts from Allen:
Anyone can count to 15 and hold a clipboard. Look for a coach who will educate you about all the components necessary to achieve optimal health and real, lasting fitness results. Your trainer should review nutrition education with you, educate you about proper supplementation, review resistance training (whether that be balance training, core work, stabilization training, etc.), cardiovascular exercise to maximize fat burning, flexibility to avoid injury and speed recovery, and really walk you through all the steps that encompass the “mental development” side.
The best personal trainers view their role as an “agent of change” — not as a babysitter, repetition-counter or social companion. Friendliness and rapport-building skills are important (and the best trainers have both), but true fitness professionals recognize they have a singular responsibility that supersedes all others: helping you achieve optimum and lasting results by literally “re-programming” you to a better, healthier, more passionate and more fulfilling lifestyle.
If I had written today’s Guide on my own beliefs and preferences about personal training, you’d have just finished reading a blog post entitled Don’t Yell In My Face: Why Jillian Michaels Isn’t For Everyone. What’s YOUR preference when it comes to working out? Do you go it alone or take a buddy? If you’ve ever used a trainer, tell us about the experience in comments!