How To Choose a Personal Trainer By Mark Ottobre

Mark Ottobre is the Author of The Truth About Supplements, Creator of The Alpha Body Mentor and education program, Speak and Teacher at the Australian Institute of Fitness and Writer for Muscle Mag and Australian Natural Bodies. You can get a copy of this book here:

As a leader in this industry, I feel it my duty to educate the public on what to look for in a Personal Trainer (PT). So here is it, no fluff, just practical tips and things to look out for when selecting you’re personal trainer.

1. Do They Train Themselves and Look the Part

I don’t care how many books a trainer says they have read (or written for that matter), they know nothing unless they can back it up by applying their knowledge in the gym.

The reason why its important that your trainer trains at least 3 days a week (the bare arse minimum, if your looking for a really good trainer, find the ones who are training all the time) is because they find time (not excuses) to train themselves. This means they intrinsically believe training is important.

And yes, they maybe fitness fanatics that irritate you because all they eat is salad and tuna, and when they go to restaurants they ask the waiter for a meal that’s not on the menu, but your selecting a personal trainer, not a soul mate, so trust me, this is a good start.

Do they look the part?

Do you want your role model of health and fitness to be overweight and out of shape? Didn’t think so! After all, that’s exactly what you’re selecting, a role model of health. To give you must have and you can’t give health unless you have health. Out of shape PT’s need to shape up or ship out.

A while back, programs like Today Tonight gave attention to personal trainers who were overweight saying, “they better understood their clients needs as they were overweight too.” This is the biggest bunch of garbage I have ever heard. The only reason someone would go to an overweight, out of shape trainer is so they can feel better about their weight and health related problems. It’s a recipe for staying the same and a personal trainer should be someone who can provoke change, not keep you bound to your current condition.

The other more practical reason why a trainer must train is simple because it’s the only real way to learn how to spot someone. With this said, there are people who have been training for years and still train nothing but their egos. Observe how the trainer spots their clients, any over spotting or inappropriate touching/body positioning is not on. Any trainers doing this definitely don’t deserve your time or money. It’s unprofessional and gives the fitness industry a bad name.

**Inappropriate touching/body positioning- On some exercises, such as a squat, they only way to spot safely is to get in close with the clients back to the trainers front. However, this is the exception not the rule. If you ever see a trainer doing this on an arm exercise (such a tricep cable pushdown) beware!

2. Who Are They Training/Have Trained?

Now they don’t have to have trained a Mr. and Ms Australia (but it doesn’t hurt if they have).

I remember when I was working out of Genesis, a member who wanted to do personal training with me followed me around one night to see how I interacted with my clients. They wanted to see how I treated my clients and what exercises I gave them. The only reason I know this is because at the end of the night they told me I passed their test and they wanted to start personal training with me.

Take home message:

Scope out the PT you want to use before investing. Don’t be scared to use the piece of equipment next to them and easy-drop on the conversion, if they are really present with their clients, they wont notice you.

The other way to do this is to see if they will offer you a “try before you buy session”, or a “complimentary session”. If you still cant decide, go to someone else.

3. How Much They Charge

How much a PT charges is often a misinterpreted indicator of how competent the trainer is.

Rates and prices can vary on factors such what area the personal trainer is in and if they are following the rates of their employer. Example, Fitness First employees are given the rates they are allowed to charge. At most big chain gyms PTs are given recommended ranges of what they can charge.

Its important to note, some of the best PTs I know don’t charge anywhere near enough, while others should pay there clients because there that bad (seriously!). There is no set rate for Personal Training, some trainers are more business savvy and others aren’t.

If you want the best price on personal training from your trainer, buy a pack. Business savvy trainers will have packs available (example 5 pack or 10 pack of session). Packs are where you can bulk buy training from your trainer. This generally brings the price of the sessions down. If your trainer does not have packs, offer to pay upfront 5 to 10 sessions for a discount. Most trainers will accept your offer as its guarantees payment.

As a side note, the most I have ever heard of some charging for PT is 440 per hour. This doesn’t make them particular “better”, it just makes them able to train less clients for the same return.

4. Are They Busy?

Now if a PT is busy and they charge at the high-end of PT, this is a good sign. But again its not the only sign, they might be the only PT in the area or “the better PT” at the gym you go to.

