Back in 2007, I tried working with a few personal trainers because I thought it would be the best way for me to lose some weight I’d gained at the end of college (when I met my now-husband and we pigged out at restaurants all the time). I didn’t like my personal training experience, and until this past year, I was resistant to hiring another trainer.
Here were the problems I had with my past trainers:
- I didn’t learn much that I could put into play when I worked out on my own. They didn’t explain how to structure a self-led workout that was better than what I was already doing. It’s partially my fault because I didn’t ask, but I also expect my trainer to do more than lead me through a workout once a week and send me on my way.
- They didn’t ask about my goals. The personal trainers I worked with 10 years ago assumed weight loss was my goal. It was, but they never actually asked me. Since then, my goal has stopped being weight loss, but most trainers who have tried to earn my business still used that as their selling point. I was automatically turned off by the assumption that because I’m a woman, I must want to lose weight.
- I didn’t need a cheerleader or a handholder. I had some background in basic weight lifting from my high school track and cross country days. I knew how to do a lat pulldown and a squat. I didn’t need instruction on basic movements every time I did them. I didn’t need anyone cheering me through my workouts or an appointment with someone in order to make it to the gym.
This combination of factors led me to believe trainers were a waste of money for me.
When I started taking strength training seriously in late 2013, I planned my own workouts with good results. I learned new exercises and techniques by asking experienced people at my gym and watching videos online. Last year, I joined a new gym and was offered two free personal training sessions. I reluctantly made an appointment with a trainer with no intention of working with him after my free sessions were over.
Surprise! I ended up hiring him. He got my attention from the start by asking me about my fitness background, goals and what I hoped to learn from him. I told him about my desire to get stronger and become a hybrid athlete, both lifting weights and competing in long-distance running events.
More surprises! He didn’t want to be my handholder (although he’s still my cheerleader). My trainer writes my programming for 12-16 weeks. He teaches me the workout, explains why he structured it how he did, and he makes sure I know how to do everything. He doesn’t explain how to do every squat, but we’ve worked on slight form tweaks to make the lift easier. I follow what he’s written on my own time, and I can ask questions and update him on progress by text or when I see him at the gym. He provides encouragement and advice, but we both know I can work out on my own. He will help me reach my goals more efficiently, since knowing about this fitness stuff is his job.
I know this style of personal training isn’t for everyone. Some people benefit from trainers who work with them weekly or a few times a week. Here are some examples:
- People who have a past injury or mobility limitation. A personal trainer can help figure out what exercises are safe for you and how to modify certain movements so you don’t get hurt.
- People who are completely new to strength training and are afraid of the weight room. There’s no shame in being a newbie. A trainer can teach proper form, how to structure a workout and provide encouragement when you pick up a barbell for the first time.
- People who are training for a fitness competition, especially if you’re new. Aspiring bodybuilders and powerlifters, go get you a trainer. One who is experienced to help you do your best, keep you on track and make sure you don’t get hurt.
- People who need extra motivation to go to the gym. Maybe you like someone cheering for you during every squat, and that’s cool. Maybe you need a paid appointment logged in your calendar to get you to the gym, and that’s cool, too.
And then there are some people who don’t need a trainer at all. If you have some familiarity with strength training, feel comfortable trying new exercises on your own, are self-motivated, and you’re just exercising for general health or don’t mind a more meandering learn-as-you-go path toward your goals, you probably don’t need personal training.
But if you’re like me and you’ve been putting off something beneficial because of misperceptions, maybe it’s time to look for a good trainer you vibe with.
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