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How to find an amazing personal trainer

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There’s a reason workout buddies work. Having someone holding you accountable and motivating you to hit the gym instead of the snooze button is one of the best ways to meet your goals.

And there’s no better buddy than a personal trainer. They won’t bail when work gets crazy (you are their work, after all) or their sweat motivation lags. Plus, they are experts.

“Working with a fitness professional who understands how to coach you and give you the tools so you can be successful is very powerful,” says Anthony Wall, director of strategic partnerships for the American Council on Exercise. But, like any relationship, you have to find the right fit. Here’s how:

STEP 1: Get a referral
Start with your club’s personal training manager. “Tell them what you’re looking for and they can help connect you with the right people — someone who specializes in rehabilitation or triathlons, for example,” says Stephanie Steiner, a personal trainer, personal training manager and group fitness instructor at Chicago Athletic Clubs. “Also consult friends, family or other gym members.”

STEP 2: Check credentials
You wouldn’t trust your hair to a beauty school dropout, so don’t trust your body to someone without proper education. Ask trainers if they are certified and by which organization. Some of the best certification programs include PTA Global (PTAG), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), which require an intense education process to get and stay certified. You can also visit usreps.org to find out if a trainer’s credentials are current.

STEP 3: Think about what you need
“Other than credentials, personality is the No. 1 thing to consider,” Steiner says. “You have to like the person, or else you’re not going to want to go back. So look for someone who is approachable but will hold you accountable.” Consider what motivates you and what holds you back. Do you want a trainer who is demanding like a drill sergeant, structured and clinical like a scientist, or more easygoing and fun-loving like a friend? Are you more comfortable with a man or a woman? Do you need someone with a flexible schedule? Reflect on your goals and the trainer’s style and then ask to speak with one of the trainer’s clients. Find out what they like best about working with the pro and anything they don’t like.

STEP 4: Do a test run
Many trainers offer a free assessment or initial consultation to get a sense of your goals and help you to get a feel for their style and workouts. Trainers should be at the top of their game during this first meeting. Unimpressed? “It’s unlikely things are going to improve when they get more comfortable with you,” Wall says. And don’t be afraid to try out multiple trainers. Wall suggests scheduling sessions with three, then choosing the one you most look forward to working with again.

STEP 5: Watch for red flags
Some trainer behavior might as well be a sign that says, “Stay away”:

  • They push products: Your spider-sense should start tingling if a trainer tells you, “Say, you can get a six pack in six weeks with this amazing supplement!” “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Wall says. In many cases, the trainer gets a commission on your purchase — why pay someone to sell to you?
  • They’re uninterested or unprepared: “Your trainer should keep you on track when you don’t feel like working out,” says Steiner says. “If they have an ‘I’ll see ya when I see ya’ attitude or your goals don’t seem like a priority, it’s not a good match.”
  • They take a one-size-fits-all approach: Every body is different, and a good trainer will tailor a program to yours. “If they use the same routine for you as seven other clients, that’s a major red flag,” Steiner says.
  • They don’t listen: “If something doesn’t feel right, a trainer should never push you to keep going,” Steiner says. “If they are condescending, ignore you or pressure you to ‘toughen up,’ that’s not good.” Trust yourself to know the difference between someone encouraging you to give it your all and someone ignoring your actual pain.

STEP 6: Speak up
Communication is key to a great personal training relationship. “If something doesn’t make sense, if it hurts, or if you’re frustrated, tell your trainer so they understand what you need and can modify the program,” Steiner says. “Your goals are their goals and a good trainer will do whatever they can to help you succeed.”

Kelly Rowe for Chicago Athletic Clubs

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