Strength and Conditioning, Personal Training,
Business Of Fitness, Sports Science, Coaching and Psychology education,
insights and articles.
This article has been shaped by what the legendary Dave Tate said a few years back, though the exact words I can’t recall, as well as my own personal experience over the last 10 plus years. Ill also preface it by saying there’s no bias, as I don’t currently personally train people. Also, I won’t refer to a Personal Trainer as a “PT”, as in other countries besides Australia, PT is an acronym for “Physical Therapist”, very similar to physiotherapists and nothing like personal trainers.
You know what questions personal trainers never get asked? “Can I see your qualifications?”. Try it for yourself. Ask any personal trainer you know, if any of their clients have ever actually asked them. I know I’m guilty of walking into a Doctors clinic and just assume they’re Doctors because they’re at a clinic and they’re sitting in the Doctors chair (Not suggesting you should ask every GP to see their credentials but never assume a fit looking person actually knows what they’re talking about).
So the first step to finding a great personal trainer is:
1) What have they studied?
In Australia, Cert 4 is the minimum standard to be recognised by an organisational body as a personal trainer. You probably won’t find a personal trainer in a commercial gym that doesn’t have this. Most big companies don’t take the risk of employing someone who doesn’t have a Cert 4 at a minimum. To maintain your membership with a recognised body, you also need CECs – Continuing Education Credits so you’d expect a Cert 4 to also have done some additional courses. Look for those certs that specialise in your goal. Most Personal Trainers will have a general few – boxing, kettlebells etc – these are good tools in the tool box but if I want to move pain fee, I want to see someone who has done extra study in movement, if I want to lose fat, I want to see that someone has done extra study in fat loss. Ask your potential Trainer / Coach – what have you read/watched/studied/courses completed since completing your Cert / Diploma / Degree etc.
Above a Cert 4, you have a Diploma of fitness. Main difference is the length of time undertaken to study and the depth the course goes into. A Cert 4 usually takes 3 months and a Diploma a year. I know a fair bit about Diplomas in the fitness industry, as I’ve been an author in the one I currently teach, A year + dedicated to one thing is a career choice not a “good idea”.
Above that would be a 3 year Bachelor degree in Sport or Exercise Science. A degree certainly doesn’t mean you’re smarter, but it does means you’ve spent 3 years of your life dedicated to one field. You don’t spend 3 years studying something if you don’t care about it. Above a Bachelors is Masters Degree, which is an additional 2 years university level study. If your Personal Trainer has a Bachelors degree or above, you rightfully should pay top dollar for their services. Paying less money for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, will cost you A LOT more in the long run, either through time, injury or taking you even further from your goals than you started.
I’ve written about this before and can’t resist a drive-by – If your “Trainer” runs a “Fit Club” that has free classes it’s a front for Herbalife. Run far, run fast (running from Herbalifers is good cardio). If your trainer is free that’s because that’s all they’re worth.
One thing that used to frustrate me was people who saw whatever level certification they achieved – Cert 4, Masters Etc as the end of their education. It should be seen as the start! The average Fortune 500 CEO reads 60 books a year! There’s a reason they’re Fortune 500 CEOs! Now days I just view someone who stopped learning as one less competitor.
If you’re an athlete, you’d want a coach with a MINIMUM ASCA Level 1 coaching accreditation (or your countries equivalent). 90% of trainers classify themselves as “high performance” but their 3 clients are all new mums. If they’re a “high performance” or “strength and conditioning coach”, what teams have they worked for? What athletes are their clients? How long did they work with them? There’s A LOT of bullshit of peoples resumes – someone I know did come Cert 4 fitness assessments to some national level rugby players as part of the clubs Professional Development / careers after football program, then put “NRL strength and conditioning coach” on their resume. No. One of my bosses coached Andrew Bogut in the under 14s. On his resume? No. I did a little work for a company who do the conditioning for basketballers and was present for some of Liz Cambage’s training sessions, my resume is not going to read “WNBA strength and conditioning coach”.
BUT I also personally know some international level Strength and Conditioning Coaches who do not have a single piece of paper. So that leads me to…
2) What have they done?
Not every great coach or Personal Trainer has to have gone to university. Yes, it’s rare and mainly by luck, but I’ll share someone I knows story who I shall call Walter, who made it to the pinnacle of the industry. Walter is not his name but it is my grandpas and he’s awesome. Wally played a handful of games at the highest level possible in Australia before injury struck. He already enjoyed the weight training the best and found he really enjoyed the physiology he learned through speaking to strength coaches, surgeons, physios, Drs Etc too. He also wanted to be around the team even though he couldn’t compete, run, tackle etc so he helped out in the weight room and learning from the strength coaches how to stop injuries happening in the first place. Another contact injury ended his career, the strength coach moved on and Wally was left being the one who had the most knowledge and rapport with the team. A career was born!
Think about it – If you wanted to learn to box, who would know more about boxing? Someone who’s actually been in the ring and had 40 fights? Or someone who’s done a 3 hour course? I’m boxing with the boxer. I once employed a female personal trainer to take my fat loss clients because she’d lost 55kgs herself.
Who have they interned with? Who have they volunteered for? 99% of university students will have had to complete 140 hours of placement somewhere and all levels of education below that, should have some form of practical placement.
If you come across a potential matching Personal Trainer that has no papers, ask them what they’ve done.
3) Who was their coach?
Many great Personal Trainers out there learned from great coaches. Ask them who taught them. Your potential Trainer may not be a 10x bodybuilding champion, but their coach may have been! Guarantee they’ll have picked a lot of good knowledge, coaching tips and seen what works in the real world.
And one final question you can ask:
4) Who have they coached?
Your potential Trainer / Coach may not look great on paper, but if they can produce legitimate results, they can coach. If they have a portfolio of before and after pics with an average of 10kg fat loss or a list of state champions they’ve built, they can coach. Before and after pics are easily manipulated though, and weight loss – not fat loss – is easily achievable in under 14 days. We regularly got fighters down 10% bodyweight in a week with the last 5% coming in 48 hours. For a 100kg person that’s 10kg in a week. Most of it is water weight from carbohydrate restriction, due the mechanisms of which water attaches to them. (1kg of carbs holds 3kg of water – so the reverse is true, quickly restrict carbs and you’ll drop weight – not fat – quickly) Look for changes of lighting in before / after pics. If the place / lighting the pics were taken in, good chance it’s a set up. To be really, I’ve even seen personal trainers manipulate the BEFORE photo, by carb and creatine loading then taking unflattering pics in poor light.
Most people just choose the cheapest Personal Trainer at their gym they can find. You’re investing in your health, your body is the only place you have to live why not go out of your way to find the BEST one for you? Average cost of a heart attack is $600,000, I’m happy to pay a little for a great coach to stop that happening in the first place.
If the solution to your problem was 5mins or 2 km out of your way, why wouldn’t you take it? One thing I was lucky to learn early and pride myself is finding the best coaches I can. At 0530 5 mornings a week I currently drive 20mins in the opposite direction of work, to spend 30 mins afterwards in traffic I could avoid that and train somewhere else, but why? Because the time spent with those coaches has taken decades off my education. I can’t put a price on that! Use your own judgement, but I’d be wanting at least 3 of the above 4 questions ticked. Happy training!