Finding a Personal Trainer – 2 Questions You MUST Ask

Personal Trainer

This is a question I get asked all the time, from friends and family members alike:

How do I go about finding a competent fitness coach/personal trainer/performance enhancement coach?

These days, it’s not as easy as you’d like to think.  With all the marketing and hype surrounding our industry, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

However, when you boil it down to two questions, you can really find out a lot about a coach.

Here’s what I would do, if you need to find some qualified.

Question #1 – How long have you been in the industry?

The private sector of the fitness industry is truly dog-eat-dog.  If you can last more than 5 years, you’re ahead of 80-90% of the population.  Not only does this mean you probably have at least some idea of what you’re doing, but you’re passionate about it as well.

When I came out of my undergraduate program, at least a dozen of my friends immediately signed on at local fitness facilities.  They were told to “sell, Sell, SELL!” and never got a moment to relax, let alone educate themselves on the actual fitness/training side of the equation!

Not surprisingly, none of these people are still in the industry.

So if you’re looking to hire someone, make sure they’ve been around long enough to prove themselves.  You might find some high-quality coaches/trainers that have been in the industry for less than 5 years, but they’re the exception versus the rule.

If they pass this test, this next one should weed out the rest of the clowns…

Question #2 – Is this your full-time job?

True story:  I go to a business networking group 4-5 years ago, and immediately notice this trendy looking guy with Dolce and Gabbana glasses.  He’s dressed for success, and his full-time job is selling high-end audio-visual systems.

Anyway, fast forward a month or so and I see him out and about.  The guy now has on a skin-tight t-shirt (at least two sizes two small), he’s got tattoo sleeves that would make my parents blush, and he’s pretty much acting like an ass clown.

While I have absolutely zero desire to talk to him, at some point we crossed paths and in light conversation he mentions:

“Oh yeah, I personal train people on the side, too.”


So this total moron is training people “on-the-side.” And we wonder why our industry is looked at so poorly.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a lawyer, account, or another other professional working for me who is doing their job “on-the-side.”

I take my job seriously, and this is a full-time job for me – in fact, dare I say, I actually want to be good at my job.

If you’re not good enough to make a full-time living out of this “job,” then that’s a big red flag.

Any clown can train people on the side, but to succeed and make this your full-time gig is a different story.  Even more, if you can not only support yourself but other trainers (i.e. you own/operate a facility), you’re probably doing some really good things.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but if you ask these two questions to potential trainers/coaches you might be interested in hiring, I think you’ll have a much better idea of who is qualified and who isn’t.

Good luck!



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  1. great post. and so true too. i am in no way an expert in personal training, but even i can see that the majority of trainers in my gym are part time. i've seen them doing their own workouts while training clients and making clients do all this crazy outlandish stuff they're not ready for rather than building the basics. if you think training is bad in the U.S, it's gotta be worse in the U.K. i'd love to have a proper strength training center in my area but it's a dream at the moment

  2. It's interesting because I'm a trained chiropractor who uses mostly ART. I do real time assessment meaning I watch a movement, treat, then recheck the movements. Often, the movements are functional exercises ie. squats, lunges, press, pull-ups, etc. This allows me to make a hypothesis on a person's movement imbalances and see if it is correct almost immediately. I need to be involved with a gym because I can't truly get people healthy unless they understand how VITAL exercise is. I think in my case, delegation for programming and running workouts would be key. Any thoughts?

  3. MIke, Love your newsletter! In regards to your "finding a Personal Trainer" I too, like one of your other responders am a Full Time High School Educator and part time Certified Pesonal Trainer for my local YMCA. I was disappointed by the 'tenor' of your piece, but I understand where you are coming from. However,…………………….
    The key for me is about professionalism. Are you a Fitness Professional or are you just part time "Hobbyist"? I like to think there are many "trainers" out there like me who treat their clients and take their role as a trainer extemely seriously. WE Attend Perform Better Seminars like I just did in Providence, RI. WE network with the best of the best; yourself, Cressey, Cook, Boyle, Grasso, Dos Remedios.Taft, Wright etc, etc,
    WE purchase, DVDs Assess & Correct, Funtional Strength Coach 3.0…
    WE purchase books like Body In Balance, Maximum Strength…………
    My point Mike is that there are some very professional 'part time' trainers out there who are passionate about fitness and who do wish to make a difference. Let's make it a point to recognize these "professionals" as assets to the Industry!
    Mike Kozul
    YMCA Personal Training