My suggestion, step outside your gym and you will see how bad (or good) that trainer compares to others in the industry. Some gyms simply just attract bad trainers, while others only employ superstars. The only way to really know is to see the results they produce. The more results, the better.

5. Do They Contradict Themselves?

To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. Most trainers learn one skill, or attend one “advanced workshop” and apply that theory to every client they take on. This is seriously flawed at best.

The best example I can give is “The Bodybuilder turned Personal Trainer”. Don’t get me wrong, there are some world-class trainers that come from a bodybuilding foundation. The thing that makes them world class is that they have a “bodybuilders passion” around training and they stepped outside the world of bodybuilding. In other words, they don’t live by Arnold’s Encyclopedia to Bodybuilding. This rare bunch incorporate things from cross fit, power-lifting, strongman, army training, boot-camps, boxing, etc if it’s appropriate to the clients goals. These are the kind of trainers that I recommend, people who have passion and understand multiple facets of training in which they apply.

But then there are others...

The coolest thing about being a freelance writer for muscle mag is that I get to interview bodybuilding superstars. That was until I realized that most bodybuilders actually succeed in spite of their knowledge.

The vast majority of bodybuilders have never look outside the world of bodybuilding. So when they get a weight loss client (for example) they apply bodybuilding principles. In fact, they apply bodybuilding principles to all their clients. It doesn’t work, regardless of how many titles, shows and experience they have. It’s a classic example of a trainer only have one tool. And don’t think for one second that bodybuilders are the only ones; most trainers who have a background in “something” think this is the only way to train clients. This is particularly true of endurance athletes forcing feeding there clients running as the only way to get in shape.

Does your trainer have 10 years experience? Or ones year experience repeated 10 times?

6. Can They Answer All of Your Questions?

The fitness industry is riddle with contradicts. Ask a trainer enough questions and you might find they contradict themselves.

This is actually ok, as long as the trainer understands the theory and practice of each contradiction.

One task that I sometimes get new clients to do is to write a list of questions and bring it to the session. This way both trainer and client are clear on what needs to be addressed.

Don’t be inpatient with your trainer either. Sometimes there are questions that get answered simply by getting started. Get started, and after three sessions, all your burning questions should be answered.

7. Do They Offer to Address Nutrition?

If you want results this HAS TO be addressed. Great trainers will be all in one solutions (Nutrition and Training).

With this said, most trainers (and dieticians for the record) have no clue. The best question to ask is, “Are they helping me create sustainable change?” or “is this the best way to achieve my goals?”

8. Do They Love It?

Do they love what they do? Are the grateful for you choosing them as your trainer?

Trainers who love their work have a hard time being quiet during sessions. They want to give you as much as they can. Trainers who haven’t harness this passion can sometime be overwhelming.

A good way to test this is, do they talk about where they would rather be? Or do they talk about you and your training?

This should be apparent; if you don’t think your trainer has passion they probably don’t, so find one that does.

9. Are You Inspired and Motivated by Them?

At the end of the day, you are inviting this person to be apart of your life. Are they the kind of person worth paying to have in your life? Are they going to impact it positively?

Guess what? There are going to be days where you don’t feel like training. If the first through is, “its ok, when I get down to the gym my trainer will motivate me” you’re on a winner.

To be motivated by them you must naturally respect them. If you don’t respect your trainer you wont listen to their advice.

Summing it up

A great trainer is a friend, mentor, role model and someone who is not scared to tell it how it is.

Trainers must realize there clients have “comfort zones” and that some people need to be “forced out of it” and others need “their hand hold the whole way”. A good trainer is a people person. They are excellent communicators and take the time to understand your personal needs.

In the land of personal training there is no right and wrong or set way to do things. There is only better and worse, and that too depends on the ‘Personal’ interpretation.

PS. One other more practical tip, make sure your trainer is willing to write you a training program that they update regularly! If they don’t consider joining The Alpha Body and get your programs done by me.

PPS. If you’re a personal trainers reading this, I hope it makes you smile because it reminds you of the things you do everyday

Mark Ottobre is the Trainer of Champions, including both a 2X Mr. & Ms Australia and the Current Ms Olympia. Get a FREE chapter of his new Book, The Truth About Supplements simply by visiting today – (Exclusive offer to the first 35 readers)