Optimizing Your Personal Trainer
By Linda Melone, CSCS
So you finally took the plunge and hired some help? Make every second of your precious sessions count with these nine tips from top trainers.
1. Be goal oriented
How much do you want to lift? How much body fat do you want to drop? Write it down and come prepared to discuss it, point by point, at your first personal training session. Setting concrete fitness goals is crucial for achieving results, says Erin Mellinger, trainer and owner of Fitness Together in Poland and Canfield, Ohio. “Goals must be agreed upon by both parties. If your trainer tells you your goals are unrealistic, you need to trust his professional guidance and focus on more realistic goals.” Next, establish an action plan and include ways you can hold yourself accountable. Also determine the “why” behind the “what,” says Mellinger. “Keep your inspiration in mind every single day. When you’re tired or want to quit, knowing why you’re doing this will be your real motivator.”
2. Speak up
If you aren't getting what you bargained for from your personal trainer experience, don't simmer in silence, says Lani Muelrath, MA, fitness expert and author of Fit Quickies. “The personal trainer experience is definitely a two-way street.” Speak up if you feel you’re working too hard or not hard enough. Let your trainer know if you don’t feel comfortable with his or her approach—have a real conversation to clear the air. “This keeps you moving in the right direction,” says Muelrath.
3. Take notes
Bring your iPad or an old-fashioned notebook or clipboard to track important details about any modifications or additions to your workout, says Muelrath. You can also make some quick video clips on your phone to use as cues for when you workout alone. “This can be as simple as recording corrections your trainer makes in your anatomical alignment during your workout,” says Muelrath.
4. Ask for a recap
At the end of each session, request a brief summary and progress report from your trainer. “Ask what you accomplished and if there are any specific reminders about application for the week ahead or any new developments in your training—were you stronger than last week?” says Muelrith. Also find out why your trainer made any changes or adjustments, which will help you remain mindful of the “why” of your workout. “This keeps you on course toward your goals and validates that the valuable time you—and your trainer—spend with each session has specific value,” Muelrath says.
5. Respect the hour
It’s cool if you check email or answer the phone during your workout, right? Nope. Don’t do it. It wrecks your focus and productivity, says Muelrath, plus your relationship with your trainer is a professional one—you need to treat it as such. At the same time, though, you should hold your trainer accountable too. So if you find that he or she is off-task or distracted, don’t be afraid to address their commitment to you. Your trainer should not be texting or constantly chatting with other trainers or gym-goers. Period.
6. Don't lie
Did you stay out a little too late last night or totally blow your protein-focused diet last week? Lying to your trainer about it only slows your own progress. So when your trainer asks you about the five pounds you’ve gained, don’t recite a food intake that sounds like government guidelines. “I often hear, ‘I eat perfectly except for this,’” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. “You hired me to motivate you but you need to be honest with me.” Fess up if you’re in pain, too. Not telling your trainer about an injury is downright stupid—and dangerous. (Remember, they know how to help. Use them.)
7. Be open to new moves
So, you think you know what works best for your biceps, huh? Why did you hire someone again? In other words, if your trainer suggests a new exercise or routine, don’t immediately dismiss it—give it a go. “You need to trust that your trainer has your best interests in mind,” says Holland. “While you want to be honest, avoid trying to control the workout. Your way isn’t the only way.” Now, let’s say your trainer feels you’d benefit from supersetting dumbbell chest presses with chest flies and you hate them. Strike a compromise by asking if you can bang them out at the beginning of your session so they’re out of the way, Holland suggests.
8. Keep it professional
Can you be friends with your trainer and still see results? Sure, but only if you draw some clear boundaries to stick to during your workouts. “Training is mental as well as physical,” says Holland. “Your trainer should have rules, because working out and talking at the same time takes away from your effort—and results.” If your trainer doesn’t take control, try your best to limit conversation until your hour is up, or even better, agree to hang outside the gym, suggests Holland. “You can get in a good workout and still have a friendly relationship.” If you haven’t reached your goals, however, it may be a sign to cut back on socializing—and focus more on getting your money’s worth.
9. Get your homework
Working out between sessions is just as important as what you do during that hour. So if your trainer doesn’t give you “homework” for your off days, request it, says Mellinger. “Ask for specific guidelines as to what activities or exercises you should do, including intensity and duration of the exercises.” If you train total body with your trainer, on off days he may suggest cardio, a lighter version of what you do together, or cross-training with your favorite sport.