Fit For Life: 5 Questions to Ask a Personal Trainer

Saturday, July 06, 2013


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So you think you've found the perfect trainer? If you haven't asked these questions, don't be so sure.

While personal trainers used to be a luxury, we seem now to be everywhere! There are more than a quarter million personal trainers working in the US, and the field is expected to grow 25% by 2020. This means not only big numbers but also lots of variety: some train in Pilates, yoga, spinning, aerobic exercises such as Zumba, and dance aerobics. Most instructors teach in a class format with 20 or more people being put through the same movements. Then there are the personal trainers who are dedicated to your individual fitness goals. We're seeing, as healthcare reforms come our way, an increasing personal need to be healthier, as well as corporate incentives and increasing employer concerns about the health of the employees who work for them, and those they want to hire.

As we see this career category mushroom, we also know that there are all kinds of certifications and training, and little regulation of the qualifications of those who put out a 'personal trainer' shingle. If you are interested in working with a personal trainer, I suggest you set up a time to interview them–most will give you a complimentary workout or assessment session. This is the time you can ask some questions and see the chemistry that happens between you and the trainer. Will this be a workable relationship? Do you feel comfortable and have a feeling of trust? Here are some other things you may want to ask before you select your personal trainer:

1. What kind of training do you have? Are you certified?

A good trainer should be continually seeking training, be networking with others in his/her field. You want to ask what that training is–what type of certifications does the trainer have? You might even ask when the last new class was that he/she attended. Moreover, does the trainer have a trainer, too? Many of the best trainers work with others in the field that we can learn from and will push us to our next levels. Ask them what kinds of clients they have. I work with teenagers with weight and body image issues, athletes trying to improve at their sport, the average healthy person, those with injuries to work around; and even the elderly who want to avoid falls and keep their independence. Do you see yourself in the mix of clients your trainer works with? And, lastly, ask about nutrition and if they work with clients on food intake and planning.

2. Do I have to join a gym?

Exercise & equipment changes over time–basics are still what work the best. There’s no magic bullet to get fit–no new piece of fancy or funky equipment. I find that simplicity works best, and sure, while it’s great to have high tech equipment to help with some of the move patterns, it doesn’t have to be complicated. I work with primal move patterns. So if you can afford a full gym membership, great, but it’s not absolutely necessary–and it’s not an excuse. Trainers should be able to work around this. Many of us rent space in smaller studios and gyms; we can do a workout outdoors, in your basement or garage, in a large room, and at a company site with small groups. Equipment is also something you want to ask about. Does your trainer have exercise balls, resistance bands, that sort of thing, to help you get started, if you aren’t joining a gym?

3. How important is it to have a one on one experience with a personal trainer? Can’t I just go to a group class?

I teach group classes, such as spinning, but before you get started on an aggressive plan to be fit, you need that one-on-one time with someone trained and someone who is focusing just on you, and your uniqueness. Again, the quality of the trainer is important. Some trainers do high-risk moves, but I don’t believe in doing those. You shouldn’t start lifting weight with a weak core. That’s like firing a cannon in a canoe. Once you find someone trained who knows the mechanics of the body, understands good technique, and good form, I recommend a conservative approach. First–do no harm, is my motto. The importance of the one-on-one training is that you will not get a standardized program–do 3 of these and 4 of those and a sheet to mark it off as you go around the gym–but an individual plan, formed after a personal assessment taking into consideration any unique issues such as mobility difficulties, injuries, age, etc.–and your personal goals–fitness, weight loss, etc.

4. Is my trainer asking me about what I eat?

The first thing I recommend is to clean up your diet. I always say ‘you can’t out exercise a bad diet’–so, to do that, you need to know what you are eating. Keeping a four-day log of your food can really be eye opening. Trainers should be talking to you about what you are eating, your alcohol intake, and your water intake. What types of food are you eating? Is it a fast food rich diet? Are you eating a lot of preservatives and foods that are not natural? Again, the best nutrition plan is a simple one. Without looking at this you don’t know what fuel you are putting in your body–is it empty calories? Non-nutritional calories? Does your trainer know about nutrition and incorporate that into your sessions? Will your trainer help you by going to the supermarket with you–helping even to clear out your kitchen cabinets? Fitness doesn’t begin and end in the gym. If you have better nutrition, you will feel better, and be better motivated for exercise, too.

5. Is this going to take forever?

No, it shouldn’t take forever. However, lifelong fitness is a way of life. For goals such as weight loss, for instance, I always say–it will take you just 24 hours. 24 hours? Yes, but that is 2 hours a week for 12 weeks–I’ll have you losing 2-3 lbs. a week, safely, and if you need to lose more we’ll just continue until you come to your best weight. Same goes for strength training, or increasing flexibility. In 12 weeks, I’ll have you moving better, with improved posture, and you’ll build and improve muscle mass. So, no, your goal shouldn’t take forever–but lifelong fitness is a forever thing that after awhile becomes just a regular part of your day. I also talk about my “3-hour goal” program. Every 3 hours, throughout your day, do something healthy for you. Have a glass of water, take a short walk, look up a healthy recipe for dinner, check out a gym membership, have a healthy snack, park your car the furthest from your appointment and walk. Little things you can do throughout the day. And don't forget to step away from the things that stress you in life. Lastly, and very importantly, get some rest.

A last word: discipline. That’s what all good trainers want in their clients. We want you to be successful–after all, your success is ours, too. We can give you the roadmap, but we can only do so much. We ask you to bring the discipline. With that, your goals are attainable and the partnership between you and your personal trainer will be a win-win relationship.

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Matt Espeut has worked as a personal trainer for almost 20 years with clients ranging in age from 14 to 86. His focus is on overall health, strength, and functional conditioning. Holistic health and nutrition is the cornerstone of all his programs. Matt works in private and small group training available at your home or office location or at gym facilities. Matt offers his services to everyone wanting to be more fit and healthy, overweight young people, youth/collegiate athletes, and seniors. Matt has worked and continues to train at several facilities in the Providence area including Gold's Gym and CORE Studio, and he believes continued education is a must in his field. Email Matt: [email protected], check out his website at or on Facebook at Matt Espeut or on Twitter @MattEspeut.


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