  4. Hi Mike,
    Great post but somewhat worrying (for me). I'm 40 and live in the UK and am currently training to be a CYQ Certified PT. My plan is to start my own business once qualified. To gain some experience, about to start work parttime at the local authority run gyms.
    The PT qual is good but I find I learn more useful stuff from guys like yourself, coach Boyle and Cosgrove. There's nobody similar in the uk and anyway, you seem far more ahead/accessible than UK trainers & coaches.
    The problem here is that people get qualified as Gym Instructors, start work in a gym and before you know it they're PTs! On a basic qualification. I'm trying to do it properly to make a difference but it's such an unregulated industry I'm up against these jokers who've got little idea about what they're doing.
    Now you spring this 5 year thing on me. LOL. It certainly is a tough industry to crack.

  5. Hey Mike! What about trainers who are going back to school and can only work part time! Don't Give us a bad rap!
    Good stuff and very true, especially the SELL SELL SELL! AHHH It's terrible. I know guys making 3 figures training at commercial gyms, they never have a piece of paper in their hand, never write anything down. A program, whats that? I made your workout on my way to the gym this morning. (and I live 5 min away). They sure can chat it up though, compliment quite nicely and sell a choclate ice cream cone to a woman in white gloves.

  6. It sounds like you're NOT saying that you shouldn't hire a trainer who has done it for less than 5 years, or that you shouldn't hare a trainer who is not full-time, but that you should ASK those questions, and then thoughtfully consider the answers you get. A young trainer who is serious about what he or she is doing, focused and knowledgeable may be just right for you. Someone who has another job may be thoroughly professional about training. Besides, the training may be their "main job" even if it's not full-time, and plumbing or accounting may be what they do "on the side" to pay the rent.

  7. These are definitely good advice if you're looking for someone to train you. Experience is key for compassion. That's not to say a part time "kid" is going to be a bad trainer, but they should at least know what you're going through. I'm a personal trainer in CT and own my own gym, and yes, I hire part time staff (per diem) to train my members. However, they all have to look the part. We're professionals just as much as a banker or stock broker. Act that way! A key thing I look for during the interview process is if they mention their own battles with weight and physique. A person in great shape that was overweight in high school tells a far greater story than the natural born athlete who happens to be a trainer. Being the lucky one with a naturally fast metabolism doesn't show the same passion for fitness and activity as the person who lived through the obesity. Thanks for such great information! If it helps one person, you've done your job. Thanks for helping to keep our profession honest and progressive! Feel free to visit our website, you are always welcome! Keep up the great work!

  8. Mike,
    I definitely like your two questions. There are some people who think personal training is something to do on the side and just because you played competitive sports all of your life that your qualified to do it. The more training I took, the more I realized how much science there was to the entire field of personal training.

  9. Mike:
    I'm glad I ran across this post. I completely agree with both points. It is very disheartening to run into potential leads and clients who have unknowingly hired a part-time personal trainer and are reluctant to allow a true professional with education, skills, and a true passion for others' health and fitness to work with them.
    I'm a Miami personal trainer and I recently wrote an extensive article along these same lines that reviews 7 key factors to consider before hiring a personal trainer to aid those in my area who may not know how to go about picking a trainer. Your 2 questions are actually on my report – great minds think alike!
    To read about my 7 questions for a personal trainer please visit my site
    and let me know what you think!
    In good health,
    Matt Anich

  10. Mike,
    Great article. Its hard when a few bad trainers make it harder for the rest of us who really pour our heart and soul into this business. I find there are trainers out there who don't have certification or dont do much to stay current.

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