Why Use A Personal Trainer?

Why should you hire a personal trainer? Besides a jolt of motivation, trainers can move you towards your goals in a sustainable way.

Learn more about the pros and cons of hiring a personal trainer in this article.

Woman pondering and writing in a notebook with a red feathered pen

Why Use A Personal Trainer?

You should use a personal trainer for motivation, practical experience, and guidance.

It's not all about learning to lift.

An experienced trainer can pick up where certifications and Google searches leave off.

Let's talk more about the advantages and disadvantages of having a personal trainer.

In this article we'll cover the following:

  • Why Should You Hire A Personal Trainer?
  • Do Personal Trainers Work?
  • Pros and Cons of Hiring A Personal Trainer

Why Should You Hire A Personal Trainer?

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Essentials of Personal Training, 2ed states that personal trainers have five roles¹;

  1. Motivate performance and compliance.
  2. Assess health status.
  3. Train clients safely and effectively to meet individual objectives.
  4. Educate clients to be informed consumers.
  5. Refer clients to healthcare professionals when necessary.

Your trainer's goal is to help develop your motivation and skills. You're going to practice exercises and build your confidence. Trainers also take the time to teach you what they know.

This is all a part of a practice known as Autonomy supportive coaching.

Autonomous supportive coaching is about these important things:

  1. You're on the same page about what your goals are.
  2. You're supported autonomously.
  3. As you learn and practice, you're given an optimal challenge.

Autonomy is about choice and your goals being the foundation for training. An optimal challenge is one that's not too hard but, not too easy.

This coaching process is rooted in self-determination theory (SDT). SDT is one of the leading theories of motivation.

SDT in training looks like this:

  • Autonomy - Asking your trainer if you can perform some of your favorite moves.
  • Competence - Performing exercises as best you can and looking back at your progress.
  • Relatedness - Sharing what you're learning with important people in your life.

Using research-backed methods like SDT, trainers help you turn ideas into results.

Real change comes from smart, consistent, sustainable actions.

For more on SDT and motivation read: What You Need to Know About Goals and Motivation

Assessing and Monitoring General Health Status

Some trainers perform screens and assessments with new clients. The purpose of these tools is to gauge risk.

There is no one specific way to do this.

Some trainers use various forms of Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaires (PAR-Q's). A PAR-Q is a series of relevant health questions. Sometimes a PAR-Q warrants referral to a qualified health professional.

Some assessments involve a series of movement screens or tests. If you can achieve the positions that your trainer is attempting to load, that may be all you hear of this.

It is not your trainer's job to diagnose. An assessment cannot tell you what's "wrong".

Exercise, while inherently risky, can be made safer by asking the right questions.

The goal of this step in the process is to ensure that you are ready to take part in an exercise routine.

Maximize Your Results with the Right Training

Your trainer will create a plan around your schedule, preferences, and rate of progress.

Your trainer will lean on recent research to develop a training system.

A system is designed to get the results it gives you, good or bad.

There are several training goals:

  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Muscle growth
  • Improving bone density

Your training could be aimed at a goal that you are not trying to improve.

You can adjust exercise to a variety of situations including:

  • Traveling
  • Training at home
  • Returning to the gym after a layoff
  • Post-physical therapy

Systems give you an idea of what you might change if your program isn't getting you the results you expect.

Improve Your Knowledge of Health and Fitness

If you’d like to learn more about strength training, your trainer is the perfect person to ask.

(You also have the option of following whatever your trainer says)

Your trainer should be versed in general nutrition, fitness, and motivation. What worked for your friend might not work for you.

There are many paths to the same goals.

An experienced trainer knows how to tell good approaches to fitness from poor ones.

When in Doubt, Your Personal Trainer Will Refer Out

Your trainer can act as the first point of contact between you and a qualified professional.

If you have unique needs, it is beyond the scope of your trainer.

Circumstances and individuals that may need referral include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Low back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Rehab/post-surgical release

For specific nutrition questions, your trainer should refer you to a registered dietitian.

Your health professional may help you find a personal trainer they're comfortable with.

A Personal Trainer Can Get You Outside of the Gym

Your trainer can help you find something that you enjoy outside of your gym.

There’s much more to life than lifting weights, counting calories, and getting your steps in.

Many trainers work to help you become stronger physically and emotionally.

Depending on the facility, your trainer may help you develop a plan for the time that you're not in the gym.

In Columbia, Missouri there are a few trail systems, parks, and activities that I encourage clients to check out.

Do Personal Trainers Work?

Personal trainers work- if you do. Maybe.

The field of fitness is an inexact science. There is no promise that you'll achieve any specific goal.

Ex:

  • Losing 20 pounds in 6 weeks
  • Shaving minutes off of your mile time
  • Adding 50 pounds to your bench press, bro

This should not undermine your perception of expertise in the field. Doctors don't promise to heal you, they "practice" medicine.

Knowing this, some gyms may offer a satisfaction guarantee to calm some of your fears.

Trainer experience and expertise vary. People enter the profession at different points in their life for different reasons.

There tends to be a lot of career turnover.

Trainers are expected to be competent in a wide variety of specialties including:

  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Movement (anatomy, physiology, biomechanics)
  • Sales and marketing
  • Finance

The reasons why trainers quit vary.

A trainer's schedule can be tough. Some work before, during, and after the traditional workday.

I've worked with a licensed psychologist who believes that trainers burn out from not knowing how to deal with client emotions.

You may find yourself changing trainers as they enter and leave the field.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Having A Personal Trainer

In Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip and Dan Heath write about the difficulty of choosing between two good options.

Decisive was written for tackling decisions that take more than five minutes.

(Pick up a copy, it's well worth it. I wrote some of my takeaways from Decisive here.)

A pros and cons list is not the most useful tool for making decisions.

What if you encounter a pro that is worth more than one or two cons?

That aside, some might find the tool useful.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of a personal trainer:

Pros and Cons of Hiring A Personal Trainer

Advantages: Disadvantages:
Clarity of Information Cost
Accountability Schedule flexibility
Motivation Credibility of Certification
Modification (when needed) Personality varies

Training is a different field in that when you hire a trainer, you still have to do most of the work. Your trainer is there to act as a mentor.

The majority of the progress you make in the gym depends on what you do outside of it.

The quality of certification varies. Find a trainer that pursues continuing education throughout each year.

It's difficult to know if your trainer "knows enough".

(If you could answer that question, you wouldn't likely be in the market for hiring one.)

A potential pro or con could be the logistics of getting to your trainer. Trainers often work in populated areas.

This might mean that you have to drive a bit or look for parking. Some trainers live nearby or will come to you, making this a nonfactor. If they travel, they likely cost more.

Do not associate paying a lot with the quality of your trainer.

Some charge more because they can get away with it. It depends on market forces or economics.

Finding a personal trainer that meshes well with you can be a bit like finding a good therapist. You might want a more friendly or formal relationship with your trainer.

You have a choice.

Here are Five Reasons You Should Use a Personal Trainer:

  1. To develop your motivation. Your trainer can help you get and stay motivated.
  2. To start an exercise program. Learn to perform the right moves, the right way.
  3. To learn the basics of nutrition. Some cases need a referral but, your trainer should be able to help you with general nutrition.
  4. To get outside of the gym. Fresh air and cardio are just as important as lifting.
  5. To refer you to qualified professionals when needed.

Sources:

  1. Coburn, Jared W., et al. “Client Consultation and Health Appraisal.” NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd ed., Human Kinetics, 2012, pp. 148